Pieces of Her focuses on an basic question: Who exactly is Laura Oliver (Toni Collette)?
The first 8 episodes of the season are fully devoted to this mystery and make viewers dive into it, piece by piece piecing together. Pieces of Her, which is slick enough to keep a viewer from turning off Netflix’s autoplay feature but too broad and impersonal to elicit any understanding or emotional connection, fails to locate a beating human heart at the center of its mystery. The pilot opens by creating the atmosphere is fast, readily visible strokes:
- The peaceful coastal village.
- The mom in the middle ages.
- The artist daughter who also appears aimless.
- The occasionally contentious relationship.
Why is Laura so furious about being shown on television in news coverage about the incident? Why is she now so stubborn about separating herself from her own daughter? What is it that Andy is unaware of her family? As the dangers Laura has predicted approach, Andy runs, first to safety and then to her mother’s truths so hard to protect from her.
Collette is a delight to see, as she always is. Laura is a character who is deliberately deceitful.
She may go from very protective to very indifferent, enraged in the blink of an eye, and it’s frequently impossible to discern where the real Laura stops. On the other hand, Pieces Collette keeps a strong grip on her throughout, corralling all of the character’s moods into a single difficult lady during a long-overdue change. Gil Birmingham and Omari Hardwick give good, steadying existences in supporting parts, bringing a modicum of zeal to an otherwise frosty performance.
Meanwhile, the show tries to retain a reasonable sense of momentum. Twists and twists are dropped with accuracy, and there is minimal time lost on wheel-spinning or unnecessary diversions. (There are some red herrings because this is a mystery.) Mysterious flashbacks supplement them to Laura’s past: a younger Laura playing the piano, a guy shot onstage at a business conference, and a scared woman escaping her husband in the dark of midnight. Others take longer journeys into the past, as Andy makes significant discoveries about Laura either reminisces about her history or recalls half-forgotten experiences from her own.
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Others take longer journeys into the past, as Andy makes significant discoveries about Laura’s history or discovers some long-forgotten recollections of her own. As Andy uncovers vital information about Laura’s history or retrieves long-forgotten recollections. However, as the season progresses, Pieces of Her loses steam. Around episode 3, it becomes clear that for all of Andy’s time spent striving to figure out who her mother is, the show has never paused to consider who Andy is supposed to be other than a mechanism propelling the story along.
Andy doesn’t Depend on the circumstances, and she’s either a vulnerable deer in headlights or a slick operator doing spy-movie techniques. Pieces of Her doesn’t reveal anything about her personality, life ambitions outside of learning about Laura, or friends other than the one random individual who contacts her in the 1st episode and then never talked of again.
Meanwhile, the more secrets Andy discovers, the less intriguing they become. The early season teasers give way to dramatic yet weirdly predictable reveals, delivered with tremendous seriousness and little subtlety or passion. Pointed references to problematic subjects like corporate greed, governmental corruption, and domestic terrorism momentarily offer Pieces of Her the shine of a more cerebral enterprise.
Still, the series eventually lacks either nerve or desire to accomplish much with them. They are no longer a lens for comprehending a wider picture but rather window dressing for a much smaller and more mundane narrative about a young lady in a bad circumstance.
Pieces of Her is on a slightly more solid footing with its exploration of violence against women — on a personal level by men who claim to care about them, but also on a larger scale by the society that claims to protect them, as evoked by footage from the 2017 Women’s March on TV or skeptical chatter about female political candidates overheard on the radio. Even if a woman has been spared from the worst of it, such violence leaves a mark; as Andy finds late in the season, Laura’s experiences had affected their relationship since long before Andy was even aware they existed.
Pieces of Her is about a woman truly seeing her mother for the first time, not as the parent who raised her but as a whole person on her terms. But, for that concept to hit us as hard as it might, we’d need to care about these individuals as humans — to be able to view them as real, breathing creatures rather than mere collections of story elements scribbled down on a piece of paper.