Coming off of a strong flashback episode showcasing the range and flexibility of Oliver Jackson-Cohen and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, this episode of Surface chooses to send Sophie ping-ponging between Baden and James as two potential objects of her affection and bearers of her trust. It has been clear that she can’t trust either of them — and that she is an untrustworthy actor as well — but as she goes deeper, she finds out the truth about Baden. And that path leads to deadly results.
The path is also, unfortunately, quite a snooze.
The narrative is stale and tedious for a penultimate episode of a high-concept series. Sophie runs herself in loops that have — for the most part — already been explored. There’s a new revelation about Baden having been hired by Harrison to look into Sophie’s past, but we never hear any helpful information from Baden about her pre-California life other than that she’s a “lost” soul, just like him. Got it. Yawn. And by the time we see Baden’s footage that definitively shows that Sophie did jump from the ferry that day, it doesn’t really deliver any emotional resonance because we know there’s so much more to the story that we’re not seeing.
At this point, the circuitous writing on Surface seems designed to set up a potential second season of the show, and it feels like the writers have a good idea where a sophomore season might go. However, I would have much preferred a limited series that dared to deliver bombshells along the way instead of one that aimlessly puttered along with minimal regard to holding viewers’ attention. The series has always been Scrooge-like in the manner it doles out secrets, and if the revelations and twists presented in this episode are meant to be bombshells, they land more like duds.
All that said, Surface still has my curiosity. The talented performers are doing the absolute most with what they have, the set decoration is stunning (still swooning over that kitchen), and watching Mbatha-Raw peel apart the layers of Sophie’s persona as she (slowly) discovers more and more about her life is compelling to watch.
Throughout the series, Sophie continuously asks herself the same question: What if I didn’t jump? This week, the show finally answers that question.
Surface is built on a foundation of mental-health concepts. Themes involving suicide, guilt, intrusive thoughts, false memories, and psychosis have been generously peppered throughout this series to create intrigue and suspense. In real life, untangling issues related to self-harm and unstable mental-health symptoms take a long time. Engaging in meaningful therapy and unraveling the past are not often glamorous pursuits. Sophie’s therapist, Hannah, is not the best at her job, but she has pointed out this fact several times throughout the season.
However, this is TV therapy, not actual therapy, and it’s been very frustrating to watch Sophie attend sessions with Hannah and repeat the same themes over and over and over again. It’s also borderline criminal that the show hasn’t really bothered to give the great Marianne Jean-Baptiste much of anything to do other than wear gorgeous sweaters and gaze disapprovingly at Sophie from her therapist’s perch.
As Sophie leaves her session at the top of the episode, however, Hannah does offer one crucial bit of advice. She tells Sophie that if she accepts that she did jump off the ferry that day, perhaps the rest of the story will come into sharper focus.
Later in the episode, Baden gives Sophie the evidence she needs to fully accept the fact that she jumped. But prior to that, it’s revealed that Baden didn’t just coincidentally meet Sophie at the Members Only club that fateful rainy night; he followed her there because Harrison had hired him.
The fact that Baden never told Sophie this key piece of information is definitely suspect, but it’s in keeping with the motives of the show. All the people in Sophie’s life (mostly Baden and James) keep secrets from her so they can mold her into the person they want her to be. Sophie starts to catch on to this idea, but not before she literally does a few more laps around her love triangle.
She talks to James, and James tells Sophie that Baden can’t be trusted. Then she talks to Baden, who says James can’t be trusted. On and on it goes. Sophie reveals to Baden that she stole the money, but he’s not hearing it. Baden threatens to bring more evidence to the FBI because he wants to #FreeSophie, but the poor man doesn’t realize that pre-accident Sophie was never really in love with him. At one point, Sophie revisits the sexy video she made with Baden in Marin and repeatedly rewinds the part where she tells him, “This was never about the future. Let’s just enjoy the moment.”
This line seems to shake something loose in Sophie, and she goes to confront Baden at the train station. He blackmailed her by saying he wouldn’t release his evidence if she ran away with him right at the time when Sophie realized her plan was never to run away with him. So she blackmails him right back, saying that if he doesn’t destroy his evidence, she will go to the police and tell them that he’s been blackmailing and entrapping a confused and distressed woman.
Baden takes one more shot at winning back Sophie’s affections by stalking her and James while they’re out to dinner at a fancy restaurant. Romantic! Honestly, this seems like a stupid move, but Baden also seems to feel like his time is running out, as someone has outed him as a cop to the violent drug dealers he’s been working undercover to expose. They attacked him earlier, and he’s afraid of what they might do next. Sophie is concerned about Baden’s mangled face, but she barely has time to register all her emotions before James finds them together. Baden quickly slips Sophie a USB drive with the ferry footage on it, and the two men have a brawl in the bistro.
Later that night, when James is asleep, Sophie watches the footage and gasps. She must go see Baden. Again. But this time, she finds her lover dead on his apartment floor.
James collects Sophie from the crime scene and brings her home. The two have a standoff in which Sophie tells James about the ferry footage, and he gets very flustered, indicating that perhaps he had something to do with Baden’s death. But he recovers quickly, saying, “If you think that just because he didn’t push you, or that all of this wasn’t hurdling toward an ending like that … this wasn’t our fault. You did nothing wrong.”
Methinks the husband doth protest too much — one episode to go.
• The sequence when Sophie goes to the bank to attempt to close Tess’s bank account is truly funny. Hoping her charm will get her through, she spins a crazy lie about getting all her documents stolen in a home invasion, only to have the bank manager present her with a list of security questions about her life. Sophie gamely tries to answer the questions with a confident smile, but she strikes out on the first one even though the teller presents it to her in multiple-choice format. Security questions aren’t multiple choice!
• Speaking of the account, if a passport or other identification is required to close it, it stands to reason that Sophie would have had to have Tess’s documentation to open the account. Where’s that passport? Is it hiding in one of the many nooks and crannies of her cavernous walk-in closet?
• In the footage of the ferry, Sophie isn’t pushed, but we see a shadowy figure approaching her as she decides to topple over the edge. Who is this?