When UnReal debuted two years ago to critical acclaim, a typical refrain was, “But can you believe it’s on Lifetime?!” People have been going to the network for female-centric programming for ages, but not necessarily good female-centric programming. Well guess what? Lifetime has another great show you should absolutely be watching. It’s called Mary Kills People, and the first season is currently airing. The show follows Dr. Mary Harris, an ER doctor who performs extracurricular assisted suicides in exchange for cash. Mary only charges as a precautionary measure to make sure people are extremely serious about ending their lives. She’s not a killer — she just thinks people have a right to choose when they live and die, and that belief may or may not have something to do with Mary watching a relative forced to waste away when she was just a little girl. Complications arise for adult Mary, who’s raising two kids as a divorcée while supporting her ex financially, as she evades police searching for a person they believe is connected to a string of deaths in the area.
It may sound like a procedural, but it’s not! Mary Kills People is shot beautifully, and it’s also produced, written, and directed almost entirely by women. Here are four other reasons why MKP is worth your time.
Mary is not slow-burn television — it’s narrative speed is closer to a procedural. In the first episode, you see queer teens exploring their sexuality, the main character confronting the right-to-die debate, another character dealing with drug addiction, and a single mother struggling to balance kids, a financially dependent ex, a high-pressure job, and a botched assisted-suicide attempt. It might sound like everything and the kitchen sink, but it actually fits together perfectly and manages to set up what Mary will confront for the remainder of the series, while leaving plenty of room for mystery along the way.
It’s like Dexter, but it’s not like Dexter.
While she wouldn’t call herself a murderer, Mary is certainly a serial assisted-killer under the eyes of the law, and the consensual executions that happen in each episode serve as a story engine (like the nonconsensual ones in Dexter). Law enforcement comes to view her as “the angel of death,” and while her motives are mostly virtuous, Mary is also compelled by a darker desire to help people end their lives. In a world where almost everything else is out of her hands, the highly functioning ER doctor craves control, and enabling people to go out on their own terms gives her a high. Mary’s pursuit of this kind of rush and whether or not it makes her a sociopath is the show’s most interesting narrative wrinkle, and it lets Mary have fun playing both the angel and the devil.
The premiere episode begins with Mary and her partner, Richard, screwing up a job, which results in Mary improvising a kill strategy and leaping off a balcony and over a hedge to avoid being caught with a syringe in hand. It’s hilarious. Issues like trauma and divorce and crushing terminal illness and drug abuse and grief come up a lot on Mary Kills, but the show never gets weighed down by them, and that’s because it moves so fast. The heavier themes metabolize quickly and become fluid parts of the story instead of elements that are painfully labored over. No one needs to tell you that end-stage cancer is sad. When you watch a son give his mother the permission to die, you’ll implicitly know how to feel. The writers know that often times you need to laugh to make it through the pain, and they give Mary a wry sense of humor to break up all the death and running from the cops.
It’s got Caroline Dhavernas playing a doctor.
Dhavernas was excellent as Dr. Alana Bloom in Hannibal, but she was always at the whims of Dr. Lector and Will Graham. No more! Mary Harris isn’t here to shrink you. She’s here to either save your life in an operating theater or help you extinguish your light for good with the help of chilled Champagne and a syringe full of sodium pentobarbital. Watching Mary’s tender bedside manner with terminally ill people and their loved ones is moving, but it’s equally thrilling to watch her flirt and trade jabs with the police officer she compromised by having sex with him. She is the patient but tired mother, the dutiful breadwinner, the competent surgeon, the superior older sister, the committed friend, the woman with terrible taste in men, and the good Samaritan who maybe gets too much of a thrill from her altruistic pursuit of giving people agency in their final days. Dhavernas is a versatile performer, and Mary Kills gives her a great stage.