Netflix’s ‘Behind Her Eyes’ Engages in a Tense Love Affair Broken by a Bizarre Climax

Netflix’s “Behind Her Eyes” begins as a dark parable using that classic, go-to thriller tool: Infidelity. There’s nothing like cheating spouses to generate a growing sense of claustrophobic dread. It’s the ultimate symbol of trying to get away with something weighing on your conscience (if you have one).  Driven by a slick visual style and effective performances, this six-part limited series builds and builds before arriving at a rather puzzling twister of an ending. But before that, it’s a worthy bit of TV escapism, pulled from Sarah Pinborough’s bestseller. Episodes fly by with the breeze, until the final chapter does a full rug pull. 

Like many an affair, this one begins with mere flirtation. Louise (Simona Brown) is a divorced mom living in the UK who goes out one night for a drink, solo. She strikes up a conversation with a handsome professional, David (Tom Bateman), but they both step back before it goes any further. As fate would have it, David then turns out to be Louise’s new boss at the psychiatry office where she works. She assures David their almost-hook up will remain their little secret, especially since he’s a married man. Making it more awkward is when Louise bumps into David’s wife, Adele (Eve Hewson), on the street and the two strike a friendship. As Louise gradually builds a bond with Adele, we learn more about Adele’s mysterious past at a psychiatric facility, and how David supposedly saved her from a burning house years ago. She also has a history of drug abuse and tensions at home seem ready to explode at any minute. But Louise and David also eventually fall into a full on affair. As Louise balances a dangerously flowering romance with David and friendship with Adele, she has no idea of grasping the kind of potential trap she’s stepping into.

In terms of its storytelling, there isn’t much that is necessarily new about “Behind Her Eyes.” Steve Lightfoot adapts and produces while Erik Richter Strand directs. While both are veterans of genre shows, what they do efficiently here is allow the narrative to build without getting cumbersome. They avoid slow burner TV clichés yet allow the first few episodes to build genuine suspense through the sense of deception going on. Louise knows what she is doing with David is wrong, but she also likes Adele, who has charm and down-to-earth friendliness. Clues are dropped about how Adele and David met, about the scar on his arm being the result of the fire he saved Adele from, but not everything is said at once, and the filmmakers never resort to quick resolution action scenes. Louise also suffers from night terrors that flow like surreal sequences, but do they hint at something greater? Flashbacks to Adele’s days at a psychiatric facility introduce us to fellow patient Rob (Robert Aramayo), whom she seems to have a strong bond with. Brief glimpses are dropped about her wealthy background, and how she became dependent on David to the point of unhealthy obsession. She also has a constant need for pills.

How this all ties together requires the viewer continue watching each new chapter, and except for the finale, it never gets as confusing as it could because the center of it is the affair. David and Louise have a strong sexual attraction, so strong it leads to some near-hilarious sex scenes shot with melodramatic bombast (the required romp atop an office table). However there’s the obvious hint that if Adele finds out she will spiral into a dangerous state. As Louise begins to investigate a little more into the couple, the clues and revelations get gradually darker and unnervingly puzzling. Making it effective are the spirited performances, especially Eve Hewson who is usually associated with period dramas and here is allowed to explore her darker, edgier side. She’s serene but ominous, sweet and then threatening. A director like Brian De Palma would have known how to cast her in something like “Dressed to Kill.” Strand also gives the series a slick, clean look, using the interiors of upper class UK living as a backdrop for lies and psychosexual intrigue.

Now about that ending. So much tension is developed by the romantic triangle taking place that we expect an explosive crescendo. Instead, the series literally dives into an almost incomprehensible climax involving a spiritual swap. Imagine watching “Fatal Attraction” and then it suddenly turns into an episode of “The X-Files.” How much of it works depends on your sensibilities as a viewer, maybe. But it feels too much like a left field attempt to “surprise” us, to build hype through an artificial shocker. Apparently in this age of streaming, certain shows just throw story structure out the window.

But before that head-scratching conclusion, a lot of “Behind Her Eyes” works as wicked entertainment. The performances are superb and the craft in production never makes it look subpar. And even within the confines of melodrama, the characters feel real enough. Louise is a believable lead character, wondering why the only nice guy she can find happens to be married, and why the only decent friend she can make turns out to be his wife. For Eve Hewson this is also a strong turning point in her career. After getting her big break on Steven Soderbergh’s “The Knick,” and appearing in some excellent recent films like “Tesla,” here she shows off how her range can go dark, with effective charm and allure. If only the ending didn’t get nuttier than the characters.

Behind Her Eyes” begins streaming Feb. 17 on Netflix.