Be careful, Eve Hewson, there’s a twist coming.
This piece completely spoils the ending of the Netflix series Behind Her Eyes. If you don’t want to be spoiled, do not read until you have finished watching. If you would like to be spoiled so you don’t have to sit through all six episodes to figure out what the twist is, read on!
The six-episode Netflix series Behind Her Eyes initially has the air of one of those sexy adult thrillers from the 1990s. Louise (Simona Brown), a single mom who gets bailed on by a friend during a rare night out, meets David (Tom Bateman), a hot Scottish guy, at a local bar, only to realize the very next day that he’s actually her new boss. Not only is David the new therapist at the practice where Louise works part-time as a receptionist, David is also married to Adele (Eve Hewson), a lonely woman with a dark past that will be shrouded in secrecy for multiple episodes.
Louise strikes up a friendship with Adele, starts sleeping with David, and tells neither about her relationship with the other. While watching all of this unfold with the knowledge that some sort of twist is coming, it seems reasonable to guess that maybe David and Adele are running some sort of long con, or trying to seduce Louise into joining them in a throuple for reasons that will eventually be revealed. What most people probably did not have on their proverbial Behind Her Eyes bingo cards was: astral projection will explain all of this. Truly, the last episode of this show jumps onto such a completely different track from where it started that I am not sure whether Behind Her Eyes should be oddly admired for its audacity or laughed completely off the platform. I am in the middle, but leaning a tad closer to option B.
Before we get to episode six, we must cover the setup established by episode five. Via flashback, we learn that Adele taught Rob (Robert Aramayo), the friend she met in rehab, how to astrally project into other locations. The science behind this is a little murky but basically their projection skills enable them to zoom mentally and spiritually through the air and spy on other people, but only in locations that are familiar. We also later learn that, like a cartoon jazzman in a Pixar movie, they can project their souls inside the bodies of others. Sadly, neither Adele nor Rob accidentally implants themselves inside a cat the way Joe Gardner does in the movie Soul, although in a scene in the final episode, it’s implied that Adele maybe could have if she wanted to? Look, all I know is that if you’re going to drag astral projection into your storyline in the eleventh hour of a series, you may as well go all the way and drop a human being inside a cat.
Episode five also reveals that Louise is touched with the gift of astral projection and that she’s so freakishly invested in Adele and David’s lives that she writes a letter to the police stating that, based on no actual evidence, she is pretty sure David murdered Rob and dumped him in a deep well on Adele’s family property, where his body remains, because people fall down wells a lot on Netflix shows. (Please see The Haunting of Bly Manor for further information.) Surely the cops will receive this letter, excitedly tear it open, then immediately leap into action to have David arrested.
All of this preamble leads directly into the finale, where a bunch of nonsensical things happen in quick succession, because the less time you have to think about how little sense any of this makes, the better. Louise travels to Brighton and meets with the mysterious Marianne (Eva Birthistle), who shares that she was harassed by Adele because Adele believed Marianne was having an affair with David. (Marianne was not.) Armed with this information, Louise returns to London, reconnects with David, and tells him she now realizes that she should have trusted him all along because his wife is definitely a psycho. The episode skips over the actual moment when Louise tells David about her letter to the police so it can get right to the part where David thanks her for telling the police he’s probably a murderer, because who doesn’t appreciate it when a lover tries to frame them for homicide via snail mail? David really gets what life is all about: gratitude, man. Gratitude.
Anyway, he decides he’s going to go to the cops directly and straighten all of this out. How on earth will he do that? We will never know for sure — but first he makes Louise promise to avoid all contact with Adele. Oh, for sure, Louise says. Totally won’t talk to her at all.
Cut to next scene in which Louise answers a phone call from Adele: “Oh hey, what’s up, Adele? Yes, I totally slept with your husband and I told the cops about Rob’s murder and David is on his way to Cop Headquarters to confess to the crime, I guess. Honestly, I’m not sure what he’s doing exactly, but I do know for a fact that I’m not going to tell you a thing about it … oh, shit.”
A distraught Adele then proceeds to set her house on fire in an echo of the fire that killed her parents, shoot heroin, and descend into mental la-la land so she can presumably die peacefully. But Louise, fearing Adele may be in danger, dashes to Adele’s place where she can see flames shooting through the first floor. Now, the kind of person who would write a letter to police about a murder seems like the kind of person who would probably call the fire department when they see a house fire in progress. But that Louise: she’ll surprise ya! Instead, Louise sits down on the porch and goes into an astral trance because she figures — and this is just an educated guess — that she’ll be able to zoom into Adele’s bedroom and wake her up, even if she’s only present in the form of a ball of light. When Louise’s soul gets there, though, her soul gets into a scuffle with Adele’s soul. Bottom line: Louise’s soul goes into Adele’s body, Adele’s soul goes into Louise’s body, and no souls go into a cat’s body, which, again, is a major missed opportunity.
