In the last decade, mainstream science fiction TV has been preoccupied with a key idea: How could imminent progress in technology enable the worst in human tendencies? A steady stream of shows have followed, but of these, Black Mirror (2011-2019) is the best known, and it’s also the best example of the pitfalls that such a series can fall into. After a stellar few seasons, Black Mirror has since too heavily relied on shock violence, gimmicks, and aggravating nihilism in place of any serious innovation, and it’s not alone in doing so. Audience cynicism is therefore perfectly understandable when it comes to Soulmates – yet another near-future sci-fi anthology series with a gimmicky concept: What if a machine could tell you your perfect partner? Yet against all the odds, Soulmates is, so far, actually quite good.
The not-too-distant future
Soulmates is set around 15 years in the future, where you can pay for a specialised machine to test and match you with your perfect partner. In this context, we find ourselves in a world of short-term gratification and facades of happiness; a world of fake smiles and constant weddings as people break up with their spouses (often with devastating consequences) to be with their soulmate. It’s a world more nuanced and understated than the standard fare. A lot of world-building takes place firmly in the background and nothing feels wildly unrealistic for a series set in the not-too-distant future, resulting in a much more relatable and navigable context. This is helped, of course, by some excellently written characters and acting.
The first episode of Soulmates concerns itself with Nikki (Sarah Snook) and Franklin (Kingsley Ben-Adir), a couple with two kids who watch their friends and the world around them change in reaction to the Soulmate test. Their relationship is expertly navigated. While there’s trouble and insecurity stemming from both sides of the marriage, there’s a base of love, support, and common sense that makes Nikki and Franklin feel as human as can be in a cold, strange world. Nikki begins to act increasingly erratically as her irritating brother and pathetic neighbour try to find love from this test, wondering whether or not her marriage is collapsing – should she test for her soulmate and find out?
It’s a fantastic scene that highlights the strengths of the series so far. By building up a complex and interesting family drama and keeping the gimmick in the background, Soulmates feels more like Black Mirror’s earlier hits (Fifteen Million Merits and Be Right Back spring to mind), and by the episode’s end, I realised I wasn’t ready to leave these characters behind and move on to a new story. I actually wanted more.
Initial impressions only
With all that said, it remains to be seen whether Soulmates will keep itself firmly grounded. It’s not a cheap plastic Black Mirror rip-off, but nor is it entirely original, and it may well end up walking into the same traps that other shows have fallen into. There’s still plenty of ground to cover and episodes to come, and an initial hit is only a marginal indicator of things to come. I plan to finish the series in its entirety and review it as a whole as soon as possible, but suffice to say that initial impressions are good. The first episode of Soulmates comes highly recommended.
Image: Eva Rinaldi via Wikimedia Commons