With only one episode to go, there’s no sign Dead Ringers is content to keep its head down and its guard up during the final rounds. Nope, it looks like this is a show that’s swinging haymakers until the final bell rings.
As written by Susan Soon He Stanton, it introduces several important new characters, introduces and immediately discards an entirely new dynamic between the protagonists, and jumps around in time without the safety net of captions or title cards telling the viewers the dates and times as has been the case thus far. Directed by Karyn Kusama, it leans into crimson Cronenbergian grand guignol as heavily as any episode yet, while also coming across like a pitch-perfect Southern Gothic nightmare about the white patriarchy’s moral degeneracy. And just for fun, it uses the most iconic goth song ever recorded so perfectly that music supervisor Lucy Bright should charge tuition for showing everyone else how it’s done. This show just keeps finding new ways to impress.
Where to start? Maybe with Silas (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine), an absolute assassin of a writer whom Rebecca Parker hires, rather uncharacteristically foolishly I might add, to write a puff piece about the Mantle twins on the occasion of the opening of their second birthing center, in Alabama. A Pulitzer Prize–winning former big shot, his career collapsed when it was revealed he was sleeping with his students, and he literally hasn’t written a single word in 17 months.
Hey, paying work is paying work, but it’s work he simply cannot bring himself to do. Every question he asks cuts too deeply, probes too privately, comes custom-engineered to make the Mantles look like weird inhuman enmeshed narcissists with god complexes. (The fact that they spend part of one interview session chomping on apples like a pair of Eves is not accidental.) He’s the first character to give explicit voice to the ghastly anti-abortion overtones that have hung thick in the air surrounding the Mantles and their work from the start. In other words he’s doing his job right. It’s just not the job he was hired for.
Not that this stops either sister from spilling their guts to him. I’d guess it’s because, now that Genevieve’s out of the picture and with no one else to turn to, they’ve decided to raise the by now very pregnant Beverly’s twins as co-parents, sealing themselves into a dyad in which there can be no real honesty. Silas gives them a way to vent. So vent they do, with Beverly talking about how she has to think of Genevieve as not even existing in order to get by without her, and Elliot talking in detail about her hallucinations, her apathy towards babies themselves in favor of the science of making them, and her addictions, which having previously kicked she resumes with a vengeance right in front of Silas, whom she recognizes as a fellow drinker. (He’s gloriously cynical about this: “I can always stop whenever I want, I just never want. There’s no trauma. I just fucking like drinking.” Man I love the writing on this show.)
It’s Silas, the episode intimates by the end, who is going to expose the entire sordid saga of the Mantle twins to the world. Granted, plenty of it is already out there by now, thanks to the scandalous disaster that occurs down in Alabama. Invited to the ancestral home (euphemism alert!) of Rebecca’s wife Susan’s family to deliver her sister Florence’s (Erica Sweany) quadruplets with the help of the family’s gynecologist patriarch Marion (Michael McKean!!!!!), they successfully extract the babies, then botch the operation horribly.
Which is to be expected. The night before, Elliot got her load on with Silas. (Whom I’m frankly shocked she didn’t at least try to fuck, by the way.) In the process it becomes clear that Silas, like Marion, like Beverly, suspects that a “miracle baby” delivered thriving at 24 weeks was the result of “Frankenstein shit” on Elliot’s part, which indeed it was.
Beverly, meanwhile, hallucinated a journey deep into an Under the Skin–like void within the big house, where she finds Anarcha (Brittany Bradford), a 17-year-old enslaved girl who was forcibly, brutally experimented on by James Marion Sims, the “father of gynecology.” Note that Susan’s father — whose wife he repeatedly impregnated, including with two sets of twins, in service of his own practice; whose postpartum depression each and every time stripped from her any capacity for love of joy and eventually led her to abandon the family; who earlier told a sanitized version of Anarcha’s story — is named Marion James. Why fuck around, you know?
Anyway, Anarcha tells her own story, in a slower, classier version of the similarly stagey monologues delivered at other times by Rebecca and Agnes, the woman Elliot hallucinated killing. (We’ll get back to that.) When Beverly attempts to follow her away from the house, she finds herself covered in blood…which, when she attempts to explain it away to Elliot and Silas, is revealed by an unsettling wide shot to be a figment of her imagination. In short, neither woman should be anywhere near an operating room.
But it’s Elliot who snaps, not Beverly. Staring at her sister — whose chipper demeanor in the operating room is much more Elliotesque than we’ve seen from her before, while Elliot’s blank-eyed rock-bottom affect is nearly indistinguishable from Bev’s during the night — as she cradles one baby after another, hearing Silas’s mocking remonstrances in her head, she slices into Florence’s abdomen, rupturing her bladder.
It could be much worse, as Rebecca and Susan both insist. It could have been an outsider, rather than a family member with strong financial incentives to keep it quiet. It could have been a more, uh, important organ than a bladder. And as Rebecca points out to Marion, in her singable likeable moment so far this series, she owns his house and everything in it, so he can just shut the fuck up and do what she says.
But it’s finally become too much for Bev to take. She leaves Elliot, as she tells Genevieve in a phone call it seems both of them had simply been waiting for Bev to make this whole time. Ellie screams, beats her rental car with her soft-shelled luggage, yells “NOOOOOOOOO!” at the sky like Darth Vader reacting to the news of Padme Amidala’s death (I would honestly not be surprised if this is a deliberate reference) — and it’s all stripped of any tragedy or grandiosity by the sardonic mediating presence of Silas, who watches it all and then simply says “You done? You want me to drive?”
The way she peels the hell out of there, swerving around the road, maybe she should have taken him up on it, because boy does he have a way to get even for any rough rides. As we discover via Stella the maid — who spends the twins’ trip out of town trying on their clothes, muttering about how sad she is, and self-mythologizing her pain by dancing around to Joy Division’s stone-cold classic of romantic melancholy “Love Will Tear Us Apart” about it — Agnes’s body has finally been discovered, trapped in a gutter on a rooftop after all these months. She was real, Elliot really did kill her, and Silas, who’s seen the headline about the dead body found outside the Mantles’ apartment building, knows it. He’s hearing the muse again, and not even Rebecca Parker can stop him from putting pen to paper now. And if there’s one thing this episode has taught us, it’s the power of a good story.
Sean T. Collins (@theseantcollins) writes about TV for Rolling Stone, Vulture, The New York Times, and anyplace that will have him, really. He and his family live on Long Island.