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How Paramount+'s 'Fatal Attraction' Expands the Understanding of Dan and Alex's Relationship

The reimagining of the 1987 film premieres in April on Paramount+.

Danielle Turchiano
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Lizzy Caplan and Joshua Jackson in 'Fatal Attraction'

Paramount+

Famously, the 1987 thriller Fatal Attraction almost had a very different ending. Instead of Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) killing Alex Forrest (Glenn Close), the original idea (which was shot and now lives as an alternate ending on YouTube) was that she killed herself and framed the man with whom she had an affair.

While that action is certainly drastic, it gives her a bit more agency and control over her own narrative and the one she shapes for Dan. So it should probably be no surprise that when Alexandra Cunningham was building a writers' room for her Paramount+ reimagining (also titled Fatal Attraction), that original ending was much talked about. 

After all, both Cunningham and series star Lizzy Caplan, who plays Alex Forrest in this iteration, recall how eloquently and adamantly Close spoke about the issues her character was living with, that she was layering into her performance. For the series, Caplan said during a Television Critics Association press tour panel, their Alex has not necessarily been diagnosed with any particular mental illness, but she does live with something that manifests itself in her behavior and interactions. Cunningham clarified that it is a Cluster B personality disorder, which include antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, and narcissistic personality disorder.

"The '80s audience sees this as a very binary, black-and-white, hero-vs-villain story. If you watch the movie again, I find it very, very difficult to see Alex as a straight villain — to not ask, 'What's going on with her?' and also, 'What's going on with him?' The lens through which we view things have changed so dramatically," Caplan said, adding that the series will answer those questions. 

For Alex, that means exploring her childhood as well as her relationship to her job and to Dan, while for Dan (played by Joshua Jackson), it includes looking at his professional and personal life when he gets involved with Alex, but also what things look like for him years later, after he was convicted of her murder but gets out of jail and tries to reconnect with his now-adult daughter Ellen (Alyssa Jirrels).

"She's the kid who gets her bunny boiled, but she's kind of an appendage; no one is asking if she's OK," Jirrels said of Ellen in the film. But in the series, she is a psychology student who is deciding what kind of relationship (if any) she wants to have with her father, while still being close to her mother and his ex-wife Beth (Amanda Peet)

In this version of the story, Dan is a lawyer to Alex's editor in the film, they both work in law in the series (with Dan eyeing a role as a judge). They meet through work and begin their affair quickly, with the show exploring themes of "infidelity, entitlement, how the sausage gets made when it comes to the judicial system, midlife crises, Cluster B personality disorders, isolation, fathers and daughters, and murder," according to Cunningham.

The show is also about "how some people just can't take the win" and "self-image and what we'll do to protect it and also what happens when someone doesn't have one," she continued.

But rather than putting the audience solely in Dan's point of view so that the audience is feeling like "this woman's got to go," as Jackson put the feelings of most of the film's audience, the show "is trying to represent all of the characters' points of view," Cunningham said.

Telling the story in two timelines assists with this, as does the fleshing out of characters that range from Alex to Beth to Ellen. But that's not to say that Dan's story is not the audience's way into it, nor that he doesn't have a big arc to go through over the course of the eight episodes.

"Dan's mental health is also questionable. He's a man who's not being honest with himself and has not come to terms with some of the darker places within his ego, and he allows his fragility to cause immense damage," Jackson said, noting that "where his privilege meets his ethics, his privileges succeeds and his ethics are fungible. His appearance of propriety is more important than propriety."

"Dan's redemption is not ultimately, to me, about the externalities of what happens with Alex or the reason why he's incarcerated. To me, the only redemption is through his family," he continued. "The emotional through line is not about whether the court of law believes he's guilty or innocent, it's about taking responsibility."

The show premieres with its first two episodes April 30 on Paramount+. The review embargo has not yet lifted on the series, but the film has a Metascore of 67.