By Sara Clements | TV | April 24, 2023 |
By Sara Clements | TV | April 24, 2023 |
A double dose of Rachel Weisz and Rachel Weisz playing a queer character once again is enough of a selling point for most people. While the majority of Dead Ringers is the star saying, “Gay rights!” it’s also a hard-hitting, emotional, and often dark exploration of women’s health. Based on the David Cronenberg film of the same name starring Jeremy Irons, a woman playing the film’s Mantle Twins this time around makes the gynecological subject matter much more affecting. In turn, the six-part Prime Video series makes its own off-kilter, unhinged, and bloodstained mark to this story, while containing stark relevancy in its display of queer visibility and bodily autonomy.
Elliot and Beverly Mantle (Weisz) are brilliant gynecologists at the top of their game, but they’re fed up with the patriarchal system that is controlling women’s health. Every day the twins speak to heartbroken women who are unable to conceive. They see women die from childbirth and have to place a stillborn baby in a mother’s arms. As Beverly puts it, this angers them and fuels their desire to “change the way that women give birth forever.” Now, her sister Elliot doesn’t actually care about babies. She’s all about science, often conducting unregulated experiments to push the limits of fertilization. Beverly is more empathetic about the plight of expectant mothers and cares deeply about being a support to them from conception to birth. It’s the best of both worlds, but they harbor contradicting ideas of what a private birthing center would look like. This often leads to entertaining banter, between themselves and the rich, potential donors they have to schmooze over dinner. These donors, like Rebecca (Jennifer Ehle) and her wife Susan (Emily Meade), are Sackler-like figures. They’re waist-deep in pharma money but don’t see how advancements in women’s health will equal mega bucks. The Mantles’ pitch bores them, but their intelligence and drive are convincing.
What Elliot calls their “Barbie Birthing Dream House,” was really Beverly’s dream. And when they get it, it seems like Beverly finally has everything she ever wanted. Elliot doesn’t care about their success really, as long as she has Beverly. As much as they seem to be living the high life professionally, their private life together is incredibly dysfunctional. They’re co-dependent in a twisted way, like a monoamniotic cord entanglement that’s never been cut. When Beverly begins a romantic relationship with an actress named Genevieve (Britne Oldford), their connection begins to slowly unravel. The twins are used to sharing everything, but now that Beverly has a life of her own, it causes Elliot to spiral. Dead Ringers is as much about the success of their birthing center as it is about the twins shaping their individual identities. What are they without each other? It’s a question whose answer threatens to destroy not only what they have built but also each other.
Weisz delivers a phenomenal dual performance worthy of Emmy recognition. Not only does superb editing convince you that you’re watching two Rachel Weiszes, but her performance as both Elliot and Beverly are so different that it’s impossible not to think so. The difference in the twins’ personalities are obvious right away, and it doesn’t come down to simply hair and makeup. Not only does Elliot literally let her hair down but she’s uninhibited in contrast to the reserved Beverly. Elliot is constantly hungry for sex and drugs, letting loose after a laborious day while Beverly fixates on the day’s work. They’re both hilarious, too. As Beverly, Weisz delivers delicious bits of sarcasm, and as Elliot, she carries the energy of Carole Lombard in a screwball comedy. The latter as a character is more entertaining to watch because of how chaotic and weird she is. These dual personalities allow Weisz to show off her prowess in both comedy and drama, often in the same scene. The moments where the twins dabble in a bit of twin-swapping are especially fun, and again prove how flawlessly Weisz can move back and forth from each character. There’s a lot of darkness to the roles, as well, especially when Elliot’s abuse and manipulation become more apparent in her jealousy of Genevieve. The psychological aspect of this drama comes into play with the twins’ telepathy that Weisz conveys in a very suffocating way, especially for Beverly, and that creates an even more fascinating character study.
Alice Birch (whose previous writing credits include 2016’s Lady Macbeth and Hulu’s Normal People) created an adaptation that is not only darkly entertaining and genuinely hilarious at times but it’s also incredibly sharp and quite brilliant at how it boasts hard-hitting discussion on women’s health and the elitism of healthcare. We have come a long way since I Love Lucy couldn’t use the word “pregnant” on TV, but birth is still heavily sanitized, emphasizing the beauty of bringing life into the world and not the terrifying or life-altering aspects of it. In Dead Ringers, we see birth at its most raw. The delivery room floors are drenched in blood; the twins cut a woman open to perform a C-section and pull quadruplets out one by one. It’s one thing to have a show that’s unafraid to capture birth as what it is, body horror, but another to explore the pain beyond delivery. The series touches on everything from women struggling with infertility, miscarriages, and postpartum depression to women dying post-childbirth or giving birth to a stillborn. Dead Ringers is an emotional experience, especially when it emphasizes the heartbreaking fact that women blame themselves when their bodies fail them.
The show’s script also wisely acknowledges that Beverly’s goal to create a center to help every woman is hypocritical when she rubs shoulders with the kind of people who don’t believe in accessible healthcare. The series addresses how a system like this, which really only helps rich (white) women, couldn’t have been possible without African American women, whose ancestors can’t afford this kind of care today. An enslaved woman comes to Beverly in a dream and describes the torture and experimentation she endured at the hands of J. Marion Sims, the father of modern gynecology. It’s a powerful scene and monologue that highlights how Black women continue to be neglected and mistreated in the healthcare system.
Dead Ringers is plagued by some dull moments, others that may leave you scratching your head, and side characters that could have used more depth; however, it’s still equally as unnerving and twisted as Cronenberg’s film but also memorable in its own way. Weaving nods to the director and his film throughout, the series is still very much its own beast. It doesn’t diverge too far from the film in terms of story, but it’s also leaps and bounds ahead of it with the added female perspective. It proves to be a much more compelling and emphatically relevant piece.