Dead Ringers is an intense, gory, unsettling showcase for Rachel Weisz.
DEAD RINGERS REVIEW SCORE
As a culture, we are strangely obsessed with twins. Something about seeing an individual person in repeat strikes a chord with many people, a phenomenon fully on display in Dead Ringers, the new Amazon Prime series starring Rachel Weisz as a pair of identical twin sisters and acclaimed gynecologists. As a starring vehicle, no actor could hope for a better showcase for their ability to display tiny differences in performance, and Weisz does not disappoint in the slightest.
The premiere episode of Dead Ringers (of six, which all dropped to Amazon Prime Video at once) opens with a scene that is a pitch-perfect encapsulation of both the twins and the show as a whole. Beverly and Elliot Mantle first appear facing each other across a late-night diner booth, eating a post-surgery meal, when an oafish man interrupts to first ask if they are twins, and then, taking the boldest of bold shots, if they’re up for a threesome.
Both twins respond in highly individual, equally eviscerating ways. Elliot first sarcastically plays into his incestual fantasy, before mockingly dubbing him “Larry” apropos of nothing, while Beverly dresses him down for assuming they exist for his masculine pleasure, especially after they literally just sliced open a woman’s stomach to deliver a child. It’s a clear, tidy display of how these ostensibly identical women both react to the word in very different ways.
Moreover, the dark humor, queasy sexuality, and description of graphic, gory surgery are pretty good prep for the episode (and series) ahead. The majority of the first episode of Dead Ringers follows the two very codependent twins at their work, where they deliver babies, see women and newborns die, experiment on human cells in dubiously legal ways, and swap identities when convenient. It immediately plunges viewers into the constant, massive stress and the brutal nature of the American OB-GYN system, as well as the Mantle sisters’ tenuous grip on professionalism.
Dead Ringers is a gender-swapped reimagining of the cult 1988 David Cronenberg film of the same name, which starred Jeremy Irons as identical twin gynecologists with the conveniently gender-neutral names of Elliot and Beverly Mantle. That movie was loosely inspired by the real-life Stewart and Cyril Marcus, twin gynecologists who died together in bizarre circumstances in 1975, and the novel Twins by Bari Wood and Jack Geasland, which heavily fictionalized their story. All of this is to say, people really are fascinated by twins.
But the real draw of the premiere episode of Dead Ringers is Rachel Weisz’s bravura performance as both the free-spirited, coke-snorting party girl Elliot and the more reserved, brittle, idealistic Beverly. The show (developed by British writer and playwright Alice March) uses a number of visual cues to tell viewers which twin they are watching, most notably Elliot wearing her hair down and the prim Beverly having a sensible bun, but no one watching could possibly mistake one for the other.
Rachel Weisz has long been one of our most underrated actresses, and Dead Ringers absolutely gives her the space to show what she is capable of beyond the Mummy franchise or Black Widow. She absolutely nails her performances as both sisters, to the point that you forget that one actor is playing the two very different, yet identical women. If Dead Ringers was a feature film remake of the Cronenberg film, she would unquestionably be a lock for an Academy Award nomination.
However, it is doubtful that the show would be all that palatable to the middle-of-the-road tastes of the Academy voters. An early montage of the Mantle twins presiding over various operations might genuinely be some of the most graphic images of childbirth ever seen on television, including close-ups of newborns emerging from their mothers and bloody C-sections. This is not a show for the faint of heart, but it never seems gratuitous; instead, the intensity of what you see on screen feels like a reflection of the edge that both sisters are constantly teetering on.
By the end of the Dead Ringers premiere episode, the sisters are drifting away from each other over a romantic interest, Genevieve (Britne Oldford of The Umbrella Academy), an actress who initially came in for medical care only to be seduced by Elliot in the guise of Beverly, so the more awkward sister can come in later to a receptive sexual partner.
Things are also complicated in that the twins are looking to open their own birthing center with funding from a controversial billionaire (Jennifer Ehle), who positively oozes condescension and amorality from her first moment on screen. While Elliot is eager to take money from a plutocrat who makes no secret of wanting to profit off their work at any expense, Beverly is not so sure, setting up another conflict between the two inseparable sisters. At the very least, between Dead Ringers and Netflix’s Beef, we’re entering a new Golden Age of Television for the portrayal of avaricious, cutting female billionaires.
But the focus of Dead Ringers is fully on the Mantle sisters, who each bookend the first episode sitting on a toilet, a rare moment of solitude for the twins. At the beginning of the episode, we see Beverly experience a miscarriage with an air of resigned, sorrowful experience, while the end sees Elliot screaming in rage from a bathroom stall. It seems quite clear that this is not a story that will end well for either sister.