It’s possible to appreciate and be cynical about the novelty of Dead Ringers as a television series. Originally a book, it’s clear Annapurna Pictures and showrunner Alice Birch were inspired by the 1988 David Cronenberg film of the same name. That’s the cynical pitch of this endeavour: imagine it, a series based on a much-loved body-horror film—but the central twins are women instead! Say no more, except also, fortunately, those women are Rachel Weisz.
Through six episodes, Weisz plays both Beverly and Elliot Mantle, identical twin gynecologists in Manhattan working towards the same goal, albeit from different directions. For Beverly, helping women give birth is of primary importance; for Elliot, that’s a side benefit—the exploration of fertility science, free of regulation, is more her concern. With hair up and down, Weisz imbues both characters with personalities of their own, creating much the same effect as Jeremy Irons did before her. In tandem with precise direction from such talents as Sean Durkin and Karyn Kusama, an icy world of wealth and privilege (and 80s tunes) is conjured up around the Mantle twins. In the process, we meet their rich benefactor (Jennifer Ehle) and take a trip into a Southern gothic heart of darkness (with help from Michael McKean). While the show gets messy from there, its gory science, romantic dalliances, and sharp deployment of multiple perspectives tend to work well together. At its peak, in fact, the series matches some of the cruel and enjoyable rapid-fire exchanges of Mad Men, where the threat of violence is low yet the suspense of what someone will say next is high.
Still, it’s difficult to separate Dead Ringer‘s intent from its novelty. It’s special to watch Weisz breathe life into these two distinct women, and the show’s many thematic and political vectors are no doubt capital-I important. Yet just as the series is cynical about the ways in which the world works, I couldn’t help but feel the same. This is a mere copy—a doubling—of quality work.