It’s twins all the way down.
Dead Ringers‘s fourth episode is itself, in a way, a twin of the second. Both involve Doctors Beverly and Elliot Mantle attempting to impress figures of authority with their birthing and research center, Rebecca Parker and her circle in the earlier episode, the twins’ own parents, Linda (Suzanne Bertish) and Alan (Kevin R. McNally), in this one; both are centered by truly awful dinner parties, although here the bad behavior is all the twins’.
Utilizing frequent flashbacks that twin the present-day action, if you will, writer Miriam Battye and director Lauren Wolkstein reveal that the very twin-ness of Beverly and “Ello,” as her parents affectionately call her, was the central fixation of their mother’s debilitating postpartum depression. At the dinner party, before things turn south, she jokes that she got 100% more child than she bargained for, but it was no joking matter back then.
The way she faces away from their cribs as they cry while she lies in bed, allowing her husband to pick up the slack; the way she stares at the two of them in their high chairs looking cute and cherubic while the teakettle screams, as if she’s contemplating pouring the boiling water on them; the way she finally staggers out of the home in the rain after leaving behind a dear john letter, driven to the brink by the fact that there are always two of them and they’re always there; her admission to Bev, after the party disintegrates, that she knows she “was never comfort or home or joy or safety for you” even after she shook the PPD and the twins grew older, going so far as to tell Bev, in so many words, “You’re gonna be a terrible mother, Beverly” in an attempt to prevent her from making the same mistakes…the bifurcated nature of her offspring was at the heart of it all.
Linda has more to worry about than she realizes. At the end of the episode, we discover that Beverly herself is expecting twins. This is not a cycle that it seems is in the Mantle family’s best interest to perpetuate. Perhaps that’s why she’s been smoking and drinking caffeinated beverages, to the point where Elliot sneers that she must not want the baby (she doesn’t know it’s babies, plural yet) after all.
News of her pregnancy itself, conceived via intrauterine insemination using the sperm of Genevieve’s younger brother, had already been spread through every Middlesex village and farm by Elliot at the dinner party. The obsessively jealous older sister had learned the truth by overhearing Bev and Genevieve’s distraught conversation when Bev believed she had lost the baby, a belief Elliot debunks by examining her sister in the bed she and Genevieve share while Genevieve herself held Bev in her arms. It’s frankly impossible to watch that scene without looking at Elliot’s insertion of the ultrasound wand into Beverly’s vagina isn’t an act of cucking Genevieve while she watches. She feigns happiness briefly, then staggers off in a daze; the camera captures her twinned against her own reflection. (It’s getting to the point where you find it extremely troubling that, while posing as Bev in that grief counseling group — if that’s indeed what’s going on, I’m still unsure — she wonders aloud if “maybe the wrong sister died.” I mean, it’s troubling no matter which twin is saying it.)
Anyway, it all comes out at the dinner party. The guests include Beverly and Genevieve, contempt for whom Elliot no longer bothers to hide; Elliot and her all-of-a-sudden boyfriend Nick (Tony Crane), a conservative politician with a poet’s heart where Ellie is concerned; Tom (Michael Chernus), Elliot’s Funko-Pop-collector-looking friend and disgraced head researcher, with whom we learn she had a sexual relationship in college; Greta, the Mantles’ increasingly miserable-looking maid, whom we learn is obsessed with Elliot because she had a sexual relationship with her too; Joseph (Jeremy Shamos), the twins’ loyal business manager, whose willingness to accept their abuse finally ends when he gets summarily fired while everyone is arguing and who storms out with a pathetic little flurry of misogynistic insults you can tell have been simmering within him for literally years, not that anyone pays him or them the slightest attention; and Linda and Alan, whose attempts to be loving parents give way to abject horror at the monsters their daughters have become.
And it’s hearing, explicitly, just what being twins means to Elliot that breaks his grandfatherly patience — how she swapped places with Bev to aid in Genevieve’s seduction, how “our cunts and tongues are identical, so what does it fucking matter?” “You awful, awful girls!” he shouts, fed up, and not incorrectly.
Genevieve has had enough too. Almost wordlessly, she breaks up with Beverly over the deception through which their relationship began. No more house in Park Slope together, no more prying Bev away from Ellie, and who knows what’s going to happen with the pregnancy and her impending parenthood.
But even that has been twinned without her knowledge or consent. In one of the episode’s closing scenes, we (and a horrified Tom) learn that Elliot has illegally grown not one (of course) but two fetuses, created using Bev’s eggs and Tom’s sperm, in a laboratory nearly through the entire first trimester. No wonder Elliot has effectively been driven mad by Genevieve: She wants to be the one who gave her sister babies.
All told, despite being the least spectacular of the show’s episodes to date, it’s the most momentous. So much has been dragged out into the light, with the promise of more life-upending revelations to come. The episode begins with an exterior shot of the twins’ nightmarish birthing and research center, but I suspect the Center cannot hold.
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.