There are many comedies that center on the concept of people not being able to tell identical twins apart. While parents, siblings, and good friends are usually able to notice small differences even if the general public can’t, that tendency is ignored for cinema’s sake to create a humorous setup. When the same is true in drama, the result is often much more serious, with one twin typically forced to assume the role of the other when things go dangerously wrong. Netflix’s new limited series Echoes presents a scenario where one woman must assume two lives when her sister goes missing.
Gina (Michelle Monaghan) lives in California with her husband (Daniel Sunjata). She usually speaks to her sister Leni (Monaghan) every single day, and when she hasn’t heard from her for a while, she becomes very concerned. Arriving in much more rural Mount Echo, West Virginia, she learns from Leni’s husband Jack (Matt Bomer) that she has disappeared. As she tries to figure out what Leni was involved in, Gina convinces everyone else that Leni has returned by continuing what the two sisters have been doing for years: swapping lives on a regular basis and living as the other.
There is extraordinary suspension of disbelief required to accept the premise of this show, which is that not even the two spouses and father of these sisters can tell them apart. That they spoke every day makes it more believable, though Gina posing as Leni without having any context for her recent actions and behavior makes it harder to presume that no one would be able to see through the deception. When anyone does become aware of Gina’s secret, the stakes become immediately raised since that is the best weapon she has to stay ahead of whoever may be trying to hurt her sister.
There are similarities to be found between Echoes and another recent Netflix limited series, Pieces of Her. While the latter deals with a mother-daughter relationship, there is a familiarity to the unraveling of a quiet existence that turns out to be full of considerably more nefarious elements. There is also a heavy reliance on flashbacks to younger years, where Hazel and Ginger Mason portray Leni and Gina as they work to establish the framework that allows them to slip seamlessly between two lives as adults. One character is even introduced with a quick flash to his younger self, for context about the insular role of the sisters’ hometown in their engagement with the world.
Monaghan has had a few television roles in the past, most recently on Messiah and The Path, two shows about charismatic individuals who inspired a devout following. Echoes isn’t quite as dark as True Detective, another show that featured a very strong performance from the actress, but it does give her a great deal of material to work with as she balances playing two roles and capturing the nuances of one of them trying to mimic the other. She finds solid support in the cast from Bomer in an angrier part than usual, uninterested in extending even the slightest olive branch to Jack’s sister-in-law Gina, and Michael O’Neill as the sisters’ father. Karen Robinson is also a standout as Sheriff Louise Floss, who comprehends much more than she communicates with her small-town, folksy demeanor.
Echoes has the makings of a competent thriller, using the limited series format to establish drama quickly and then play itself out over the course of seven hour-long episodes. But it also takes big leaps and makes assumptions which it can’t always back up. Upon arriving in Mount Echo, Gina alienates the locals in mere moments by sarcastically asking if electricity has arrived there. For someone so skilled at blending in, she very quickly makes herself stand out. It may all be part of the long game, but it’s not always clear how much is purposeful and what just doesn’t connect.
All seven episodes of Echoes premiere Friday, August 19th on Netflix.