The new Prime Video version of “Dead Ringers” works better once you divorce yourself from your memories of the excellent 1988 original. Sure, it’s still the story of gynecologist twin doctors and it maintains a healthy degree of the icy menace from the original, but it carves out a unique, confident identity of its own that more than justifies its existence. The 2023 “Dead Ringers” is far more than a mere replication of the source, taking inspiration from the book Twins by Bari Wood and Jack Geasland to do what is very much its own thing. With three episodes directed or co-directed by the great Sean Durkin (“Martha Marcy May Marlene,” “The Nest”) and a stunner by the great Karyn Kusama (“The Invitation”), this is an accomplished piece of art. The sense in the first half of the season that it might not justify being a 6-hour series instead of a 2-hour film disappears by the stunning final chapter, a vicious piece of work that will stand with the best episodes of TV this year.
Rachel Weisz does some of the best work of her career as both Elliot and Beverly Mantle, a pair of famous gynecologists who are planning to open a high-tech, high-profit birthing center. Instantly, Weisz delineates the sisters, making so you can tell if the chilly Elliot or warmer Beverly are taking the lead. When they share space, you don’t question it. The VFX are impressive but it doesn’t work without Weisz’s commitment as a dual performer.
Elliot is the more dangerous of the two, but also the more confident and arguably even the smarter sister. Her moral compass appears to be broken, but it also feels like most of the Mantle success doesn’t happen without her drive and her support for her less confident sister. Even Beverly’s new relationship with an actress named Genevieve (an underwritten Britne Oldford) doesn’t happen if Elliot doesn’t make it happen. Of course, the show is more nuanced than a “good twin, bad twin” story but the reason it can play with those definitions is because of the work that Weisz does to define the Mantles as two distinct, three-dimensional people. It’s an incredible performance. Actually, it’s two. Give her a pair of Emmys.
The Mantles need funding to open their new operation, where Elliot is playing with a few morally questionable experiments behind closed doors. Here’s one of the places where the gender swap makes a sizable thematic difference. With Jeremy Irons playing the twins in the original, it inherently became a piece about male control, but giving these roles to Weisz amplifies a theme of women retaking control over their own bodies, a timely theme in the 2020s. There are more and more stories about people who want to tell women what to do with their own wombs—the Mantles want to take that back. But at what cost? In the second episode, they go to a family of medical financiers led by a chilling Rebecca Parker (Jennifer Ehle), who would make the Sacklers of “Dopesick” question her methods (and it’s mentioned that the Parkers profited off the opioid crisis too). Ehle is also excellent, capturing a woman who sees everything in the world in terms of what it does to her bottom line and legacy. The Mantles are funded by people who don’t really see mothers and babies in human terms, but even they’re not quite ready for what the twins are going to do.
There’s a fantastic line midway through the series in which the question is raised as to if being a twin means double or half. Are the Mantles able to accomplish more by being twice as brilliant or are they parasitic, unable to accomplish anything without the other one? When Beverly’s new relationship rattles the sensitive ecosystem of the sisters, it sets things in motion that can’t be undone. And the show gains a sense of unstoppable menace about halfway through that’s riveting. Durkin sets the table with his undeniable talent, but the whole piece has a consistent tone and momentum, a rising tension to the almost unbearable finale (co-directed by Lauren Wolkstein), which includes some of the best sound design and editing on television in years.
From the beginning, “Dead Ringers” has the kind of unsettling rhythm that’s hard to maintain on television. I have to admit to thinking early that the tangents and long conversations were a product of a film script being stretched to the length of a series—it’s a common problem in the streaming era. But this one pays off your patience. Don’t overthink it. Don’t watch it with your phone on. Give into its strange storytelling structure and breathtaking acting display. You’ll be rewarded. You may be nauseous too. But you won’t be thinking about the original.
On Prime Video now. Whole series screened for review.