AMC drama Too Close - now streaming on the cable network's premium service AMC+ - packs a lot into its three episodes, and while much of its story is intriguing, the series is disappointing overall. It’s based on the novel of the same name, by Natalie Daniels, the pen name of the series’ writer, Ciara Salaman, and directed by Susan Tully (Line of Duty). A series with an all-woman creative team and two exceptionally strong female leads in co-stars Emily Watson and Denise Gough feels like it ought to be a slam dunk--so why doesn't it work? The series could have been a powerful statement about women's lives, but it misses the mark.
The first episode was powerful, riveting stuff. Forensic psychologist Emma (Watson) has been assigned to evaluate Connie (Gough), a woman who has committed an unspeakable and inexplicable crime and is now in a secure hospital. We know she committed the crime; but what led her there? She’s suffering from amnesia, which may be faked, and Emma’s findings will determine whether she is fit to stand trial.
Emma, we learn, has suffered a tragedy recently, and this is her return to work. Clearly, this is a case she should never have taken on.
In the hands of these two brilliant actors, the interactions between Emma and Connie are a game of attack and riposte, as each tries to pin the other down. Is Connie faking it? Who will be the first to crack? And what did happen to transform Connie from the “yummy mummy” of the tabloids into this dangerous, vicious creature? It’s a role that flirts with going over the top into parody, as does Emma’s dowdy, careworn vulnerability. Certainly, Connie fits into the literary tradition of the cunning madwoman in the attic; she even, like Mr. Rochester’s wife in Jane Eyre, uses fire as a weapon, after stealing Emma’s lighter. The chemistry and attraction/repulsion between Emma and Connie may also remind you a bit of Killing Eve.
Connie, perceptive, dangerous, and out to inflict damage, makes some accurate predictions about Emma's life. At their very first meeting, she muses that Emma will return home for dutiful, boring sex with her husband, and that's what Emma does, with a staged seduction of her husband in the kitchen. Emma's training is tested by Connie's intuition and lack of inhibition. Emma considers an affair with an old friend, and she suspects her husband is unfaithful to her. Her life is revealed as a mirror image of Connie's; she's also dealing with guilt and loss.
In a series of flashbacks, we see Connie as a typical upper-middle-class mum living with boredom and mild depression, in a marriage that’s not quite as happy as it could be. She’s attracted to a new neighbor, the beautiful Ness (Thalissa Teixeira) who lives with her daughter and female partner. An intimate friendship quickly develops between the two women, and then things start to fall apart with her partner Karl (James Sives). They have an agreement to have sex with other people, but Connie clumsily propositions Ness and then finds she’s having an affair with Karl. Her stress and depression build to breaking point.
But there’s more going on than Connie can or is able to explain, and Emma turns detective, discovering that Connie had recently lost her mother. From there, the series turns into an indictment of doctors who carelessly toss bottles of pills at their disturbed female patients.
Emma declares Connie fit to stand trial. Empowered by her findings, Emma testifies that Connie almost killed two little girls (one of them her own daughter) because she felt that she was delivering them from evil, as a result of hallucinations caused by withdrawal from anxiety and depression medications. These nuggets from horror and courtroom drama, deliver what is supposed to be a satisfactory ending.
Similarly, Emma’s grief and guilt are wrapped up when she confesses to her husband that their toddler daughter’s death was her fault. He shrugs it off. So all’s well there too. Can you really believe that happy family life will now resume?
Sadly, this series didn’t live up to the standard of its first episode. But you’ll rarely see anything as powerful onscreen as Emma and Connie sparring together, and it’s worth watching just for that alone.
Have you watched Too Close? What did you think? Let's discuss in the comments.