Amazon Prime released their new original anthology series “Solos” on May 21. The series features a stellar lineup of performances from Anne Hathaway, Anthony Mackie, Helen Mirren, Uzo Aduba, Constance Wu, Nicole Behari, Morgan Freeman and Dan Stevens.
Each episode in “Solos” focuses on one or two characters. The series is based in the future, and each episode takes place in a different year. Although it is an anthology series, “Solos” hints at a plot connection between each of the episodes: the concept of time is important, and disease, illness or death are always implied.
Before the opening scene of each episode, the narrator, voiced by Stuart (Morgan Freeman), proposes an idea or a question. This proposed idea states the theme of that episode. While this may not seem important at first, this opening pattern is an essential part of each of the stories being told.
Episode 1 of “Solos” centers on Leah (Anne Hathaway) in the year 2024, as she continues to work on her long-term goal of traveling through time. The episode opens with the narrator proposing, “If you travel to the future, can you escape your past?” Throughout the episode, Leah conveys her frustration with her time traveling project by appearing so realistically foiled with her work. In one scene, Leah is doing her laundry while making sarcastic comments aloud. The laundry task shows that Leah is a responsible person, but on the other hand her sarcasm conveys her ambivalence. Or perhaps the sarcasm is simply a form of humorous distraction from the difficulty of caring for her mother, who is suffering from ALS.
Leah’s voice breaks as she speaks to her mother over the phone throughout the episode; She obviously feels heartbroken over her mother’s health. Although it initially seems that Leah wants to travel to the future in order to find a cure for her mother’s ALS, she admits that her journey into the future is really to escape the caregiver role. Hathaway does a spectacular job of conveying the challenging weight of Leah’s personal thoughts and frustrations towards caregiving. It is difficult to not feel some type of emotion toward Hathaway’s rollercoaster of a performance.
Although we know that Leah is in the year 2024, the fifth episode of “Solos,” known as “Jenny,” takes place in the future, but we don’t quite know what year. “Jenny” opens with the narrator asking, “Do you wish you could take back the worst day of your life?” The scene begins with Jenny (Constance Wu) talking aloud to an empty waiting room, drunk. She and her husband Lazlo have been trying for a baby, and Jenny, thinking she would make a great mother, desperately wants one. Through Jenny’s descriptions of her husband, it is evident that she doesn’t like him very much: Lazlo’s “potato” bone structure and “lopsided penis” is garbage compared to Carl, their next-door-neighbor and according to Jenny “the sexiest man on earth.”
Jenny’s obsession over Carl continues to unravel as she talks about memories from babysitting his son, Tyler. It is obvious that Jenny grew fond of Tyler over time—even though she was initially only babysitting him to get Carl’s attention. Jenny’s quirky personality and perverted feelings for Carl make the audience feel easily uncomfortable with her.
Positive that she was pregnant, Jenny describes using the bathroom at a costume party only to discover she had miscarried. This upsetting discovery leads her to drink excessively and embarrass herself at the party, hence her current state of drunkenness.
“Solos” constantly makes the audience wonder who the character in each episode is and why they are important to us. We continue to ask ourselves these questions because the characters do not reveal these answers right away, allowing for many theories to be considered before we get to know them. In Jenny’s episode, we wonder if perhaps the miscarriage is what led her to this mysterious waiting room? Or is she seeking emotional help for her frustrations with Lazlo and her sexual obsession with Carl?
Even though Jenny appears to us as unlikeable and weird, Wu did a fantastic job of showing the side of her that the audience should feel sorry for. In a way, Tyler represents a symbol of Jenny’s miscarried fetus. Jenny’s honesty and dark relatability shine through as she blames herself, conveying her utter disappointment and anger of the symbolic double deaths: Tyler and the fetus.
As we move through the anthology series, life and death continue to play important roles in each of the characters’ lives. In the final episode, we are introduced to Stuart (Morgan Freeman)–who is an Alzheimer’s patient–and Otto (Dan Stevens). Otto is visiting Stuart to revive his memory through the use of implants. As Stuart regains his memory, he begins to describe simple things to Otto, such as the color green, and what the sea is. Stuart’s excitement of explaining the simple things compares to a little boy’s excitement of telling his parents what he learned at school.
As Stuart’s memory quantity increases, his emotional appearance grows from a little boy, to an adult, to a wise, older man. Freeman’s changing facial expressions are explanatory of the types of memories Stuart continues to recall: positive, confusing, negative and comforting. The episode started out with Otto having more knowledge and power than Alzheimer’s patient Stuart, but the two characters switch roles when it becomes evident that Stuart’s mind contains important memories Otto wants from him. This role reversal portrays the symbolic power of memory and knowledge.
“Solos” explores deep ideas that force the audience to think and question logic. The seven-episode season was a perfect length, and it leaves room for a possible second season to go a slightly different route with uncovering other philosophical ideas. The amount of drama conveyed in each episode leads the audience to wanting more. Does Leah’s mother get better? Does Jenny ever have the baby she dreams of raising? Although each episode closes with some sort of conclusion, we want to know how the rest of the character’s long-term journey ends.
While Anne Hathaway, Constance Wu, and Morgan Freeman’s performances stood out to me the most, each of the “Solos” actors did a terrific job of conveying their character’s emotions and deep truths in an abstractive, artful way.
Although the episodes of “Solos” do not require a specific order of watching, it is highly recommended that the final episode “Stuart” is saved for last because this episode provides a meaningful conclusion for the other characters in the series. If you’re a fan of “Black Mirror”, there is no doubt that “Solos” is another must-watch anthology series for you.
The entire first season of “Solos” is available to watch on Amazon Prime.
By Lauren Weber