You know that thing where you start a British show on Netflix because it’s only 5 episodes, so it’s not like it will consume your life or anything. And the next thing you know you’re fully dressed to walk to the grocery store—including massive winter hat, fleece-lined gloves, and snow boots—your face is streaked with tears, and you can’t pull yourself away from the television, because WHO COULD PAUSE IN THE MIDDLE OF SUCH A TENSE DINNER SCENE!
Welcome to Doctor Foster.
This riveting drama series from Mike Bartlett aired on BBC One in the fall of 2015. And now we Yanks can check it out on Netflix, where Doctor Foster sits humbly in the recommendation section of: “Because you watched Broadchurch.” (Oh, Broadchurch.) Based on this intriguing recommendation, I assumed this mysterious show would also be a crime procedural. And, yeah, sort of.
When she suspects her husband is cheating on her, Dr. Gemma Foster starts an investigation that leads her down a dark path of obsession.
The titular Doctor Foster is a wife and working mother, who supports not only her tween son, but also her stay-at-home but entrepreneurially ambitious husband, who is probably cheating on her. After a morning of vigorous sex and cozy routine, she discovers a panic-striking hair, long and blonde on the scarf of her seemingly sweet spouse. The music stings, as does lead actress Suranne Jones’s shocked expression. Of course, maybe Gemma is just overreacting. Except, she’s totally not.
Like a ruthless and determined detective, she chases down clues, and questions the blondes in her circle of friends. By the end of episode one, Gemma discovers her worst fears pale in comparison to the awful truth. Not only is her husband cheating on her, with a younger woman, the barely legal child of a family friend, but also every friend and colleague she’s dealt with in this intro ep appears to be in on it. It’s an infidelity conspiracy that folds in every aspect of her personal and professional life.
“Well, that’s just preposterous,” I huffed to myself, not-so-nonchalantly awaiting Netflix to kick over to episode two. But what seems like it will be a Lifetime Original level ridiculousness is served up with sauciness, sharp writing, and delicious twists over the course of the next four episodes. As Gemma falls down a rabbit hole of worst case scenarios turned revoltingly real, Doctor Foster refuses to paint any character as wholly horrible, nor its heroine as entirely admirable.
In hunting down the horrid truth, Gemma uses her prescription pad like a blank check to push a drug-seeking patient to spy on her better half on her behalf. However, she also does right by her patients, but by means that are flagrantly illegal. Meanwhile, the people in her life who’ve betrayed her are revealed to be more than ghoulish deceivers, but rather conflicted friends in impossible situations. Except her husband. That dude is just the fucking worst.
Wounded and wailing, Gemma demands of her horrible husband in the ferocious final ep, “When you slept with her, you killed the person I loved, and the son I was going to bring up, and the me I was actually starting to like. Everything I ever wanted, worked for and loved, died.” She keens for the life she’s lost and can never get back. And she exacts a revenge that is marvelous, terrible, and so nerve-racking to watch unfold that I was digging my fingernails into my own goose-pimpled flesh.
Gemma will not let him win. She cries, enraged and defiant, “How was this allowed to happen? Where were the neighbors and the friends?” And for once, her smug hubby looks scared, out of control. And we think back to earlier, where our antagonized anti-heroine was publicly decried as a bitch. “Bitch is right,” She smirked in reply. “And I’m a wolf tonight.”
Witness the transformation from wife to wolf, and marvel at the mesmerizing performance of Suranne Jones. You might know her best as the anthropomorphized TARDIS of Doctor Who. But you won’t be able to forget her as the flawed, fascinating, and fearsome Doctor Foster.
Kristy Puchko rips through BBC dramas like it’s wet tissue paper.