Netflix has pretty much made bank on the bizarre, upping the stakes with every series.
And that pretty much describes Netflix’s latest series What/If: a big swing and a miss.
The show stars Renee Zellweger as angel investor Anne Montgomery who swoops in to save a struggling biotech company and gets way too involved with its young, naive founder Lisa Ruiz-Donovan.
Anne is pretty much portrayed as your typical comic-book super villain but with a significantly less interesting origin story.
(If you haven’t finished the series, don’t go past this point as I’m about to spoil the ending. You’ve been warned.)
After nearly an entire season of dealing with a heartless, ice queen, we finally find out what made Anne Montgomery this way. After growing up with an emotionally abusive mother, she found comfort as a child with the kind building super.
But eventually, the man took advantage of Anne’s trust and raped her as a teen, getting her pregnant. Anne says that it was that moment that taught her never to trust again. She proceeded to sell her baby for a hefty sum and use the money to turn her life around.
After relaying this story to Lisa, Anne turns to her and — in a very “Luke I am your father” moment — proceeds to tell Lisa that she is, in fact, her birth mother. And all of these mind games? They were just an attempt to turn Lisa into a cold-hearted bitch, just like Anne.
So, just to break this down for a second, essentially Anne getting raped by a trusted adult turned her into a dead-inside Cruella DeVil.
Perhaps I’m reading a bit too into this, but the message I’m getting here is, rape will ruin a woman so badly that she can never recover.
This message is further compounded by the fact that her bodyguard’s daughter was raped by the same man when she was a teen and ended up hanging herself.
So are we to believe that there are only two responses to rape? Either you kill yourself or you metaphorically kill your humanity? That once you’ve been raped and violated, life is not worth living?
What an incredibly absurd and insulting message to send to women. Rape DOES NOT define a person. And I refuse to fall for the fallacy that rape ruins a woman.
Putting this troubling commentary on rape aside, the entirety of the series What/If is a complete letdown.
The first half of the season boasts big, complicated characters. But in the end, they can’t deliver.
After nearly an entire season of being psychologically tortured by Anne, Lisa’s husband Sean finally turns himself in for murder.
But once that happens, the storyline is quickly and neatly tied up. Sean only gets 21 months in prison for manslaughter and is let out on parole after 10 months (oh hello, white privilege).
The same goes for Lisa’s brother Marcos, who suffers from the guilt of setting the fire that killed Lisa’s parents. But once he confesses, nearly everyone in his life forgives him immediately. Hell, his boyfriend even proposes hours later.
Perhaps the most disappointing part of the series — besides the complicated relationship to rape — is Anne Montgomery as a character. Despite the show’s last-ditch attempt to humanize her, Anne’s personality remains stagnant. It nearly becomes boring to watch after a while. How many times must we much Renee Zellweger purse her lips in that coy little way of hers? The writers don’t seem to know how to evolve Anne as a character, let alone give her an ounce of humanity.
After watching this mysterious story unfold with Anne as the puppet master, the series eventually goes out with a whimper. All storylines are neatly tied up. Sean and Lisa are even given a second chance at love. I can’t imagine what season 2 could offer that would even be remotely intriguing.
A word to the wise: don’t go big if you can’t deliver in the end. And that’s exactly what What/If does: offers a dramatic exposition only to give us blue balls in the end.
What/If is currently streaming on Netflix.
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Lena Finkel is the Editor and Founder of Femestella. Prior to starting Femestella, she worked at People, InStyle, Tiger Beat, and Sesame Workshop (aka Sesame Street). She loves all things Real Housewives and The Challenge. When she’s not busy binge-watching TV, you can find her taking an absurd amount of photos of her tuxedo cat Tom.