Pieces of Her is a Netflix series of 8 one-hour episodes taken from the Karin Slaughter novel of the same name.
3 out of 10 stars. In theory this could have been a great series, but casting was poor, the screenplay was poorly written, and there were plot holes galore.
First let’s talk about casting and this is something anyone can talk about. You don’t have to have a degree in drama or film making to be able to talk about it. If you’re doing a series with different time periods and the same characters then the older and younger versions of the same actor should look alike. Bones and bone structure do not change. At the very least those should be similar. In this series they look nothing alike. Toni Collette, who plays the older Jane Queller, has a gaunt face, sunken eyes, massive crooked teeth, and huge lips. Jessica Barden, who plays the younger Jane Queller, has a round face, normal eyes, delicate straight teeth, and normal lips. So it’s very confusing. It also makes it incredibly difficult to suspend your disbelief long enough to enjoy the show. These could not possibly be the same person.
Second, there was no fact checking when they went to recreate the locations. This was filmed in Australia, but most of the action is supposed to take place in Belle Isle, Georgia and San Francisco, California. There is a shot that’s supposed to be from Jasper Queller’s office looking out at the Golden Gate Bridge. Clearly the producers have never been to San Francisco. The CGI’d version of this scene, had it been real, would have Jasper’s office about 3 miles off shore in the Pacific Ocean. San Francisco is not a large town. It’s physically a small area with many buildings on top of each other. I lived near San Francisco for more than two decades. I know the area quite well. Without exception almost every location shot that was supposed to be in San Francisco was done poorly. The same goes for Georgia, where the shots of Jane’s house (a pretty blue house) look completely different when Charlie is sitting on her steps waiting for her. Where’d all the trees go? And when the trees come back, they’re the wrong trees. Did you notice they are different houses??? Again, this makes it hard to suspend your disbelief.
MacGuffin and Plotting
Third, let’s talk about the macguffin. A macguffin is a plot device and an actual object. It’s shown in the opening scene then is the object sought after by most of the characters. This search of the macguffin is what propels the plot forward. In Pieces of Her, the macguffin is a small micro cassette with a conversation between Nick Harp and Jasper Queller conspiring to destroy Martin Queller, Jane and Jasper’s dad, so Jasper can take over the company.
This micro cassette is sewn into the fabric lining of an old hard sided suitcase that Jane has in storage as part of her “go bag”. When things go south, Jane sends her daughter Andy on the run with this suitcase without ever telling her about the micro cassette inside. If I had been Andy, the first thing I would have done was move everything from the suitcase into a cloth bag or backpack and dumped the suitcase. That was poor plotting. Also, the macguffin is NOT mentioned in the first scene. In fact, it’s not mentioned until the last episode! Again, poor plotting.
Nick wants the cassette so he can blackmail Jasper, who is now a Vice Presidential candidate. Jasper wants the cassette so he can destroy it. And they both send killers after Jane and Andy to get it, a really important piece of the plot that should have been revealed in the very beginning. Not the end.
Fourth, this story is really poorly told. I can’t tell if it’s just a bad screenplay or a crappy novel. The last episode reveals the entire plot of the actual story. Everything up until this point has been a red herring to get you to the end. 🙁 Bad form. In the last episode 20 years of backstory is vomited up for you all at once so you understand what’s really going on–the search for the micro cassette and the big reveal about who really killed Martin.
Jane was apparently a piano virtuoso and the apple of Martin’s eye. When the three kids–Jane, Andrew, and Jasper–were younger, their mother tried leaving Martin who was physically and verbally abusive. She got them in the car and was leaving. Jane was the one who didn’t want to go and argued with her mother long enough for her dad to catch them. Jasper was the one who unlocked the doors so their dad could get in. Martin ended up killing their mom after that and their lives got worse, not better.
By the time she was a teenager, Martin had mapped out Jane’s entire life as a piano star, a life she didn’t want. So she slammed her hand in a car door, breaking several bones in her left hand so she could no longer play piano. At least not at the professional level. But rather than her father casting her aside and doting on one of his sons, he decided to make her the head of the company, another thing she wanted nothing to do with.
