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Solving the Mystery at the Center of the 'Fatal Attraction' Remake

By Dustin Rowles | TV | May 9, 2023 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | May 9, 2023 |


The biggest change in Paramount+’s television remake of Adrian Lyne’s erotic thriller Fatal Attraction — besides the fact that the sexual content is comparatively tame because of our culture’s moment of puritanism — is the addition of a second timeline. When the series opens, Dan (Joshua Jackson) is speaking at his parole hearing, asking to be released 15 years after killing Alex (Lizzy Caplan), a woman with whom he had a brief affair. After his release, Dan spends the rest of the series trying to clear his name and determine who really murdered Alex.

The brief review of the first half of the erotic thriller is this: It’s watchable. However, it’s not very erotic, nor is it particularly thrilling. As with the original film starring Michael Douglas and Glenn Close, it’s about a woman named Alex who has a brief affair with a man named Dan and develops a full-blown obsession that leads to violence. The creators Kevin J. Hynes and Alexandra Cunningham suggested that the remake would “explore timeless themes of marriage and infidelity through the lens of modern attitudes toward strong women and coercive control,” but it’s not all that different from the original. Alex, in both cases, is mentally ill, but in the 2023 version, her mental illness can be acknowledged and identified. In the 1987 version, Alex was labeled as a “crazy bitch.” In the 2023 version, Alex is portrayed as having a personality disorder.

Moreover, despite leads as attractive and beloved as Joshua Jackson and Lizzy Caplan, there’s surprisingly little chemistry between the two. They seem well cast — and Caplan delivers the line, “I will not be ignored, Dan” with absolute perfection — but Dan’s sleaze does not run deep enough. The whole thing lacks the seediness of the original. It’s Pacey. It’s hard to root against him, which means that the 2023 version doesn’t subvert the original so much as it softens it and draws it out an unnecessary eight hours.

But it is a murder mystery, and murder mysteries should be solved! This one might be easy. Dan says that he did not kill Alex, and we believe him because he is Pacey. He and his buddy/fixer Mike (Toby Huss) set about re-investigating the case to identify the real killer.

There are two possibilities based on the original film. The first would be a nod to the ending of the 1987 film, where Dan thinks he has drowned Alex in a bathtub after a violent confrontation. However, she pops up out of the water and Dan’s wife, Beth, shoots her dead. Beth, played by Amanda Peet, might be the actual murderer.

However, I’m more inclined to believe that the ending of the television remake pays homage to the original ending of 1987’s Fatal Attraction, which was changed after it tested poorly with audiences. In the original ending, Alex kills herself by slashing her throat with a knife from Dan’s kitchen, thus framing Dan for her murder. He is arrested, but Dan’s wife, Beth, discovers a tape recording of Alex’s suicide confession, which is the evidence needed to free Dan. Here’s the film’s alternate ending, itself a nod to Madame Butterfly.

This ending makes sense for the television remake. It would explain why they weren’t able to identify any other suspects — there weren’t any. Dan and Mike’s investigation will likewise probably turn up a suicide confession that was either buried or undiscovered before the original trial. I worry, however, that the ending will fare about as well with 2023 audiences as it did with 1987 test audiences, which is to say that it will fall immediately flat.

‘Fatal Attraction’ is currently airing weekly on Paramount+.