AMC’s ‘Soulmates’ Imagines a Future Where Finding Your Match Brings Frightening Prospects
The semi-dystopian dread of AMC’s new anthology series “Soulmates,” has little to do with the usual fears these kinds of shows tap into. Instead it is about that eternal source of anxiety for the human species in any timeline, finding “the one.” The show’s title is on the nose but perfectly accurate. Episodes range from original to formulaic, but it never lets go of its most entertaining question: How do we know we’re with the right person?
Officially the series is set 15 years into the future, when humanity has developed a genetic testing system that allows you to find your perfect match. It’s like a dating app, but fully accurate. Each story in this first season’s six episodes begins with that ultimate question of who your ideal match is. Some episodes successfully engage with very believable approaches. In the pilot, “Watershed,” a woman named Nikki (Sarah Snook), begins to see how everyone around her is taking “The Test,” as the process is known, and some either find bliss or conflict. Imagine finding your “soulmate” when you’re already married or in a relationship. The tension in this episode has little to do with cliché plotting, it’s solely focused on how Nikki starts to notice more and more the differences with her husband, Franklin (Kingsley Ben-Adir), a more reserved, uptight sort. One can feel the overwhelming temptation tugging at Nikki to take the test. They already have children, so the stakes are quite high. Sarah Snook, so great as the cold heiress of HBO’s “Succession,” delivers the best performance of the entire crop of episodes. Her anxiety defines the question of, “what if?”
Most of the rest of the season resorts to the kind of dark revelations or genre rehashes typical to anthology series that have all been chasing after “Black Mirror.” The connecting thread is the test, and how it intrudes into the lives of every character. Creators William Bridges (a writer on “Black Mirror”) and Brett Goldstein follow the old playbook of combining their central idea with a slew of recognizable, although very entertaining, plots. In “The Lovers” a college professor (David Costabile) yearning for tenure is approached by a mysterious woman (Helen Behan) claiming they’ve matched. He can’t exactly indulge in exploring this because he’s married to his boss’s daughter. Yet he does feel the connection, which will inevitably lead to not just lots of lying, but the potential destruction of his career. The ending is pure “Black Mirror” paranoia, of the kind that makes you want to change all of your passwords.
Other episodes do a better job of focusing primarily on relationships and the yearning to find someone out there in that endless sea of human options. “Layover” begins as a classic tourist nightmare thriller. A gay man named Mateo (Bill Skarsgård) has his passport stolen in Mexico, prompting a chase with the help of Jonah (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), with whom he’s just had a one-night stand. Mateo is trying to rush back home to also meet the person he’s matched with through The Test. It’s one of the best episodes dealing with the theme of how we shouldn’t obsess over finding “the one,” when usually we meet just the right person precisely when we stop looking. “Little Adventures” deals with two very time capsule themes of our time, dating apps and open relationships. In the world of “Soulmates,” an open marriage also opens the possibility of one partner matching with someone else in the deep way the title suggests. How it’s resolved is one of the season’s better cases of a moral dilemma finely injected into the suspense.
The season closes on a very popcorn thriller approach with “The (Power) Ballad of Caitlin Jones.” This is an episode where a character is wonderfully imagined, then used for nothing more than a killer of the week narrative. Caitlin (Betsy Brandt) lives in constant fear after a string of abusive relationships, to the point where she walks home through grungy streets constantly looking over her shoulder. She’s also stuck with a deadbeat boyfriend who leeches off her apartment. Then Caitlin matches with someone, a handsome doctor who seems to be the right person to boost her confidence. But what if your match is also a psycho? And what if this is why you two match?
“Soulmates” is a short first season with varying results. Some episodes are challenging in their implications about how we find good relationships, others descend into regular thriller mode. The look of the series is the dreary anthology cinematography that is so in vogue now, as seen recently in Hulu’s “Monsterland” as well. However, it does at least put thought into its idea. Whether it’s today, or in the future, we stubbornly try to find the right match, because to many people being alone is more frightening than any monster.
“Soulmates” season one premieres Oct. 5 and airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on AMC.