Warning to adult twins and expectant mothers: Proceed with caution through this review … and Prime Video’s new miniseries “Dead Ringers.” Sibling co-dependency and onscreen birthing are taken to graphic, new levels in this superbly nefarious drama about the unhealthy bond between identical twin gynecologists and their daring quest to “change the way women birth, forever.”
The six-part psychological thriller flips the gender narrative on David Cronenberg’s 1988 film of the same name when it follows the Mantle sisters, twin OB-GYNs (both played superbly by Rachel Weisz) who practice at the same Manhattan medical center. It’s nearly impossible to tell the women apart save for their hairstyles and divergent personalities: Elliot is reckless, impulsive and crass; Beverly is methodical, measured and polite.
Together these brilliant, British-born doctors witness the failings of the American maternal care system firsthand, from rising maternal mortality rates — especially among women of color — to preventable miscarriages and the dangers of untreated, postpartum depression. Beverly’s heard more than once proclaiming that she “wants to change the way women birth, forever,” and Elliot’s ethically questionable experiments could make that happen. Her late-night antics in the lab, fueled by booze and cocaine, have resulted in breakthroughs to medical problems that have historically been viewed as part of a woman’s burden. The twins pair up with a morally bankrupt big pharma family to open a state-of-the-art birthing center that promises to put the well-being of women and their children ahead of all else. Well, everything but their warped relationship with one another.
Weisz’s nuanced performance as Elliot and Beverly is next-level brilliant. It’s hard to take your eyes off her, or them, as she imbues each twin with their own strengths and vulnerabilities, charms and tics, then artfully manipulates the conflict between the two, ratcheting up the tension with each episode, making it hard to turn away — even when you want to. It’s a good thing Weisz is so magnetic, because there are plenty of repelling moments here for the queasy viewer.
“Dead Ringers” is a breakthrough show in terms of its realistic portrayals of childbirth, from vaginal deliveries where the camera is right between the mother’s legs, from the moment the baby crowns to its arrival, to aerial shots of cesarean sections performed on swollen bellies. As hard as it may be for some folks (men) to witness, there is something quite profound and moving in these candid scenes of childbirth and loss, perhaps because we rarely see such detail onscreen. The familiar portrayal of movie and TV births routinely starts with her water breaking at an inopportune time (A ballgame! Corporate headquarters! How embarrassing!), then a mad dash to the hospital, and next thing we know, she’s a beaming new mom holding a “newborn” that’s portrayed by a startlingly large 8-month-old baby.
But rarely witnessed are the realities and risk around conception and birth: the heartbreak and shame of not being able to conceive, the blood and grief of losing a pregnancy, the rigors of giving birth or the danger postpartum depression presents to the mother and child. “House of the Dragon” notably went there in its opening episode, portraying in detail a complicated birth where the mother’s life was taken to save the child, and the child died anyway. Never mind that television’s bold step forward in infiltrating the secret lives of women arrived on the wings of a dungeons and dragons-fueled fantasy. It was an indelible TV moment. Set in present-day, “Dead Ringers” takes it a step further, daring to show that no matter how advanced we believe ourselves to be, that the miracle of life still balances on the precipice of death.
The drama and power plays between the twins sweeps all this realism into a twisty, unsettling narrative that’s at once darkly entertaining and dangerously unpredictable. “Dead Ringers” is must-see TV, even when it’s hard to watch.
Where: Prime Video
When: Any time, starting Friday
Rating: 18+ (may be unsuitable for anyone under the age of 18 with advisories for substance abuse, smoking, alcohol use, nudity, violence, sex and coarse language)