First Look: ‘Ringer’ Goes Back to ‘Buffy’ Season Six, Complete With Class Issues

As the title suggests, these are my first impressions of these shows, and therefore not definitive judgements. Obviously, all the posts in this series contain spoilers.

The sixth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a controversial one: the creators didn’t know they were going to be able to make it; Buffy’s decidedly dark and depressed; and Willow’s addiction is admittedly uneven. But I love it because I think it’s a fantastic acknowledgment of how hard that first year out of college is for everyone, and in particular, how difficult it can be to make it in the adult world without the academic credentials you’re expected to have if you’re someone of a certain class background. I also just think that Sarah Michelle Gellar is very, very good at playing fragile and scared, and showing what it’s like to summon your strength when you’re at the absolute bleeding edge of desperation.

All of which means she’s working a lot of her strengths in Ringer, the first episode of which aired last night, which looks like it’s going to be an extended meditation on the difference between the appearance of goodness and its actuality. Gellar plays twins, first Bridget, a former stripper and recovering addict who caused the death of a young boy, then later Siobhan, Bridget’s twin. When Siobhan disappears off a boat, Bridget impulsively jumps at a chance to reset her life (and avoid testifying against a dangerous crime figure, one of the few Native American characters I’ve seen on television in a long time) and pretends to be Siobhan, knowing that Siobhan’s husband and friends don’t know that Bridget exists.

The plausibility of this ruse is pretty dubious. Bridget has next to no time to do research on Siobhan’s life, and her impersonation is, well, imperfect. “You look absolutely anorexic,” chirps Siobhan’s best friend Gemma. “You must share your secret.” And when Siobhan’s husband Andrew comes home, he immediately notices huge differences in the way his wife is reacting to circumstances, explaining that “I love it. I just don’t believe it.” And now Bridget’s going to have to fake a pregnancy, which I’d suspect will work about as well for her as it did for Terri on Glee.

But if she can pull it off, it will be because Siobhan turns out to be such an awful, manipulative person that the people around her chalk up her inconsistent behavior to her terminal duplicitousness. It turns out the so-called good sister is sleeping with Gemma’s husband Henry; driving Henry nuts by refusing to see him — and then refusing to acknowledge that she’s carrying his baby; engaged in what’s essentially a fake marriage with her own husband; shipping her stepdaughter off to boarding school. Maybe she lied about Bridget’s existence not because Siobhan was ashamed of her or hurt by things she’s done but because it’s part of a pattern of bad behavior and lies. And maybe whatever happened to her on that boat was by Siobhan’s design, not a suicide but an escape, a vindictive attempt to stick Bridget with her life. We have a lot of television about bad behavior by rich people, but less about the fact that we tend to equate wealth with virtue, often as a way to make ourselves feel better about wanting it. Having a main character repeatedly come up against the fact that what she thought about her sister’s life based on its polished surface was wrong is an interestingly direct way to engage with that myth.

I don’t really think Ringer is good—for it to be that, it would have to build its mythology a bit more slowly. The pregnancy reveal should have been a couple of episodes in, and we should get more time to see Bridget make the decision to replace her sister and figure out how she’s going to pull it off. And if it’s going to be this dark, we need to see the darkness, not just be told that it’s out there, somewhere, in this brightly-lit, fancy world. Bridget’s terror should feel real. And the show should have at least some sense of fun about Bridget’s new life. If she’s stolen Siobhan’s place in the world after years of living lean in Wyoming, there should be some guilty humor in the gorgeous clothes, house, and husband.