[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers through the Season 1 finale of Echoes, “Falls.”]
The Pitch: What if two adult identical twins swapped places every year, unbeknownst to everyone in their lives? Such is the premise of Netflix’s Echoes, a show that opens on a shrewd and successful author named Gina (Michelle Monaghan), who lives an exceedingly normal life in an austere Los Angeles mansion with her doting therapist husband, Charlie (Daniel Sunjata).
Living in Mount Echo, a modest farm town halfway across the country, is Gina’s identical twin sister, Leni, a ranch owner with a hearty southern drawl and permanently braided hair. Every year on their birthday, Gina and Leni switch places for a year, unbeknownst to anyone else: From their accents to their devoted husbands to Leni’s young daughter, Mattie (Gable Swanlund), everything in the twins’ lives is interchangeable at the snap of a finger.
Twin Flames: Gina and Leni have their deception down to a science, and all is hunky dory in their twisted lives — that is, until Leni goes missing. Upon receiving the news of her sister’s sudden disappearance, Gina returns to Mount Echo, only to discover a note which suggests that Leni might have in fact run away. (At this point, we learn that Gina is actually the real Mount Echo-residing, braid-wielding Leni. Yes, keeping track of who is who is confusing, and remains confusing throughout the majority of the show.)
So real Leni does what any normal person would do: She stays in Mount Echo and dresses up as both her and her twin in an attempt to solve real Gina’s mystery. What follows is a thrilling mystery-melodrama ripe with twists, turns, and glaring improbabilities: After a brief period of sleuthing, Leni learns that Gina was actually involved in a botched runaway with her high school sweetheart, Dylan (Jonathan Tucker), a leather-jacket-wearing bad-boy whom she lost touch with after he and Gina got caught in the middle of a mysterious (and very suspicious) church fire.
A Tense Twiniseries: A couple of episodes in, Gina returns to Mount Echo with her tail between her legs, and Leni is able to go back to being just one twin. But at this point, the action has only really just begun, as perpetually-dubious small-town sheriff Floss (Karen Robinson) is hell-bent on locking at least one of the twins up for the church fire. So when Dylan mysteriously shows up dead, Floss’s ambition turns into an obsession.
As present and past storylines collide, creator Vanessa Gazy cranks up the sense of urgency through rapid editing, and the jarring splicing of chilling flashbacks into the main narrative. As a result, there is a constant, nagging sense of pent-up mystery, and a feeling that Gina and Leni’s extensive collection of secrets will soon erupt into a violent, cataclysmic event. As Leni gets closer to finding Gina in the first few episodes, for example, so, too, does the audience get closer to discovering the dark truths lurking in the twins’ pasts – truths full of violent fires, cruel masochism, and covert affairs.
From a narrative standpoint, Netflix’s new series Echoes, which follows a pair of identical twins who switch places every year, is undeniably compelling. Throughout the show’s seven episodes, Gazy masterfully draws out various suspenseful storylines like an elastic band stretching to its very limit, promising an eventual, violent snap.
But as the episodes quickly gather momentum, the show falls victim to a deadly trap that miniseries-thrillers often do: The creators get too excited about the endless possibilities for suspense at their fingertips, and the story’s credibility flies right out the window.