A double murder mystery and a health-care fraud at its centre; Fool Me Once is quite a convoluted mess
Story: Maya Stern (Michelle Keegan), a former army pilot, loses her sister Claire (Natalie Anderson) and then her husband Joe Burkett (Richard Armitage), under strange circumstances. While Claire becomes a victim of a home invasion, Joe is gunned down by miscreants in a park. When it then turns out that the gun used in both these deaths was the same, Maya sets out to find out the truth, even though the police think she might have had something to do with the murders.
Review: Fool Me Once is the third Harlan Coben book adaptation I have caught on Netflix and I must say, the appeal eludes me. There was Safe that I watched for Michael C Hall and Stay Close for Cush Jumbo, but despite the presence of these fine actors, getting through each of these limited series was arduous, to say the least. Fool Me Once gets worse. Harlan is a celebrated author, with the mysteries and surprise twists he spins in each of his tales apparently why his books are so popular and getting picked by Netflix to be adapted for the screen. I’ve not read any of his books, so am not the best to judge if something was lost in translation from page to screen. But if one were to go only by the series, well, it beats me why anyone would invest nearly 8 hours to watch this. Fool Me Once is not so much about thrilling twists than it is about a convoluted and messy maze.
Fool Me Once wishes to fool its viewers into thinking that it is a murder mystery. But no, it is about PTSD, corporate and health care fraud, and white rich man’s privilege, if you please. The protagonist, Maya Stern, we are told, lost her job in the army after a whistleblower revealed that she’d shot at a civilian vehicle during one of her foreign tours. If that guilt wasn’t bad enough and eating away at her, she then has to deal with the deaths of her sister and husband in quick succession. Maya’s sister Claire had apparently struck a deal with the whistleblower to ensure he doesn’t reveal more damaging stuff. In exchange, she was going to dig up dirt about her employers, the Burkett family, including Maya’s husband Joe, but just as she began getting too close to the truth, she ends up dead. What Claire uncovered is really the crux of the tale, but then there are arcs about a child she had out of wedlock, a mysterious health condition plaguing the investigating officer looking into her death and Maya’s possible involvement and so on so forth.
In presenting all of these plot points and twists, Harlan’s 400-odd page best-seller becomes eight frustratingly long episodes that are so tedious to watch that even 1.5 speed wasn’t of much help. If only the showrunners stuck to the basics and cut out all the fluff, Fool Me Once could have been a decent watch, after all, at, say, 4 episodes. That’s all that it really merited. An episode to establish who died, where and how, two to figure out the why and another for the final reveal.
Verdict: Fool Me Once is an over-stretched, barely thrilling murder mystery. If you’ve seen enough content in the genre, it’s quite likely that you will figure out how it’s going to play out way before it actually does onscreen. It’s not the most riveting watch on the streamer, but if you’ve really exhausted your pool of options, watch this one. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.