Just when you think Behind Her Eyes is maybe about to turn into a body-swap comedy, the Louise Who Is Really Adele murders the Adele Who Is Really Louise and makes it look like she overdosed. Now Adele can go on living in Louise’s body undetected, even though Louise’s behavior has clearly been altered by this transformation. The only person who can sense immediately that something is amiss is Louise’s son Adam (Tyler Howitt), who seems too afraid to say anything.
Now comes the extra-unexpected part because, guess what, friends? Even though this seems like it must be the twist of Behind Her Eyes, it is only the pre-twist before the final twist. Because it turns out that Adele’s soul hasn’t been in her own body for a while now. During his visit to her family home, Rob swapped souls with Adele. So when we saw Adele dragging Rob’s corpse to its final resting place at the bottom of a well, it was actually Rob in Adele’s body dragging Adele in Rob’s body. In a way, the idea that some long con was going on is accurate. It’s just that the con man was Rob, who, thanks to his astral projections, seems to have been three steps — floating balls of light? — ahead of everyone else.
This last what the what? twist puts some things in context. It explains why Adele gave Louise’s Rob’s journal to read, and why she had it in the first place. It explains why, in his old photos and flashbacks, David seemed to adore Adele but then later grew hostile toward her. It helps us understand why so much time has been spent on the Rob character when he seems tangential to the central story. Of course this means that the character exists primarily as a narrative misdirect, which is a choice I am not crazy about.
Still, there is something at least mildly interesting in the way that the Rob reveal upends our evolving framework for understanding Behind Her Eyes. We may have first assumed that Adele really was disturbed, which plays into a lot of stereotypes about women and mental illness. Then we may have figured David was the prototypical lousy, controlling, gaslighting husband, which opens a whole other assumption-driven can of worms. Ultimately Adele was a disturbed woman, but only because another man, not her husband, was controlling her actions. That flips over another table: It seemed like Rob was in love with Adele the whole time, when actually, he struck up a friendship with Adele in the hope of gaining access to her money, then fell for David, which provided even more of a motive for him to take over Adele’s entire being. In summary: Behind Her Eyes is a show about a psychologist who uses astral projection as a metaphor for the way we project our own feelings and judgments onto others. Which: Okay, sure.
The final moments of Behind Her Eyes are eerily similar to those in Jordan Peele’s Us. By this point, David and Louise Who Is Actually Rob are married, in the car, and discussing honeymoon destinations while Adam sits in the backseat. This previously very happy child looks nervous, sad, and neglected, the opposite of what he was like when his mom actually was alive, with full control of her faculties. When Louise/Rob suggests they take a Caribbean cruise, Adam points out that she doesn’t like boats. “Maybe I’ve changed,” she says, and looks at the boy a little too long and holds her smile in a manner that’s not quite right. The expression on Adam’s face implies he sees the sinister in her, even if no one else does.
This is a lot like the closing of Us — and spoiler: about to ruin the ending of Us! — in which Jason (Evan Alex), also riding as the passenger in a car, looks into the eyes of his mother Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) and can sense that another entity has taken the place of the mom he knows. It’s so close that it almost seems like a rip-off, even though Us is a completely different (and much more sophisticated) story than Behind Her Eyes, which is based on the novel by Sarah Pinborough.
But the biggest problem with Behind Her Eyes isn’t what it borrows from or the themes it addresses or its decision to make a gay dude a parasite or even the fact that it enables a man to essentially wear the bodies of two dead women. (What’s more problematic: the body invading in this or Wonder Woman 1984? Discuss amongst yourselves.) The worst part of Behind Her Eyes is the show’s decision to sacrifice tonal and genre consistency for the sake of its big twists. While there are some surreal moments in the early episodes, particularly regarding Louise’s night terrors, the series is grounded in something pretty close to reality. When the astral-projecting specters show up, it feels as though Behind Her Eyes is suddenly deciding to be a very different show and didn’t want to announce itself as such earlier, out of fear of spoiling the surprise. It’s like watching A Queen’s Gambit skid into a hard turn and suddenly morph into The O.A.
Of course it is possible for a show to function on two or even more tonal tracks at once. WandaVision does that in every episode. The Good Place straddled more than one genre. The O.A., speaking of, did, too. A lot of series do these days. But their intentions are usually clearer from the get-go. Behind Her Eyes makes its jump suddenly and with little finesse. By the end, it feels like the surprise was the whole and only point. Look, it’s great to feel that tremendous shock when a twist comes out of nowhere. But the best twists also evoke feelings that run deeper than momentary tingles. Within minutes of finishing this series, any tingly sensations are gone. It probably won’t take much longer for the memory of Behind Her Eyes to fade, too.