Dead Ringers is a gorgeously unsettling tour de force that pokes into big, messy questions about motherhood, reproductive care and rights, classism, interdependency, addiction, and the hideous state of health care in America. It’s a psychological thriller that will truly dig under your skin and haunt you after the fact. But most importantly, it’s the stage for Rachel Weisz’s two best career performances. As twin gynecologists Elliott and Beverly Mantle, Weiss gets to play a tug of war with herself. In the same scene, she gets to be feral and instinctive or careful and withdrawn. Dead Ringers is a triumph of perversion and a brilliant probe into the true value of a single life.
Like the 1988 film, Prime Video’s Dead Ringers is based on the Bari Wood and Jack Geasland novel, Twins. Identical twins Elliott and Beverly Mantle are brilliant gynecologists and fertility experts with a dream to revolutionize maternal care. Younger sibling Beverly is the shyer, more idealist twin. It is her sincere dream to launch birthing centers that will give any woman, regardless of background, bespoke maternal care. Elliott is the older, more reckless twin, a genius in the lab and an avowed rule breaker. (You know Elliott’s the cool one because she wears her hair down and loose whereas Beverly’s hair is always pulled back in low bun or pony.) Elliott’s interest in the birthing center is less about helping mothers than playing the Dr. Frankenstein of fertility treatments in the lab.
When we first meet the Mantle sisters, they are so intertwined that they do everything together. They live together, they work together, they eat together, they pick up sexual partners together, and they attempt to impregnate Beverly together. (Elliott has made it her personal mission to crack the code to give her single sister a baby.) Two meetings — one personal and one professional — shocks the equilibrium between the sisters forever. First, the sexually confident Elliott “swaps” with Beverly to woo a beautiful actress the younger sister has a crush on. What neither sister bargains for is that (ahem) Prime Video star Genevieve (Britne Oldford) winds up falling in love with Beverly. Second, the two have to compromise their morals to convince a Sackler-esque pharma titan played by Jennifer Ehle to be their financial backer. The former interaction causes jealousy that never existed before while the latter opens the door for some deliciously scathing social satire.
2023’s Dead Ringers borrows some stylistic cues, like blood red scrubs, from Cronenberg’s film, but leaves the Giger-esque medical equipment in the ’80s. The show, created by Alice Birch and boasting an all female writing staff, trusts that birth and all its complications is enough to stoke discomfort. However, Dead Ringers argues that the real horror isn’t physical in nature — Beverly’s constant refrain is that “pregnancy is not a disease” — but the question of what motherhood does to identity. It’s a question that is examined in tandem with what it means to be a twin, a child, a patient, a cog in capitalism, and so forth.
Dead Ringers is a darkly beautiful show to watch that is instantly electrified by its incredible cast. Jennifer Ehle is a terrifyingly cruel embodiment of capitalist greed, while Michael Chernus shines once more as a charming, brilliant scumbag who works alongside Elliott in the lab. However Dead Ringers is the Rachel Weisz and Rachel Weisz show. The Oscar-winning actress has never been better, using her beauty as a cudgel and her intelligence as a scalpel to destroy every other character in her path. With Elliott, Weisz is able to unleash something savage on the screen, and with Beverly, a more quiet, yet no less perverse take on a mad genius woman. And with both characters, Weisz gets to express her simmering brand of sensuality. You’ll feast on her fruits of her work here.