'Soulmates' Episode 4 Review: Mateo and Jonah's gay romance defies the test, but 'San Junipero' did it better
To call 'Layover' a rip off with males in perspective wouldn't be right, but the similarities with Black Mirrors 'San Junipero' are too striking to be overlooked
Spoilers for 'Soulmates', Episode 4: 'Layover'
AMC's latest anthology series is very 'Black Mirror' even when it doesn't want to be. While the strictly sci-thriller seldom tackles romance through the lens of a scientifically advanced dystopia where relationships must survive the scrutiny of how far technology has come, 'Soulmates' is strictly romance, but still ends up falling back to some of the good old gimmicks for fun and thought-provoking narrative. Take Episode 4, titled 'Layover' for example a same-sex whirlwind, romantic sexcapede emerges in a foreign land and while neither was prepared for the other, it blooms to something totally unexpected, yet cut with precision out of an indie daydream. It's also a little too reminiscent of Black Mirror's 'San Junipero' which is probably the most acclaimed and talked-about stories from all five seasons of the series.
In 'Layover', Bill Skarsgard sheds his terrifying clown skin and embraces the hunky Mateo to give us a persona we never thought we needed, but can't be quite done with either. Mateo is your regular made-it guy he looks like he has things sorted at places where they need to be. So when he is approached by the charming stranger with broken Spanish all the way during a titular halt in Mexico, Mateo is overwhelmed at first, but soon curious within. And so was Mackenzie Davis' Yorkie in San Junipero - the titular fictional town in the episode where the elderly can visit the deceased through virtual simulation.
Nathan Stewart-Jarrett as Jonah is charming and bubbling with tension that needs quick releases at cheap motels where he is barely scraping by with his pretense of not knowing proper Spanish. This again isn't far off from Gugu Mbatha Raw's Kelly in 'San Junipero', who had probably helped Yorkie realize her own closeted sexuality. Much like Yorkie and Kelly's worlds collide in the strange town with its neon undertones and dreamy visuals Mateo and Jonah come together under crisis, the episode focusing more on Mateo's anger at Jonah stealing his passport while the White man is on his way to meet his soulmate in Colombia.
Yorkie too had declined Kelly's advances at first, claiming she was engaged in real life. Mateo doesn't feel the commitment that strong but he doesn't entirely cave into Jonah's crazy tales of how to retrieve the stolen and traded passport either. Instead of 80s pubs and glitter that Kelly and Yorkie were grounded in, Mateo and Jonah embark on a scavenger hunt, with the latter leading the way, again, much like Kelly had for the other couple. That the characters are both Black, while their counterparts White is too striking a similarity to overlook. Jonah takes Mateo through a ride around Mexico - first a tarot card reader whose shop they disrupt before moving on and seeking refuge at a topless gay pub - something Mateo hadn't experienced before, and eventually a near-abandoned warehouse where things get very violent, and is eventually saved by Mateo's first world privileged of having gotten the test done.
The undertones are simple even though the linear narrative relies on fast-paced action a lot; satirical and somewhat a reflection of how flimsy the idea of finding your soulmate via science can be, Mateo and Jonah's journey is a giant middle finger to the test. In the end, when Mateo leaves and Jonah chases after him, only to hand him something he was leaving behind, the heart pauses, waiting for that kiss that's long overdue by this point. This again is a reminder of the little blimp in Kelly and Yorkie's tale where Kelly says she doesn't want to become a permanent resident of San Junipero. But Kelly is ready eventually, and so is Mateo, when months later he shows up at the same bar where he and Jonah had met, resuming they sexcapede once again - the way the other couple had once Kelly died in real life.
To call 'Layover' a rip off with males in perspective wouldn't be right; there are salient niches that 'San Junipero' didn't quite focus on. There's playful banter between Mateo and Jonah which was cloudy confusion for the most part between Kelly and Yorkie, but then again, each works their charm for the respective episode. As Evan Placey's only script in the six-part AMC anthology 'Layover' is visibly different from the others, even though bonded by its happy ending. Marco Kreuzpaintner's director is a dusty visual treat made colorful by the persona his talents bring on-screen. It might not be a Charlie Brooker-Owen Harris collab right off the start, but it's not too shabby a filler for the voice left behind by Black Mirror either.
'Soulmates' airs on Mondays at 10 pm only on AMC.