4 out of 5
Created by: Tara Armstrong
covers season 1
Inevitable comparisons abound: “It’s like Breaking Bad but with…”; “It’s like Weeds but with…”. If that makes it easier to frame, so be it. The ‘good person does a bad thing with good intentions’ certainly isn’t a new plot construct, though; as usual, the difference is how you present that construct. And if Mary Kills People – about doctor Mary’s (Caroline Dhavernas) secret assisted suicide practice – has a flaw, it’s in the tone it takes for its telling, dancing around black comedy at times, murky moral dilemma at others, but never quite settling on a point of view to fully service either one.
Still, the show doesn’t balk on what it shows: That some people, for some reasons, want to die, and from Mary’s point of view, that should be their right. There are discussions on her reasoning for this, as well as that of her assistant’s / partner’s (Richard Short) and her aide friend (Grace Lynn Kung) who provides the “candidates,” put the episodes don’t go out of their way to philosophize on the matter beyond where it acts as character work. Being that it’s a heady subject, this is a smart play – Dhavernas brings Mary’s caring and integrity to life (womp), so we don’t much question her morality – but it also obviously curtails deeper digging into the topic. And to fill this dramatic gap, an escalating police investigation into the suicides is played out, as well as foibles involving procurement of the drugs needed for the task, and balancing a home life as a single mom with an intuitive teenager (Abigail Winter) at home. At six episodes, there’s enough going on to not worry too much about where else the show could’ve gone, but the question lingers during brief contemplative moments where someone poses the Why? question and then pauses before we’re hurried along to the next crisis.
Beyond the interest with its forefrontness with its slightly taboo subject matter, show wins some more points with its inter-relationships. While the exact reasons for the initial spark between Mary and potential patient Joel are of the TV “because he’s there and cute” variety, once the connection is established, the hesitant attraction both have feels real, as does Mary’s push-pull relationship with her partner, and the unpredictably shaky ground she walks with her daughter or ex-husband. Extending beyond Mary, her daughter’s budding romance with her friend (Katie Douglas, from my favorite show Spooksville) reeks of reality, and all of the suiciders feel like fleshed-out human beings. In other words, the world of Mary Kills feels very grounded, which helps to indirectly elevate material that doesn’t always elevate itself.
While the show doesn’t pick too much at its central moral quandaries, Mary Kills People presents a rich realization of an assisted suicide practice, and doesn’t force us to necessarily judge it as right or wrong, too preoccupied with involving family and police drama. The season is satisfyingly self-contained, but it would be of interest to see the creators go a bit deeper with a second season.