April 24, 2022

“The Baby” Presents a Twisted View of Motherhood (Review)

Image courtesy of HBO

When someone refers to an infant as a “little monster,” they never mean it literally. The Baby, a limited series co-produced by HBO and Sky Atlantic, takes a concept so innocent and corrupts it into a violent, disturbing and oddly hilarious fantasy about motherhood.

The Baby begins as a young woman, dressed in a rain coat and holding the titular infant, prepares to jump to her death. She’s pursued by two police officers, who try (and fail) to stop her and the baby from plummeting off the cliff. It’s the perfect opener, crafting intrigue and giving us a taste of the suspense that will haunt us throughout the series. Afterward, we meet our lead, the 38-year-old Natasha (The Dutchess’s Michelle de Swarte), who is the queen of living life unburdened without any long-term plans to speak of. To her surprise, she comes into swift possession of the baby, which becomes much more of a handful than she ever could have imagined. What follows is a strange mystery — not the kind where we get clues and are expectation to come up with theories, though. This mystery is more revelation-based, giving us the answers in small doses. When we get to a flashback episode, about mid-way through the series, that introduces Helen (played by Tanya Reynolds of Sex Education), the clouds finally begin to part and answers begin to reveal themselves.

Let me clarify that The Baby's darkness does not necessarily make it unpleasant. There’s a lot of humor here, much of it extremely bleak and tastefully dry, so yes — this is very much an English-produced series. It’s so simple, too; the baby itself seems so normal, but everything happening around it is so freaky that it can’t possibly be a coincidence. If you were in Natasha’s situation, how could you possibly contend with that?

Image courtesy of HBO

As people who spend time around the baby (who aren’t Natasha) begin to die or be gruesomely maimed, you begin to get a sense of the series’ true intentions. The Baby — both the series and the titular infant — doesn’t play around, never quite verbally acknowledging what’s happening, but still making it all crystal clear from the get-go. It’s a commendation on the series’ visual storytelling, and this is all punctuated by off-putting editing techniques, a soundtrack composed of exotic singing and shrill screams, and the fact that Natasha can’t get rid of the baby, however hard she tries. At a certain point, the violence becomes almost disturbingly casual.

Motherhood can be a nightmare. That is something The Baby takes very literally. It’s clear where the series is drawing from, especially as Natasha’s unfounded maternal instinct begins to grow on her, and so I see The Baby not as a warning about having kids, but instead a humorous look at the worst-case scenario.

The Baby premieres tonight at 10:30pm on HBO and HBO Max.

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