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'Soulmates' review: What happens when everybody finds a perfect match?

In this AMC anthology series set in a relatable future, an algorithm helps match people with their soulmates

Shamier Anderson and Laia Costa in ‘Soulmates’
Shamier Anderson and Laia Costa in ‘Soulmates’

Soulmates fight. That’s the good news, for spending lifetimes conjoined in agreement with a twin soul, nodding in ghastly unison while agreeing on everything from movie nights to pizza toppings, is surely not a best-case scenario.

In the AMC anthology series Soulmates (now streaming in India on Amazon Prime Video), people are formally labelled soulmates after one omniscient tech firm has taken guesswork out of the equation. Imagine Artificial Intelligence working like a cross between Sima Taparia and Abhinav Bindra. You take a test and the algorithm finds you a hundred per cent match, a person perfectly suited for you and you alone. People matched up by the system do bicker and disagree, but circle back to each other because of the underlying faith that they are destined to work it all out. The results are in: This is as good as it’s going to get.

It’s more than a bit Black Mirror, and the six-episode series created by William Bridges and Brett Goldstein—each episode telling us about differently shaped relationships and different test-takers—makes for an uneven lot, some episodes working better than others, some overstaying their welcome, but all of them provoking intriguing hypothetical questions. The best part of the early seasons of Black Mirror (all available on Netflix) was sitting back after an episode, mind freshly blown, and discussing how we would have dealt with that dread. Soulmates scratches that itch compellingly enough.

The first episode features Sarah Snook (Siobhan Roy of Succession), worn out by the shrillness of infants and by her seemingly flawless husband. She’s surrounded by family and friends swearing by “The Test”, and couples kissing in the street, while her own marriage feels less than magical—made all the worse by everyone she knows applauding her marriage when she doesn’t feel like clapping. We see her gradually fall for the propaganda marketed around her and be tempted by that 100% version of love, whatever it may be.

The thought of a perfect match is alarming on any level. Forget relationships, imagine if Netflix served up a recommendation of a film it knows you will absolutely adore, or Amazon offered up books you are personally guaranteed to love. The idea itself is far from novel, explored intriguingly by all manner of films, from the fantastic The Lobster by Yorgos Lanthimos, where people sign up to find their soulmates, failing which they will be turned into an animal of their choosing, to a clever indie I keep recommending called TiMER, where people wear Fitbit-esque devices counting down to the moment you meet the one.

Soulmates, like the best Black Mirror episodes, is set in a relatable future. Smartphones and televisions have transparent casings, houses have better automation, but the world isn’t far removed from ours, and the people resemble those we know. The cast is exceptional. The striking (and Bjork-y) Victoria actor Laia Costa plays Libby, a designer who believes she has “cracked monogamy” with her husband Adam (a wonderful Shamier Anderson) until a straight girl turns out to be her soulmate, and their marriage attempts to reconfigure itself to accommodate this empirically endorsed love.

“So now we have death, taxes and love,” laughs a woman around a dinner table with her friends. “Certainty sucks.” There is something unnerving (and, naturally, believable) about the way the world accepts The Test instead of questioning it. We want our minds made up for us, and the fear of missing out is too overwhelming. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld once said, “Men don’t care what’s on TV, they only care what else is on TV.” Come to think of it, I honestly might cave and let Netflix accurately pick out something ideal for me every evening, instead of having to scroll through my endless watchlist. Even the woman who laughed about The Test has already discussed giving it a go.

One question is hype, or positive reinforcement. This is your person, says the tech. You may not immediately be drawn to them across a room or captivated by their conversation, but the algorithm—which the world promises you works—is telling you this is s/he, meant for you. The idea can both lull you into acceptance, as a placebo does, or build up a resistance, like movies which are victims of their own deafening hype. What is more infuriating than a couple that actually completes each other’s sentences?

The idea of a soulmate is impossibly intriguing. I believe it to be less about what you believe you want and more about what complements your beliefs, contrast being as important as comfort. We may think we want silence, for instance, but I would imagine a true soulmate to function like a high-end pair of noise cancellation headphones. Their noise would cut out our noise so we can hear the song better. The essential bit is that we take turns picking songs.

Stream of Stories is a column on what to watch online. Raja Sen is a film critic and the author of The Best Baker In The World (2017), a children’s adaptation of The Godfather.


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