Apple TV is quickly building up a surprisingly solid library considering the humble beginnings. Shows I haven’t even gotten around to yet, such as The Morning Show or Ted Lasso, carry their own pedigree of excellence. Enter: Surface, a new mystery/drama/thriller featuring a love triangle, a plethora of twists, and more backtracking through memories than Memento. Thanks to the strengths of its ensemble cast and richly written characters, Surface builds up an incredible connection to the questionable reality of complex lead, Sophie (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Beauty and the Beast, The Cloverfield Paradox), and the swirling world around her.
Before her big “accident,” Sophie seemingly had the perfect life. A loving, handsome husband, James (Oliver Jackson-Cohen, The Haunting of Hill House, The Invisible Man), a sprawling mansion to call her home, and BFF Caroline (Ari Graynor) to share her gossip with. Why would someone with a perfect life want to end it? In her immediate recovery from a suicide attempt, Sophie begins trying to piece together nuggets of her past life in order to lead a fulfilling, entirely cognizant new existence. The only problem is that she cannot remember literally any facets of her past; only occasionally will she have random flashes of memories sparked by some current trigger. Sophie’s unhelpful, altogether prying therapist (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) insists there is next to no chance of Sophie getting back any of her memories from “before the jump.”
A series of events in the pilot episode result in Sophie constantly questioning fact from lies—it appears not even Caroline can be trusted! When an alluring undercover cop named Baden (Stephan James, Selma, If Beale Street Could Talk) meets Sophie out at a bar, he warns her not to trust James. “He’s not telling you everything,” Baden says, and Sophie buys into this almost straight away. Feeling disconnected and not at all invested in the life she once held, Sophie is practically an outsider to her own passé lifestyle. As Sophie’s mind races with possibilities (Was her fall really a suicide attempt, or could someone have pushed her? Why is everyone around Sophie treating her with kid gloves?), so too do the theories of the audience. Though I have obviously not yet seen general reactions, there is no doubt that Surface will produce all manner of wild fan theories.
As with the sad majority of mysteries, the beginning and subsequent build are far more satisfying than the eventual revolution. Episode six answers nearly every major question Sophie has, leaving the final two installments ample time to satisfyingly close out the story. Surface doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, but the way it unfolds makes it less predictable than I initially assumed. However, I must say I felt that the landing was definitely not handled convincingly. One of the most pivotal moments of the series happens completely offscreen in a frustrating manner that goes unresolved, at least as far as season one is concerned. Stumbling over their feet to leave a crumb-trail for a potential second season, creatives fail to close out Sophie’s story with even a small finality.
Even despite faults in the latter-half, Veronica West’s world is so carefully constructed within the first four or five episodes that I was practically foaming at the mouth for answers. I grew attached to the dramatic, twisty lives of Sophie, James, and Baden, and ate up the tiniest nugget of information in regards to Sophie’s past. Carried by the ensemble’s power, Surface stays engaging as it quietly begins repeating itself over the course of eight episodes. Secretly, I kept waiting for that jaw-dropping moment when all the puzzle pieces would slide into place. As of season’s end, this defining moment is still yet to occur.
Surface makes a splashy series premiere when it comes exclusively to Apple TV+ on Friday, July 29th.