Pressing play on the first episode of “Behind Her Eyes,” all I knew was that there was going to be a capital-t Twist that may or may not cause me to lose what’s left of my mind. In fact, the ending of the Sarah Pinborough novel that the Netflix series is based on was originally marketed to readers with ominous subway ads warning people “DON’T TRUST THIS BOOK” and the performatively astonished hashtag, “#WTFThatEnding.” Short of Googling it, though, I could never have guessed just how ridiculous That Ending was until I got to see it with my own two bewildered eyes.
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In its first few episodes, “Behind Her Eyes” is an engaging enough psychosexual thriller about a trio of bored people trying, as bored people often do, to make their lives more interesting by making their lives a bit sexier. Louise (Simona Brown), a lonely young single mom itching for adventures of her own, finds herself irresistibly drawn to her handsome boss, David (Tom Bateman), and his enigmatic wife, Adele (Eve Hewson). As directed by Erik Richter Strand and written by Angela LaManna (“The Punisher”) and Steve Lightfoot (“Hannibal”), “Behind Your Eyes” begins as an effectively tense, chilly story of temptation gone awry, and the awesome power of keeping secrets as currency to use against the people you claim to love.
Hewson is terrifying in the role of a person on the edge of snapping at any given moment, a state of being that an increasingly sputtering Bateman has more trouble embodying. The series standout is Brown, who’s particularly good at straddling the line between intrigued outsider and willing participant in the couple’s ongoing mind games. The show takes care to give Louise her own motivations and agency, which Brown brings to life so naturally that it’s genuinely painful to watch Louise throw everything she loves away for a dangerous thrill.
If the shifting alliances between Louise, Adele and David were the ultimate point of the show, I’d probably like “Behind Your Eyes” enough to recommend it. But after watching all six episodes, I can’t do that — unless you’re into baffling TV train wrecks, which you probably are if you’re reading this article, anyway.
Slowly, surely, and then very suddenly, “Behind Your Eyes” goes from a taut thriller to the realm of the bizarre and downright fantastical. After Louise and Adele bond over their shared night terrors, Adele surreptitiously coaches her new friend into taking control of her dreams and, eventually, practicing astral projection. As we find out in sporadic flashbacks to Adele’s time in a rehab facility after narrowly escaping the house fire that killed her parents, Adele is practiced at the art of floating out of her body to become a shapeless Tinkerbell blur that zips around the world and spies on loved ones to keep tabs and collect collateral. She even found a way to teach her ways to Rob (Robert Aramayo), a charismatic addict she meets in the facility who quickly falls in love with Adele, or at least the rich and fascinating life that Adele appears to live. In the present day, Adele seems to be doing the same with Louise, at which point Louise’s nightmares — once sharp and genuinely frightening illustrations of her innermost fears —morph into blunt shortcuts to the show’s supernatural end.
Having explained all that, I won’t keep you in suspense any longer about the wild finale of “Behind Her Eyes,” which is definitely as surprising as the story wants it to be, but not in a way that makes much satisfying sense.
When Louise turns on Adele once and for all and tries to secure David for herself, Adele decides to burn her life down — literally, as she sets her house on fire and shoots herself full of heroin. Louise, still a decent enough person to not want Adele dead, runs to the house in a panic, astral projecting herself inside to see what’s going on when she can’t physically get in. In this crucial moment, Adele astral projects herself out to Louise’s sleeping body and burrows herself inside, leaving Louise’s consciousness to get sucked into Adele’s practically comatose body for good.
But wait! That’s not all! Adele, as it turns out, wasn’t even Adele in the first place. After Adele taught Rob how to astral project and introduced him to the very dashing David over a decade ago, Rob decided that he’d rather have Adele’s life than Adele and stole her body like he’s now stolen Louise’s, just in time for her to marry David and drive off into the sunset, happily ever after. This revelation gets about five minutes of screen time before the final credits of roll, leaving me to reel in seething frustration.
It’s not even that I’m opposed to the astral projection of it all, even though that aspect sneaks up in such a way that it took me longer than it should have to realize it wasn’t just part of Adele and Louise’s nightmares. The show is just so concerned with making the final moments such a huge out-of-body shock — both literally and figuratively — that it doesn’t bother to make us understand what Rob as a character is doing or thinking once he’s inside Adele’s body. As written and played by Aramayo in the flashbacks, Rob is a cheeky ne’er do well who was basically happy to live his life while making fun cameos in Adele’s. Once he decides to swap bodies, though, he apparently just becomes a robotic Stepford nightmare who’s determined to keep David to himself forever, even when David gets just as snarly and unpleasant back. There’s absolutely no trace of the Rob we met before in Adele’s present day characterization, probably just because that would’ve been too big a hint.
And yes, at this point, it’s impossible not to think about the implications of a story that hinges on an apparently evil omnisexual man who takes over the bodies of two women, one of whom is Black, in order to live out his fantasies. Did Rob always want to live life as a woman, or was it just the allure of David that convinced him to? Why is his perception of what it means to act like a woman such an ice queen version of the vivacious one who was so full of life that he needed to steal her body? Does the show fully understand what a complex and fucked up choice it is for him to take over Louise’s body in particular, given that the show doesn’t otherwise acknowledge that she is Black, or even include any other Black characters beyond her immediate family? Are the hybrid “Get Out” and “Us” vibes at the tail end of the series, which sees a suddenly placid Louise turning to her disturbed son in the backseat of her car with a bone-chilling smile, intentional or just deeply derivative? None of these questions have any tangible answers, because laying the groundwork for and addressing the implications of this reveal would mean losing some of its shock value — which apparently, is the most important part.
I sat with this ending for a few hours to try and figure out if I was morally offended by it. I’m sure I could be, if I kept thinking about it. But in the cold light of day, I just keep coming back to my first reaction: that “Behind Her Eyes” is just too ridiculous to take even half as seriously as the show takes itself.
“Behind Her Eyes” is now available to stream on Netflix.
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