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'Soulmates': When Romance Comes Down to Science
October 5, 2020  | By David Hinckley

Let's stipulate up front that to become one of the most unsettling things a viewer could have recently seen on television, the creative team has to clear a pretty high bar.

AMC's new anthology series Soulmates, which premieres Monday at 10 p.m. ET, does.

Soulmates, which runs for six stand-alone episodes, postulates that in 2023, science discovers the "soul particle," an element in our brain that tells us exactly who on the whole planet is our, yes, soulmate.

To get that info, you take a painless test reminiscent of your annual eye exam. A device looks into your eye, finds the soul particle, and sends the info to a computer that hunts down your match.

If you don't overthink it, this sounds like the eighth miracle of the modern world. Most of us spend much of our lives, or at least much of our adolescence, however long that may last, searching for "the one," the person with whom we want to spend the rest of our lives.

And now a computer does it for us, the same way it can find the best sushi restaurant in Indianapolis.  
It simplifies life by some exponential factor.

Or not.

Soulmates dramatizes a half-dozen situations in which people from various walks of life contemplate what has come to be known as "the test."

Physically, that involves going to the offices of Soul Connex, a worldwide franchise with 20,000 offices, and an apparent monopoly on the technology.

Psychologically, it's tougher. For someone who is unattached and in the market, the decision may not be complicated. But the looming existence of the test makes it an issue for people already in relationships.

What happens if you take the test and find out your partner is not your soulmate? That your soulmate is someone living in a remote rural area of Pakistan?

Do you settle for what you have or toss it all away and pursue this scientifically certified better match?


Soulmates tackles the most extreme case in its first episode. Nikki (Sarah Snook) and Franklin (Kingsley Ben-Adir) have been married for 14 years. They have two young kids who sometimes drive them nuts, but whom they love dearly. They also seem very happy with each other.

Still, the test is in the air. Nikki's 50-year-old brother has taken it. Her best friend across the street has taken it. It comes up in conversation at parties and social events.

For Nikki and Franklin, and for the couples in the subsequent five episodes, it's not necessarily a matter of wanting to take the test. It's not necessarily that there is already something missing in a relationship, and this forces it to the surface. It's more that the test plants its own doubts – or at least questions.

Having only an hour per story, Soulmates often compresses the complex nuances of relationships, sometimes rendering them two-dimensional.

Presumably, the idea is that viewers will superimpose their own experiences on those of the characters, filling in some of the grey shadings.

That makes it inevitable that some viewers will watch Soulmates and take a victory lap, turning to each other and saying, "Honey, I'm so glad that isn't us."

For better or worse, others may not feel so triumphant.

Now, TV and movies have tackled imperfect marriages for years, covering much of the ground in Soulmates.

In the larger culture, hundreds of societies over thousands of years have addressed the issue by making marriage a transaction, a bartered arrangement, rather than leaving it to the erratic whims of the heart. Some societies do it today.

Soulmates doesn't exactly endorse that notion, though the "soul particle" does posit that there is a better way for human beings to find their life matches than chance encounters.

Soulmates also tacitly suggests, however, that even if this particle is as inarguable as the gene that gives you blue eyes, "solving" the soulmate problem can unleash a multitude of others.

One hates not to defend science at a time when it's under such sustained real-life attack. So let's just say Soulmates cautions us to see science as part of a larger human picture.

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