This post contains spoilers about the plot of Behind Her Eyes. At first glance, Behind Her Eyes is a painstakingly slow-burning psychological thriller about adultery, substance abuse, toxic relationships, and living in the U.K.—which is seemingly enough weighty content to carry the mini-series through its six episodes. But the new Netflix show, based on the book by Sarah Pinborough, is much more than meets the (her?) eye, delving unabashedly and confusingly into subplots about lucid dreaming, astral projection, witchcraft, arson, and murder. The abrupt left turn into the show's final two episodes left many viewers wondering, "What did I just watch?" (A common sentiment on Twitter was "mind blown.")
The show begins innocuously enough with Louise (Simona Brown) a single mom (or mum, for the Brits) living her quiet life—save for her night terrors—with her son. She runs into David (Tom Bateman) at a bar, strikes up a flirtation, and later discovers he's the new psychiatrist where she works as a receptionist. Louise's life further gets turned upside when David's wife Adele (Eve Hewson) enters the picture. The plot continues to circle around the three main characters, teasing something insidious underneath.
That insidiousness comes at the hands of Adele's friend Rob (Robert Aramayo), who, it turns out, has been grifting his way through life via some Freaky Friday-inspired body-switching antics. It's almost impressive in its shockingness and ability to wildly unmoor itself from the earlier episodes and give viewers zero time to process the conclusion.
According to press notes from Netflix, even the cast had jaw-dropping reactions to the show's ending. Bateman reportedly said, "What the f*ck?" Brown echoed his shock: "I was like, ‘Mum...this happened!’ I couldn’t believe it. I had to go back to the start and read it again. I was convinced there would be some plot holes, but actually, there weren’t."
In a recent interview, Pinborough revealed that her book was inspired by other "domestic noir and psychological thrillers" like Gone Girl. I thought I’d quite fancy writing something like that,” she told The Guardian. “But I couldn’t come up with anything original.”
She also defended the twists in the end saying it holds up to scrutiny. "The clues had to be there," she said. “Everything had to have dual meaning so that no one could say this character lied. I would have hated that.”
So let's unpack the polarizing ending now.
What happens at the end of Behind Her Eyes?
Before we dig into the astral projection of it all, let's review Adele's backstory. Adele is a Scottish heiress whose extremely wealthy family owns estates and grounds. When she was a teenager, a fire broke out that killed her sleeping parents, but David, the son of a farmer that worked for her family, saved her from the flames (David sustained bad burns to his arm). The cause of the fire is unclear, and despite some red herrings that suggested in earlier episodes that David or Adele had something to do with it, it seems it was just your run-of-the-mill deadly fire. Adele also feels guilt because she did not realize her parents were dying because she was astrally projected outside of her body during the event. (We'll get to the astral projection in a bit.) At one point, Adele also shares that one of her relatives was a practicing witch, which is one of the few hints about the ending.
After her parents' death, Adele is sent to Westlands Rehab to cope with the grief. It's there she meets Rob, a recovering addict who is estranged from his working-class family. Rob and Adele become close friends, and it's hinted that Rob is in love with Adele or at least very suspicious of David's intentions with her. We see Rob keeps a red journal where he details his feelings about Adele and also his problems overcoming heroin use. The two also bond over their night terrors—Adele has been able to train herself to lucid dream to deal with it and she begins teaching Rob how to master his dreams.
Who killed Rob in Behind Her Eyes?
Enter the astral projection. Adele has gotten so good at controlling her dreams that she discovers she can astral project her soul to other places. After both Adele and Rob leave rehab, Adele shares this power with Rob, who is immediately able to mimic it. Rob, who has become enamored with Adele's life and home and with David, then makes a remarkably haste decision to trick Adele into switching bodies with him via astral projection. (He gets the idea from a Google search. Sure.) He then kills his own body, with Adele's soul in it, by giving it a fatal dose of heroin. He, in Adele's body, dumps his own body down a well; for good measure he tosses in David's watch, to plant evidence against him (in case David discovers this soul-swapping scheme). See? it's simple. Rob kills Rob.
