Fatal Seduction is rather predictable, with obvious clues placed throughout the plot, taking away any element of surprise…
By Sybil Fekurumoh
When Fatal Seduction begins, it promises raunchiness and mystery. The new Netflix series opens with steamy montages, aided by risqué narrations of sex as a primal human activity, and the motivations for fulfilling this primary desire. This introduction is followed by what appears to be a crime scene, with a lifeless body being wheeled away, and a potential suspect carted off in a police vehicle. This juxtaposition suggests that the consequences of yielding to sexual cravings, an innate human desire, might lead to disastrous outcomes, in line with the indicative title, “Fatal Seduction.” The series thus establishes itself as a crime thriller laden with sex scenes. It fairly delivers on the erotism, but as viewers will find out, the mystery largely disappoints.
The South African series presents the awry outcome of a weekend trip. Nandi Mahlati (Kgomotso Christopher), a university Law professor, plans a beach house getaway with her effervescent best friend, Brenda (Lunathi Mampofu). This trip is necessitated to get Nandi’s mind off a recent miscarriage and her estranged marriage to her judge husband, Leonard (Thapelo Mokoena), whom she suspects is having an affair with his assistant. Amid suspicions of her husband’s affair, and encouraged by Brenda, Nandi impulsively has sex with the much younger Jacob (Prince Grootboom), whom she first notices on the beach. Jacob, among many things, turns out to be one of her students. But that is half the tease. The murder mystery is cued in when Brenda wounds up dead, purportedly, by suicide. Nandi receives this startling news with shock, and the tragedy of her best friend’s death, and her husband’s insensitivity pulls her back to Jacob. Leonard’s brother, Vuyo (Nat Ramabulana), a private investigator, tries to put the pieces of Brenda’s suicide/murder together, and as this unfolds, viewers are made privy to events spanning from the past ten and twenty years.
Somehow entangled (rather poorly) in this mystery is Nandi’s eccentric young-adult daughter, Zinhle (Ngele Ramulondi), who has an online secret admirer, and a best friend, Laura (Frances Sholto-Douglas) pining for her affection. This is one subplot among the many in the series. But amidst all of these, what is central in this story is Nandi’s marriage. Fatal Seduction prods the subject of the reasons that push couples towards infidelity, but never really takes a stance on whether such reasons is justified or not. Suffice to say that Fatal Seduction surmises that people make bad decisions for personal benefits, and that these decisions affect other people, whether it is succumbing to guilty pleasures for temporal gratification, or participating in corrupt practices for sake of self-interest. Even when one feels remorse and attempts to change, the repercussions linger like shadows in the background. But sadly, this subject is addressed at face value.
Fatal Seduction tries hard – or perhaps doesn’t enough – to touch many subjects. But it fails to make a statement on any. The series attempts to make a case for sexual assault and gender-based violence, criminal justice systems, and even sexual identity and autonomy. The constant shifting of roles between victim and villain leaves one uncertain of whom to sympathise with. This ambiguity may have been deliberate to sustain suspense, but it results in a weakly-crafted storyline that lacks impact. Perhaps this was deliberate, to keep up with the suspense, or it simply is poor scripting, but the mystique and suspense ultimately serve little to no purpose at all.
Fatal Seduction is rather predictable, with obvious clues placed throughout the plot, lacking any element of surprise. The use of gore fails to evoke a shock factor, and the melodramatic moments come across as cringe-worthy. Even the cliffhanger when Fatal Seduction ends does not spark any interest or excitement for a sequel. The story is mundane, and aside people taking off their clothes, there’s nothing in the movie that exactly catches the eye. The acting, too, is substantial, but hardly memorable, with the characters having too much or too little screen time to leave any remarkable presence. For instance, Nandi’s reaction to her supposed best friend’s death feels lacking, almost raising a curious thought that she might be the killer. Brenda, too, deserved more screen time and better character development, rather than have her story told from other people’s point of view. Surprisingly, only Mokoena’s character is able to sustain a flair of mystery that it was somewhat difficult to gauge his emotions. The series also never properly addresses any of the crimes committed, like the infractions merely happen to move the story along.
That said, the show finds its pleasurable moments in the realm of sexual tension and erotic scenes. Fatal Seduction manages to capture lewdness without causing discomfort. But, closer inspection into these moments, and questions about their purpose arise – whether they intend to convey a profound message, or merely indulge in voyeurism. Curiously, Nandi, who should be the leading character, seems relegated to a role primarily defined by her sexual encounters, even when such encounters exist in someone else’s imagination.
However, the fast-paced nature of Fatal Seduction makes the series enjoyable, as each episode is capped at around thirty minutes, making the show easily binge-worthy. But, better enjoyment could have been achieved if Fatal Seduction had chosen to remain a straightforward erotic thriller, focusing on marriage, adultery and its possible consequences. Nonetheless, the show does a good job with how it portrays older and middle-aged individuals – especially women – having sexual agency, able to explore and taking control of their sexual desires.
Fatal Seduction is all surface-level excitement, not meant to be taken too seriously. It feeds the guilty pleasures of voyeurs, and caters to those who seek passion in their entertainment, and nothing further. But, if there is any lesson to be learned, it is that assumption does no one any good, and that communication, in any relationship, is important. Ultimately, Fatal Seduction excels at embracing its erotic appeal, but leaves room for improvement when it comes to unfolding its mystery. And depending on who’s interested, Fatal Seduction may be yet another forgettable series, or one that is visited and skimmed through for the “good” parts.
Sybil Fekurumoh is a senior writer for Afrocritik. Connect with her on Twitter and Instagram at @toqueensaber.