People tend to show their true selves in moments of crisis. Everyone would like to believe that, when the time comes, they will be able to react instinctively and quickly, bravely stepping in to protect those around them from whatever threat is present. Yet it’s impossible to know until it happens, and the aftermath of a serious and precarious situation can be just as difficult to navigate as the actual incident. In Netflix’s limited series Pieces of Her, bold and effective action leads to the unexpected and irreversible unraveling of the carefully-built lives of one mother and her daughter.
In a small Georgia town, Andy (Bella Heathcote) works as a 911 operator. When she meets her mother Laura (Toni Collette) for lunch at a diner one day, a man shoots two people at a neighboring table and then comes for the woman in a police uniform, who he falsely assumes carries a weapon. Laura steps in to save her daughter, and uses the knife the man pulls out to subdue him after he stabs her in the hand. That stark opening is followed by a terrifying visit from an intruder that compels Laura to send Andy out of town, trying to get her as far away as possible from a threat she had no idea even existed.
Pieces of Her is about two different women who have a close but complicated relationship, one that audiences watch played out separately as Andy struggles to make sense of what is going on and flashbacks reveal the circumstances of Laura’s past. The chemotherapy Laura endured with Andy by her side prior to the events of the series only makes Andy more perplexed, since her mother was ready to die without telling Andy about who she really was and what she went through years earlier. Audiences get the additional benefit of visual confirmation of that which Andy begins to uncover, revealing everything she knew to be a lie.
What works especially well about Pieces of Her is that no one can be trusted. There are several figures in Laura and Andy’s life, like Laura’s ex-husband Gordon (Omari Hardwick) and a close family friend, Charlie (Gil Birmingham), who both appear to offer support to the two women but are acutely unaware of certain pieces of the puzzle, suggesting that, for a variety of reasons, their loyalty may be in doubt. There are also haunting flashbacks to Laura’s memory of her father (Terry O’Quinn) and her friendship with a man named Nick (Joe Dempsie) that suggest a mysterious past, with Jessica Barden portraying the role of the younger Laura.
Viewers seeking quick and definitive answers will not find them in this eight-episode series, which, for a good portion of its early installments, features Andy driving for hours and struggling to stay awake as she grapples with the immediate trauma of an attack and the even more confounding fact that Laura had an old car locked away in a storage unit for an emergency just like this. The show disburses information at a consistent and generally satisfying rate, keeping just enough left to the imagination as other pieces are filled in.
This limited series is based on the 2018 book of the same name by novelist Karin Slaughter, and its transition to the small screen works well. Aside from its purposeful and productive pacing, this show works best because of the on-screen talent. Australian actresses Collette and Heathcote are both equally watchable, carrying different parts of the narrative and working with what knowledge their characters are given. Barden is the perfect choice to play a younger Collette, and the reliable O’Quinn leaves an impression in his scenes, as do other members of the supporting cast. Pieces of Her invites audiences down a dark but compelling path, one full of intriguing secrets and well-executed surprises.
All eight episodes of Pieces of Her premiere on Friday, March 4th on Netflix.