Rob-Adele then convinces David to forget about Rob's death and run away together. But David is always strangely suspicious of his wife and her strange new personality. (There's a full subplot of Rob-Adele going to the seedy neighborhoods to score heroin, but instead, she gets punched in the face and then decides to trick one of her husband's psychiatric patients into believing she is a victim of domestic violence. To be fully honest, this thread doesn't explain much, because in later scenes Rob-Adele has heroin but it's unclear how/where she got it from since her first plan was thwarted.) Rob-Adele continues to spy on David, emotionally and psychologically torturing other women who try to get close to him or offer him relationship advice.
So what about Louise?
Ah yes, back to Louise. Poor sweet Louise gets tangled up in the Rob-Adele-David love triangle when she begins sleeping with her boss David, whom she is attracted to but also slightly suspects may be hurting his wife. That's because Rob-Adele has been astral spying on Louise and then also befriending her and turning Louise against David. Louise feels pity for Rob-Adele and they go to the gym together a lot. Eventually, Rob-Adele teaches Louise how to lucid dream because she also deals with night terrors. Louise then discovers that Rob-Adele can astral project (and has been spying on her sexual encounters with David) leading Louise to conclude Rob-Adele is bad news.
Louise tries to help David flee from Rob-Adele's clutches. She also digs into Rob's history, calling Rob's sister who confirms Rob was never to be seen again, confirming Louise's suspicions that Rob is dead. But before any of this can really come to a head, Rob-Adele tricks Louise into coming to her home by pretending she is committing suicide. Rob-Adele then sets fire to her own beautiful townhouse. Louise comes to Rob-Adele's home only to realize she can't break in to help; she decides to try astral projecting inside to save Rob-Adele. Rob-Adele seizes this opportunity to switch bodies with Louise, becoming Rob-Louise. Rob-Louise then actually overdoses Adele's body so that Adele-Louise dies. Rob-Louise then pulls Adele's body from the burning home so that she looks like a hero who tried, but failed, to save her friend.
Did Louise die at the end of Behind Her Eyes?
Technically, yes, Louise's soul/mind/personality/spirit perished inside Adele's body via heroin overdose/smoke inhalation. But Louise's body is still alive and kicking, with Rob's impostor soul/mind/personality thriving inside it.
And what about that last scene?
Rob-Louise goes to find David, who now believes his wife Adele has died by suicide/fire. David's conscience is finally clear after telling the cops about Rob's body on the grounds of his now-dead wife's estate. (It's unclear if he implicates his wife Adele in Rob's death and cover-up afterward. But it doesn't matter since Adele is dead anyways, and the police can't arrest "Rob's soul living within Louise's body"—nor do they have any idea about the magic of it all.) Rob-Louise and David get married. But Louise's seven-year-old son Adam senses that something is up with his mom, who doesn't seem nearly as caring, kind, or attentive as his real mom. (Also his mom hates boats!).
How does astral projection work?
The minutia isn't really explained, but the important part is that you can only project yourself to places you have been before. (You must be able to vividly imagine the details of the space.) A predisposition to night terrors/sleepwalking is also vital, and one must master lucid dreaming before being able to astral project. Also, visualizing doors and counting your fingers helps.
Why doesn't Rob just switch bodies with David, so he can have the money and not keep up a ruse?
Rob seems to genuinely love/be obsessed with David, as witnessed by the one time he met him and realized David was a sweet, totally unperceptive man. David also doesn't seem to have an issue with night terrors, which is apparently a prerequisite for lucid dreaming and astral projection.
Is the ending of Behind Her Eyes the same as the book?
In all fairness to the team behind the show—creator Steve Lightfoot, writer Angela LaManna, and director Erik Richter Strand—Behind Her Eyes tracks closely with the novel by Pinborough. (When the book was released it was marketed with the hashtag "#WTFthatending.") The book doesn't just end with Rob switching into Louise's body. In Pinborough's book, Rob-Louise is plotting to hurt Adam, who is onto his ruse.