Since its inception, science fiction has been fascinated with the question of what makes us human, exploring the boundaries between ourselves and beings of artificial intelligence. Quibi continues this tradition with its new sci-fi thriller series DON’T LOOK DEEPER, a compelling, creepy, and stylish story about a high school senior named Aisha who discovers that she’s not the typical teenager she thought she was – she’s an android. When she accidentally cuts herself and discovers a lot more than just flesh and blood under her skin, she begins a confusing and dangerous journey of self-discovery that implicates the people she trusts most, along with the world’s biggest (and most sinister) tech company.
The strong cast includes Don Cheadle as Aisha’s doting father Martin and Emily Mortimer as her therapist Sharon, both of whom know much more about Aisha’s true nature than they initially let on. Sharon is an interesting character – she’s somewhat opaque in these early episodes, but I have a feeling we’ll learn a lot more about her motivations later on – and Cheadle infuses Martin with a heartbreaking sense of loneliness and desperation. Harvey Guillén from What We Do in the Shadows also appears in a small role that nevertheless makes good use of his stellar comic timing and inviting screen presence.
The true star, though, is Helena Howard as Aisha. She achieves the perfect balance between rebellious teenager and freaked-out, newly self-aware bot. She brings a mesmerizing humanity to the role, selling the internal struggle of an AI trying to figure out her own programming while still coming across like a regular teenager. When we get glimpses of Aisha’s earlier years, when she hadn’t quite evolved into the seamless interpersonal interactions and “normal” human affect that she displays in the present day, Howard gives the character just the right amount of robotic eeriness. She doesn’t quite step into the Uncanny Valley, but you can tell she’s visited it in the past.
Director Catherine Hardwicke gives viewers plenty of taut, suspenseful sci-fi, but she also provides some satisfying horror. The “service bots” – androids that are as commonplace in Aisha’s world as iPhones are in ours – are highly unsettling and gave me a shiver every time they were onscreen. When Aisha does a little digging in the first two episodes to find out what truly lies under her skin, the gore and body horror are delightfully shocking. If that’s something that bothers you, however, rest assured that it becomes much less prevalent in the next four episodes (though I can’t speak for the rest of the season after episode six). Incidentally, I must include content warnings for brief moments of animal cruelty and ableism. The latter is not necessarily on the show’s part, but rather on the part of a character who seems poised to emerge as a Big Bad in later episodes.
Though the series explores well-trod ground, it does so in an intriguing way, offering some fresh takes on the “human or machine?” trope. For instance, it’s hard to ignore the racial element of the series…Howard is biracial, and the characters of color (even the ones who know about the wires under Aisha’s skin) see Aisha as human, but the white characters treat her as more of an object or a technological curiosity. Ironically, DON’T LOOK DEEPER seems to be inviting viewers to delve even further into its questions about identity and humanity by asking us to examine how society treats Black women and whether we collectively respect their humanity as much as everyone else’s.
This series excels at the cliffhanger. I finished more than one episode by yelling “What?!” at the screen and leaping to press play on the next episode. With such short installments, it’s easy to binge the show, and I fully intend to do just that with the remaining episodes once they’re released. The ones I watched barely touched on the larger mystery of the tech company’s involvement in Aisha’s life, and I can’t wait to see what happens when those two narratives – the drama of learning that she’s been lied to her whole life and the dangerous techno-conspiracy that looms on the horizon – collide. With sharp suspense, a terrific lead actress, and compelling questions about what it means to be truly human, DON’T LOOK DEEPER is a sci-fi series that belongs on your watch list.
DON’T LOOK DEEPER is now available on Quibi with new chapters every weekday until August 11.