- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
Enough time has passed that I don’t feel guilty revealing that Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige builds to a magical reveal that ties together the film’s themes about twins, doppelgängers and whatnot. Don’t worry, it’s more complicated than that, but the film (and its literary source material) understand that it’s better to convey key information in a fleeting shot likely to confuse much of the audience than to expend so much effort spelling things out that the magic vanishes entirely. Sure, there are entire shows dedicated to pulling back the curtain on the secrets of prestidigitation, but I’m going to wager that many (most?) viewers are more interested in being properly amazed.
A very different tale of twins, doppelgängers and whatnot, Netflix’s new seven-episode limited series Echoes illustrates the dangers of over-explaining. For four episodes, creator Vanessa Gazy and showrunner Brian Yorkey walk a difficult tightrope of confusion, with a mystery seemingly complex enough to maintain consistent interest and even curiosity, boosted in no small part by Michelle Monaghan’s exceptionally enjoyable dual performance. Then there’s an entire episode explaining nearly everything over 50 exposition-packed minutes and suddenly once you know what’s happening … there’s nothing left.
The unraveling that follows ranges from illogical to just plain dull, never fully abandoning the top-notch ensemble, but devolving into a completely generic thriller with only moderately interesting themes about identity.
‘Tis better not to fully understand than to understand too well.
In broad strokes, Leni and Gina (Monaghan) are twins living very different lives. Gina is a reasonably successful author living in comfort in the Hollywood Hills with her husband Charlie (Daniel Sunjata, with some mighty odd line readings). More domestic Leni has remained in their Virginia hometown, where she maintains a horse farm with hubby Jack (Matt Bomer, scruffy and tormented) and daughter Mattie (Gable Swanlund). While Leni is a pillar of the community in Virginia, everybody still remembers trouble-making Bad Gina. But nobody knows that since they were young, Leni and Gina have been swapping lives.
When Leni goes missing on the eve of their birthday, Gina returns home, where every location reminds her of a different personal tragedy. And I mean EVERY location. Like I get why Gina has tried to stay away. Look at an old church? Flashback! A bathtub? Flashback! An equine paddock? Flashback! Director Kat Candler never lets you forget that there are a lot of things her heroines are trying to forget. It’s very aggressive and maybe a little close to parody, because if I’m living in this Nondescript Virginia Town, I’d have long since realized that any proximity to Leni and Gina was dangerous for man and horse alike.
There are drownings, fires and partner-swappings in their shared past and soon the lines between Leni and Gina, between good and wicked, have become blurred, much to the chagrin of their respective husbands, their father (Michael O’Neill) and their sister Claudia (Tony winner Ali Stroker), a victim of one of the twins’ misadventures. It’s up to local sheriff Louise Floss (Karen Robinson) to sort everything out before new tragedies become the stuff of future traumatic flashbacks.
For a while, it’s engaging to watch the too-often-underutilized Monaghan tearing into this meaty role. Leni has a Southern accent and wears her hair in a braid. Gina has no such accent, wears her hair down and favors eyeliner to accentuate the “Bad Gina” glint in her eyes. Monaghan’s having fun, so the show is fun. She’s playing the distinctions between the twins cleverly, so the show almost gives the impression of being clever, though there are a lot of mechanical details for the thing that the twins have been doing that don’t withstand even minor consideration.
The story here probably could sustain 90 minutes worth of suspended disbelief, but definitely not a series, however limited, especially given how inert the present-day storyline related to Leni’s disappearance is. Something about stolen horses and purloined ketamine only barely elevated by the presence of the always intense Jonathan Tucker as a man with a history with one sister or both sisters or something.
Although the mystery she’s investigating is a dud, the series’ most watchable non-Monaghan element is Canadian actress Robinson in a wildly different role to the Schitt’s Creek turn from which some viewers will recognize her. Easily overlooked as a bumpkin, Sheriff Floss’ genial exterior is a cover for wily genius. The character has been conceived of as one of the most blatant Columbo take-offs I can remember, including one scene in which she literally completes an innocuous conversation, heads to the door, pivots and announces “One more thing!” It’s a hoot and even if the character is from a completely different show, a show that could have wrapped up the entire season in 44 minutes, Robinson is all-in on the homage.
Then again, Sheriff Floss is partially to blame for the series reaching its premature dead-end. When she begins to catch on, Echoes becomes a series of talky interrogations, with each explanation and each motivation proving less and less satisfying, destroying whatever minimal mystique the show previously had.
Actually, the show was never really going for “mystique.” There was no pretense that this was Vertigo or something where the journey into several tortured psyches would provide enlightenment on the human condition or some such. At its best, Echoes was aspiring to soap opera trashiness of a bingeable sort. And guess what? I appreciated that. Echoes has some superficial similarities to Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s thriller double-bill of HBO Max’s The Girl Before and Apple TV+’s Surface, two shows so sure of their underlying profundity that they forgot to be entertaining.
I don’t believe in the concept of guilty pleasures — love what you love! — but I absolutely believe in engrossing trashiness. For a few hours, Echoes achieves that much. You can get caught up in it until you aren’t anymore. The lack of confidence in the audience’s intelligence was finally too much for me and despite Monaghan’s worthy double-act and Robinson’s Columbo-esque ingeniousness, Echoes never recovered from revealing how its trick was achieved — long before it had actually been fully achieved.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day