By Sarah Osman
Despite its intriguing sci-fi premise, The One is content to entertain so, though its plots meander, it’s a good watch for those aching for a bit of escapism and intrigue.
My father has a habit of calling me randomly to tell me about crime series that he likes. He only takes to them if they are British, filled with lots of sly twists and turns, and involve murder. Of course, most of the time he watches these programs he isn’t actually watching them — he plays on his cell phone, makes himself a snack, falls asleep. Sometimes he wakes up three-quarters of the way through the episode and asks what happened.
Netflix’s newest series, The One, is tailor-made for someone like my dad. It’s a British sci-fi mystery and each episode ends with a cliffhanger. The show is designed to keep you engaged through every episode, but there are inevitably parts that wander as well as some plots that veer into the dull. That makes The One perfect for my father because of his interludes of poking around on his phone for a half hour or so as the show blares away in the background. In other words, for those who like their narratives tight and their mysteries clear, The One is not for them. But for those who enjoy shows that can be ignored now and then but are still fun to watch, The One’s slow pacing and multiple plots are a nice fit.
Based on a novel of the same name by James Marrs, The One takes place roughly 15 minutes into the future. While working on her PhD, Rebecca Webb (Hannah Ware) and her partner James (Dimitri Leonidas) have reached a breakthrough with DNA. Through the study of ant pheromones (which is apparently a thing), they have discovered that DNA can be used to match one person up with their soulmate. Voilà! Science as the ultimate matchmaker. You meet your DNA buddy and, no matter their gender, personality, or where they live, you will live happily ever after. It’s a great idea in theory, but the empirical version of Tinder causes numerous problems. After one meets their one-and-only love, they are likely to divorce their current partner, which leads to multiple divorces across the UK.
After the pair’s discovery, Rebecca takes their findings and creates a DNA-based dating app that’s worth millions of pounds. She gives TED talks on her product to adoring crowds and parades out her own match, a shy guy named Ethan. But all is not what it seems. Away from the cameras Rebecca is a ruthless capitalist — she will stop at nothing to control her company, including leaking sex tapes to the police, blackmailing others, and even murder.
In a series of flashbacks, we learn that Rebecca wasn’t always an ice queen. After collecting numerous DNA samples, she and James decide to test them in real life (though this is illegal). They find Rebecca’s actual match, a sexy Portuguese surfer named Matheus (Albano Jeronimo). He is ridiculously hot, to the point that it’s hard not to fall in love with him yourself. (Thank you to whoever decided that Matheus should be shirtless in many scenes.) So Rebecca has to make a decision: the company or Matheus? What she does, if you are like me, will drive you crazy. (Or, if you are watching on-and-off like my dad, you’ll forget what happens).
Discovering that Rebecca has a match generates more trouble beyond the fact that the hunt was illegal. Rebecca’s flatmate, Ben (Amir El-Masy), is clearly in love with her, so she and James can’t tell him about Matheus. When Ben suddenly shows up dead, a mystery is afoot. A series of flashbacks clarifies whodunit — the mystery is wondering whether or not the police will solve the case.
In the beginning, the murder mystery starts off rather deliberately. The script spends too much time on the murder mystery rather than on the more intriguing complications of dating via DNA. But when things begin to heat up, the stakes become riveting. It’s impressive to see just how far each character goes to blackmail the other, and you become curious what will happen to the guilty culprit.
Other plotlines, designed to show us the complications of DNA and love, are simply not as compelling. One of the more enticing strands focuses on one of the reporters investigating Rebecca, Mark (Eric Kofi-Abrefa). He has an insecure wife, Hannah (Lois Chimimba), who, despite the fact that Mark is obviously in love with her, seeks out his match to find out what she is like. She is afraid Mark will fall in love with the DNA match. Megan (Pallavi Sharda), Mark’s perfect mate, is lovely, and Hannah pursues a friendship with her, which then leads to Mark meeting her. Here The One begins to examine the consequences of science as romance broker. It is intriguing to see how a development like this would land in real life. Unfortunately, parts of this subplot drag because Hannah is a very infuriating character and the script ends up treating the situation as a detour.
The One‘s concluding plotline turns out to be its most banal and the action doesn’t pick up much speed throughout the length of the series. The detective investigating the murder of Ben, Kate (Zoe Saunders), finds her true love by DNA — a beautiful woman living in Barcelona, Sophia (Jana Perez). Sophia decides to visit Kate, but before she meets her she is involved in a horrible car accident. Sophia ends up in a coma, and the puzzles start multiplying, especially after her wife and relatives show up. It is endearing to see Kate visit Sophia every day, but it’s also a little weird. Are they really a DNA match? Or is Kate really that lonely? It’s fun when Sophia’s ex wife spills the beans, but watching one of the soulmates in a comatose state for long stretches is not all that exciting.
I have not read Marrs’s novel to know if he goes into the complications of DNA matchmaking. For example, do “perfect” couples stay together forever or do they eventually become bored with each other? This would be a fascinating psychological issue to examine, especially considering how often people are using dating apps to cheat on their respective partners. But The One does not choose to go in that direction. Here science fiction is at the service of the mystery. Those looking for insight into the challenges technology presents to modern life (like the film Her, which also explores science fiction and dating) will be disappointed. The One is content to entertain, so, though its plots meander, it’s a good watch for those aching for a bit of escapism and intrigue. Considering the series’s popularity, it wouldn’t be surprising if another season with another mystery comes along. My dad will no doubt still be asking about what happened in season one.
Sarah Mina Osman is a writer living in Los Angeles. She has written for Young Hollywood and High Voltage Magazine. She will be featured in the upcoming anthology Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences under the Trump Era.