I reviewed Netflix’s very trashy but marginally addictive Renee Zellwegger series What/If last week, and I stand by my original assessment: While the first two episodes, directed by Phillip Noyce, are decent trash entertainment, each subsequent episodes gets worse until the series finally bottoms out in the finale. The only thing that really works about What/If beyond a deliciously scene-chewing performance from Zellwegger is a premise intriguing enough to string viewers along long enough to finally deliver some answers in the conclusion.
But you don’t have to watch the entire series to find the answers, because I’m going to spoil the ending right here. But first, let’s back up to the premise: Jane Levy plays Lisa Donovan, a young entrepreneurial scientist who owns a company called Emigen, which is on the brink of a scientific breakthrough. However, Emigen needs venture capital to continue. Enter Zellweger’s Anne Montgomery, a billionaire venture capitalist who offers Lisa and her company $80 million for one night alone with Lisa’s husband, Sean (Blake Jenner).
It sounds like the premise of The Proposal with Zellwegger in the Robert Redford role, but it’s not quite that. Lisa and Sean sign a contract stipulating that if Sean reveals what happens on their night alone together, Lisa has to give up the company to Anne.
So, what happens during Sean and Anne’s night together? Well, nothing actually. They do not have sex. The experiment was not designed for Anne to sleep with a younger man, it was designed to create trust issues between Lisa and Sean so that they would eventually break up. Moreover, Anne not only gambled that Lisa and Sean would break up, but that Sean would reveal what happened on his night alone with Anne and that Lisa would have to give her company up to Anne.
The gamble works, although Anne uses more than just the mystery of what she and Sean did on the night in question to break them up. She also orchestrates it so that Sean is arrested for a rage murder he had committed years ago to protect his ex-girlfriend, Maddie. Anne brought the ex-junkie Maddie back into Sean’s life, and Sean did a lot of shady things behind Lisa’s back to keep the murder he committed hidden, which created more trust issues with Lisa. Then Anne gave Maddie some drugs and she relapsed, overdosed and died, which created so much guilt that Sean eventually confessed the murder to the police.
Meanwhile, while he was out on bail, and in full view of Anne, Sean got into a big fight with Lisa and Sean revealed that he had not slept with Anne on the night in question, which triggered the clause in the contract giving Emigen to Anne. Anne took Lisa’s company and sold it to Big Pharma for billions of dollars.
So, Anne wins, right? Not exactly. Because Lisa spilled her trade secrets, which made Emigen ultimately worthless. Not that it mattered, because Anne wasn’t really in it for the money. She orchestrated the entire cruel scenario basically to teach Lisa a hard lesson about not trusting people. Why would she take such an interest in Lisa? Because, as we learn late in the series, Anne is actually Lisa’s biological mother, and Anne only wanted to blow up and destroy Lisa’s life so that she’d learn how to be a better business person.
It kind of works, too. Lisa does lose her company to Anne, and Sean does go to prison, but there’s also this whole ridiculous subplot about Anne and her old business partner (Julian Sands) and also Anne’s own mother, who is a cruel woman in her own right. Anne’s mother is dying of cancer, but Anne keeps her alive just long enough to witness Anne’s plan come together. In the big finale, Anne’s right-hand man (Westworld’s Louis Herthum) shoots and kills Anne’s old business partner, but Anne’s right-hand man is also killed in the shoot-out. Anne pulls the plug on her mother, and then sets everything on fire while she’s inside the apartment.
We are briefly led to believe that Anne also dies in the fire, but in the series’ coda set a year in the future, we discover that Anne escaped and is living it up on a beach somewhere, thus allowing for the possibility of a second season. Meanwhile, after his prison stint, Sean reconciles with Lisa, who is once again a burgeoning medical superstar, who owes all of her success to the horrible trick that Anne pulled on her.
There are also a couple of season-long storylines that barely worth mention, but I’ll do so anyway. Lisa’s brother, Marcos, is having relationship problems of his own, owing largely to his own secret: He set the fire that killed Lisa’s first adoptive parents. Once he reveals that to Lisa, he is unburdened from his past and gets married to his boyfriend, Lionel. Marcos also helps Sean cut a deal for a shortened prison sentence (Marcos and Lionel’s storyline is dumb, but Juan Castano and John Clarence Stewart — the actors who play them — are easily the most likable characters in the series.)
Another storyline — completely tacked on — involves Sean and Lisa’s best friends, Todd and Angela, a married couple. Angela has an affair with a surgeon in her hospital, but she breaks it off after she gets pregnant. She and Todd reconcile, but the surgeon is a stalker-y sociopath with a long history of abuse who ultimately abducts Angela and takes her out to a cabin in the middle of nowhere to basically be his sex slave. Todd tracks them down, and together, Todd and Angela kill the surgeon.
Header Image Source: Netflix