A kind of poetic justice in Paramount+’s reimagining of ‘Fatal Attraction’

Category: Television and Streaming

You don’t need to have seen Adrian Lyne’s 1987 blockbuster psychosexual thriller to figure out that Fatal Attraction is the story of an ill-fated affair and its violent and devastating aftermath. I’ve seen the film, but never in a million years did I think Michael Douglas’ successful Manhattan lawyer Dan Gallagher could be ruined in any shape or form; he was too affluent, sleazy, and smarmy. It’d have been just another fling if Glenn Close’s frizzy-haired temptress Alex Forrest were a garden variety career woman looking for a good time with no strings attached. Close is known to be very vocal in condemning the film’s misogynistic legacy — a hysterical woman who refuses to be “ignored” — and has always hoped a reimagining of the movie would delve deeper into Alex’s side of the story.

The updated eight-part adaptation of Fatal Attraction opens in the present day, with a grizzled Dan Gallagher (Joshua Jackson) up for parole after serving 15 years for killing Alex Forrest (Lizzy Caplan). Stripped of all his wealth and influence he took for granted, the disgraced legacy kid/political animal tries to reconnect with his now college-aged daughter, Ellen (Alyssa Jirrels), and desperately wants to prove his innocence with the help of his investigator buddy Mike (Toby Huss).

Flashback to 2008. Alex, a new member of the Victim Services Bureau, meets the LA County prosecutor who seems to have everything going for him. Dan embodies all of the things Alex wishes she had; a life of normalcy, acceptance, and unconditional love from his spouse. Once Alex puts the latest shiny object on a pedestal, she gets busy with countless cringeworthy schemes all in the name of love. I mean, we’ve all done things we’re not proud of, but making it rain in a restaurant really takes the cake!

With two timelines (2008 and 2023) and multiple perspectives, the remake of Fatal Attraction is reminiscent of The Affair (Showtime 2014-2019) — a study of emotional and psychological effects of an affair with a whodunit murder mystery. Casting Jackson who played Cole Lockhart — the jilted husband and the most enlightened person among the star-crossed quartet — may have something to do with it, but Jackson’s Dan is less despicable and much more sympathetic than Douglas’ Dan. And when the parade of people tell him what a jerk he is to his face, I cannot help rooting for Dan who paid a disproportionate price for his midlife crisis affair. Sure, Dan shouldn’t have strayed, but can you blame him? He used to be a paragon of white privilege who was handed his job and rarely experienced a consequence in his life until his judgeship was snatched away from under his nose. His brief fling with Alex was a colossal mistake and his own presumptuous arrogance led to his downfall.

A strange chemistry forms when Alex’s borderline personality disorder (BPD) meets Dan’s midlife crisis — self-fulfilling prophecy of ‘what I fear, I create’ — and explodes in an unimaginably sinister and tragic fashion. When the paroled Dan morphs into a pathetic loser right in front of our eyes, it defeats the purpose of showcasing the ‘whys’ of Alex; a troubled childhood, undiagnosed and untreated BPD, a strong, innate aversion to therapy or help, and then some. Think about it. It’s not like Alex was walking around with a “Fragile — handle with care” warning label. Unless you’ve had an experience dealing with a person with BPD, you don’t have a clue what triggers her violent outbursts and the dramatic changes in personality at the drop of a hat. With a whiff of abandonment or criticism, Alex turns into ’a black hole of need’ and scans for clues to cling onto her fantasy. When Dan’s innocent good-bye hug pushes Alex over the edge and compels her to do far more sinister things than the original film, we’re all reminded that a homewrecker is a homewrecker, no matter how you slice it!

So in this iteration the showcreators’ attempt to contextualize Alex’s psyche ends up backfiring spectacularly. I don’t think that’s the kind of ‘reimagining’ Close had in mind. However, Fatal Attraction 2.0 certainly develops into Alex’s wish fulfillment fantasies of revenge and triumph, where her deep-seated emotional needs and burning desire to destroy the Gallaghers are ultimately fulfilled: Dan is a convicted murderer with no money, no prospects, no retrial in sight; Beth (Amanda Peet), ex-wife on her way to sainthood, hides desperate sadness behind eerie tranquility; and Ellen, a psychology major, is already an Alex in the making. Maybe there is a kind of poetic justice in that.

The first four episodes of Fatal Attraction are streaming on Paramount+, with subsequent episodes premiering on Sundays.

About the Author

Meg Mimura is a TV critic who actually watches shows zealously in search of thought-provoking and paradigm shifting human drama worth our precious time. She is a member of Television Critics Association. Follow her on Twitter.