According to Netflix, THE MAIN ONE occurs “five minutes later on”. In those 5 minutes, one big leap in technology has happened: a company called THE MAIN ONE has learned where to find someone’s perfect romantic partner via some kind of genetic testing. Couples who are “matched” feel an immediate connection, but this isn’t simply a carnal response to whatever pheromones really do it for you personally – this, based on the One, is the person you are “genetically guaranteed to fall deeply in love with”.
The technology is definately not plausible, but that doesn’t stop the show from being an intriguing exploration of the human collateral of finding your perfect partner. The brand new tests are causing a spate of divorces as previously happily married persons can’t resist taking someone to find their true match. Power-suited CEO Rebecca Webb (Hannah Ware) is comfortably in control until a body is hauled out from the river Thames, triggering a police investigation and a series of flashbacks revealing that she didn’t get where she actually is by talent alone.
“We deserve the fairy tale,” Rebecca declares in a speech in episode one, but that’s definately not what this show offers as she goes to increasingly dangerous lengths to maintain control of what she’s built, and as the varied ensemble of supporting characters obsessively pursue their happily-ever-afters.
There are the hallmarks of a classic thriller here, nonetheless it falls a little flat – an excessive amount of the mystery is revealed in early stages, in order that the question is less in what Rebecca did and more about what she’ll do next. But Rebecca is so distant and manipulated that she works neither as a great villain, nor as a sympathetic anti-hero.
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Faring better will be the admittedly disjointed subplots, in which the effects of being matched take characters in genuinely unexpected directions. Creator Howard Overman has taken some rather large liberties with John Marrs’s source novel, and it feels sometimes like he must have followed the book’s lead and centered on matched couples, rather than tacking on the organization intrigue. While that mystery gives the show an evident hook, it really is nothing that hasn’t been seen before.
There is something undoubtedly compelling in the idea of technology finding our perfect partners, and it is a story that has come up a lot lately. Recent anthology show Soulmates comes with an almost identical concept, and both Black Mirror and Rick and Morty have dedicated episodes to the subject. Netflix series Osmosis also explored the theme with nanorobots that help persons find their perfect partner.
However, even though there are already dating companies that claim to utilise DNA testing, the technology just isn’t there. Matthew Cobb at the University of Manchester, writer of The Idea of the Brain, says it simply isn’t possible to discover whether a couple will fall in love based purely on their DNA.
He says that the only case you could make for that idea is that persons who have various genes controlling their disease fighting capability have healthier offspring, and it’s been argued that this can be detected by smell. “But sadly those claims derive from inadequate studies with very small sample sizes, and so are simply untrue.”
It boils down from what compatibility between two humans actually is. “How could you measure it? Could it be the same within a person’s lifetime, or the duration of a couple?” says Cobb. “Hardly any about humans is solely dependant on genetics, so the idea that this most magical and inexplicable part of our behaviour could possibly be dependant on a string of ACTGs seems… fictional.”
Of course, that isn’t a problem while you are discussing actual fiction – which THE MAIN ONE plainly is. Putting aside pesky facts, the idea promises a rich vein of drama, tension, shocks and humour. The problem is that The One doesn’t quite mine deep enough to think it is.
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