By Jayleen Rolon
A maze of lies. A maze of secrets. A maze of tricks. A maze of truth.
The best way I can describe Netflix’s new limited series, “Behind Her Eyes,” which is based on the novel by Sarah Pinborough with the same title, is that you step into a maze. It’s a psychological thriller that follows Louise Barnsley (Simona Brown), a single mom who longs for more excitement in her life. She begins an affair with her boss David Fergusen (Tom Bateman) after spilling a drink on him in a bar. Alongside their affair, Louise befriends his mysteriously troubled wife, Adele (Eve Hewson).
Based on the synopsis you might assume, as I did, that this series is yet another affair storyline to add to the list. When you step foot into the maze, you realize that it gets more complex the deeper you go; a breath of fresh air in an age of predictable media. From the beginning of the series we quickly learn that Louise struggles with severe night terrors on a consistent basis that wake her up in a panic. Meanwhile, Adele and David’s marriage lacks the chemistry and romance present in David’s affair, with several encounters between the married couple that vaguely reference Adele’s ominous past.
As Louise becomes increasingly involved with the mind games David and Adele partake in out of spite — suspicious games that involve David’s constant monitoring of Adele’s whereabouts and insisting that she takes medication he prescribed her — Adele teaches her how to lucid dream as a way to remedy her night terrors. Soon Louise has what appears to be the best of both worlds, sleeping with David and bonding with Adele, until Adele begins turning Louise against David, using whatever means necessary to do so. We learn that David saved Adele from a tragic house fire that killed both her parents when she was 17, raising suspicions about the cause of the fire. Simultaneously, flashback Adele from over ten years prior bonds with Rob, a recovering drug addict, during her stay at a rehab facility following the death of her parents. More of this twisted web of lies is unraveled by the minute.
At times I wondered whether this series was simply contributing to the stigma surrounding mental illness, given the focus on Adele’s past trauma as well as her obsession with her husband “looking after her.” However, as the show went on and the lines between truth and falsehood were blurred, I realized that the focus seemed to be on properly treating illness before it distorts reality. For example, Louise tells Adele that her struggle with night terrors were always invalidated by health professionals so she was forced to live with them without treatment.
Another example is Anthony, whose parents take him to see David to handle his substance abuse, trying to learn healthy boundaries with his psychiatrist after forming an unhealthy bond with him. Adele’s character is not demonized for being mentally unstable — she’s demonized for her habits of deceit and mind games, and I think that’s an important distinction to make.
Additionally, the series clearly showed a prime example of what a lack of boundaries can do to a relationship. David prescribes his own wife antipsychotics and sedatives, while his wife interferes in his personal relationships out of fear that they will drive him away from her. In the end, they are both trapped in an unhealthy marriage.
A shocking twist involving astral projection within the final moments of the series left my mind spinning and made me want to rewatch the show again in this different context. As far as plot twists go, I have a knack for guessing them before they are revealed, proving that they are far more predictable than they should be; this one I could not have seen coming. Predictability is comfortable; surprise is fun if done right.
Some series are meant to be easy watches with easy-to-follow plots and predictable twists while others will surprise you. One of the good things about the massive selection of media to consume is that you can choose whether you want to be rattled or not.
The plot of this series itself is enough to give you whiplash by the end, and as if that wasn’t enough, the use of audio and visual techniques make the series that much more suspenseful and disorienting. From the heavy focus on Adele’s eyes and facial expressions to the use of music throughout, to the chilling depiction of Louise’s nightmares in which pill bottles spill endlessly onto the floor and her son screams for her, the series is meant to be a bewildering rollercoaster. It succeeds at that, providing a not-so-fun, yet unforgettable maze for the audience to navigate across six episodes.