At the time, Jane and Andrew were both at college, Stanford, which is about 40 miles away from their home in San Francisco. Andrew had met and begun a sexual relationship with Nick Harp, an anarchist and eco terrorist. Nick heard Jane play the piano and wanted to meet her, so Andrew set it up. Jane and Nick fell in love and started sleeping together until she became pregnant. Martin was the first one to notice and, not wanting his daughter’s future derailed, tried poisoning her so she’d lose the baby. She saw him though so it failed. After that, she began plotting to kill her father so he wouldn’t kill her child. Martin had enough power as a billionaire and head of a large pharmaceutical company to do just that.
Martin attended an environmental conference in Oslo to try to defend his company’s damage to the environment. Grace Juno was the wife of one of the company’s victims, a man given a drug from the Queller Corporation which proved to be unsafe. Nick kidnapped one of the speakers at the Oslo conference and put Grace Juno in her spot. She was supposed to reveal who she was while questioning Martin on stage. But before going on stage she went to the bar for a drink and Jane met her there. They had similar purses and Jane opened hers to reveal a gun. Then she told Grace about Martin trying to kill her baby and how he would never stop until someone stopped him. When Grace left the bar she took Jane’s purse instead of hers and during the interview killed Martin with that gun. So Jane was responsible for Martin’s death, not Jasper.
Eventually their little group is all arrested except for Nick. Jane agrees to testify against them all in exchange for a light sentence (4 years) and witness protection for her and her child (Andy). But those four years when Jane is in prison Andy stays with a foster family who live in the woods. Nick finds that foster family and visits Andy as a child. But when it comes time to finding the micro cassette or saving Andy, he shoots Andy and tries saving the cassette. The actions of a terrorist, not a father.
So here’s the actual plot.
Laura Oliver and her daughter Andy are having lunch at a cafe in Belle Isle. Andy works as a police dispatcher and is wearing a cop’s uniform (no gun). Laura’s friend Betsy comes over to their table with her daughter Shelly to say hi. Andy has been watching a suspicious young man near the door who keeps staring at her. He gets up, comes toward them, and pulls out a huge pistol. He shoots Shelly then Betsy. Everyone in the cafe drops to the floor. A man texts 911 and his phone goes off. The shooter shoots the man with the phone. Then he points the gun at Andy and tries to provoke her into shooting him. Laura stands and explains that Andy just answers the phones and doesn’t have a gun. So he tries to shoot Laura, but she pushes his arm away and the bullet hits the wall. He shoots again, no bullets. So he tries stabbing Laura with a knife. She stops him with her hand then uses the blade to slit his throat.
Apparently rather than texting 911, one of the patrons in the cafe filmed the entire thing and posts it to YouTube in minutes. Everyone is astounded with Laura’s ability to act quickly and save Andy’s life. Reporters are everywhere. She’s taken to the hospital and by the time she’s released, her face is on every TV station in the state, completely blowing her cover in the Witness Protection Program, only you don’t even find out she’s in Witness Protection until about the fourth or fifth episode.
That night, only a few hours after Laura leaves the hospital, a man comes to her house and tries killing her. Andy saves her. So Laura gives her instructions to go to a storage space, takes what’s inside, then go to Maine and hide out until Laura calls her. She gives her an untraceable phone and Andy goes. Even though she’s told her explicitly to call no one and make no detours, that’s exactly what Andy does. Then Charlie Bass shows up. He’s a family friend to Andy, but really the U.S. marshal in charge of Laura’s case. She’s really Jane Queller, daughter of billionaire Martin Queller and sister to Jasper Queller, the top democratic candidate for Vice President. She’s also the key witness against terrorist Nick Harp, Andy’s father, who is still at large and on America’s Most Wanted list.
The rest of the series reveals the history of the Quellers and what prompted Jane to be in Witness Protection. Much of it is slow and poorly written. Andy is rebellious and makes one mistake after another getting the people around her killed. So does Jane. In the end, Nick kills Charlie and almost kills Jane and Andy over the cassette. Jane opts out of Witness Protection and goes back to her real name. But her entire life has passed her by and she’s spent it protecting a child who is angry with her all the time. What a waste.
3 out of 10 stars. If you want to watch a depressing series with unlikable characters, a confusing plot, many plot holes, and a bizarre finale, this is it. Otherwise, keep looking.