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The Student News Site of McLean High School

The Highlander

Netflix misses big with Fool Me Once

Underwhelming mystery series leaves characters lacking
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IMDb
The mystery Fool Me Once, sat at number one on Netflix’s top 10 chart for two consecutive weeks, easily making it one of the streaming service’s most popular shows of the month. The limited series consists of eight episodes, following the secretive Maya Stern played by English actress Michelle Keegan.

Set in an unnamed British city, the Netflix series Fool Me Once—based on Harlan Coben’s book of the same title—follows hotheaded war criminal Maya Stern who married into the lucrative Burkett family. After the murders of her sister Claire Walker and husband Joe Burkett, Stern investigates their deaths, unraveling a much larger plot rooted in a massive cover-up.

An important element of a successful show is its ability to draw viewers into the lives of its characters. Fool Me Once fails to do this, with its one-dimensional and static characters. Even Stern barely develops as the series progresses, with her only significant change coming at the very end of the show. Without a dynamic central character, the series lacks the emotional resonance needed to captivate its audience.

Fool Me Once has potential for depth and complexity, but seemingly the show’s writers chose cardboard cutouts of archetypes over fleshed-out personalities. Side characters like Stern’s military friend Shane Tessier and whistleblower Marty McGreggor serve as plot devices instead of connecting with the audience in meaningful ways. The one exception was detective Sami Kierce, who battled a degenerative brain condition all while finding the courage to open up emotionally to his fiancée. By the end of the series, Kierce had become a fan favorite of viewers for his character growth and was arguably more prominent of a character than Stern.

The pacing of the series did no favors for its issues with character development. Scenes that could have tied together storylines—like that of Stern’s endangered friend Nicole Butler—ended up leaving viewers with more questions. Not only does the show feel disjointed, but any attempt at emotional investment is stifled by the writers’ inability to prioritize character growth.

Beyond lackluster characters, Fool Me Once stumbles in its attempts at thematic exploration. Promising motifs centered on Stern’s character like forgiveness and sacrifice are introduced in the latter half of the show but were barely covered. The show seems more interested in weaving a convoluted plot than crafting any sort of substantive message.

The dialogue, too, is mediocre at best. Conversations lack depth and nuance, relying on clichés and predictable exchanges such as those between Stern and mother-in-law Judith Burkett. The writing feels formulaic, as if the creators relied on tired tropes rather than trying to put together a creative adaptation of the book.

Visually, Fool Me Once struggles to compensate for its narrative shortcomings. While some scenes are enhanced by horror-esque camera work to create an element of fear, the cinematography is nothing special, with the occasional jump scare waking up viewers who fell asleep during the inconsequential exchanges between Stern’s niece and nephew.

The plot fails to captivate the show’s viewers like a true mystery should. The series spoon-feeds information about the murders of Walker and Burkett, never providing a real opportunity for viewers to try to solve the mystery themselves.

Fool Me Once is a series that disappoints on multiple fronts, with its most glaring flaw being the stunted growth of its characters. Netflix subscribers seeking a compelling mystery with well-developed personalities will find themselves let down by a show that falls short of its potential. With a stagnant character ensemble, convoluted writing and missed thematic opportunities, Fool Me Once is a forgettable addition to the streaming service’s vast collection of limited series.

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