Now that the Euro soccer is over, the hockey is finished and Wimbledon is done, too, we can get back to the thing we really love to talk about: love. So much of our arts and entertainment diet is about finding love, keeping love and being happily in love.
Recently there’s been a spate of series about how technology might change everything about falling in love. That’s a natural progression in an environment where there’s a new app weekly to help you find a hook-up, a sidekick or a beloved. What’s happening is a series of what-if series. What if technology could tell you exactly who you should be with, and where to find that person?
Soulmates (streams on Amazon Prime Video) is the latest, the most serious-minded and the most sinister. It’s an anthology series of six separate stories, set about 15 years into the future. There, a test can determine a person’s one true soulmate. Rather cleverly, it stays away from any intricate focus on the technology, which is called Soul Connex. Instead, it concentrates on the moral and often heartbreakingly ethical issues that result.
Similar ground was covered in the clunky series The One (Netflix), which was mainly about a fiendish tech company that accumulated so much DNA it could guarantee a soulmate for anyone willing to pay a fee. It’s a daft binge-watch, interesting only for its characters who are intrigued by and suspicious of the technology. In one instance, a woman locates the person who might be her partner’s ideal mate, and then makes friends with her, trying to figure out how to be more like her.
In Soulmates we get different stories that amount to meditations on fate and companionship. The first and strongest episode stars Sarah Snook (who plays Shiv on HBO’s Succession) as Nikki, married for 15 years to her college sweetheart Franklin (Kingsley Ben-Adir); they have a good life and a happy child. At first Nikki scoffs at Soul Connex, since she’s happily married. But then something happens. Not to her, but the event changes her life profoundly.
Stay with it to the end and you’ll find it’s a rather despairing story. It suggests that if you remove the journey of companionship and building of mutual trust and affection, you are left only with a soulless technology that does not understand the human heart.
Another episode, The Lovers, becomes a thriller. Art professor David (David Costabile) has some minor troubles in life but what appears to be an idyllic marriage. One day, a woman approaches him and tells him that she’s used the technology and knows that she is his soulmate. As it happens, she’s using stolen information – and David is in for a hellish ride through issues of privacy and identity theft. Yes, it’s grim, but the series is beautifully made, especially The Lovers episode, with an excellent cast.
What it leaves you with, mind you, is a kind of sour feeling. Women are often the losers when the technology is used. They are the ones exploited, the ones whose lives are ruined. Soulmates (co-creators William Bridges and Brett Goldstein worked on Black Mirror) is essentially dystopian, telling us that as technology makes it easier to find love, it actually makes life itself more corrosive.
There was another twist on the theme in Made for Love (made for HBO Max but streaming here on Amazon Prime Video). Central figure Hazel (a tremendous performance by Cristin Milioti) is married to a tech billionaire and living a sweet, luxurious life. What her husband does, however, is use Hazel as a guinea pig for a new device he says will bring couples closer. He’s implanted a chip in her that allows him to know her every thought, and see what she sees, through her eyes. Hazel flees.
What we have in this batch of dramas, some entertaining and some aiming to make you think, is a central theme – that gizmos and transforming technology might make casual dating easer, but not love itself. The holy grail of true love is still hard to find and the heart knows what the heart wants, with a certainty no technology can match.
Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter. Sign up today.