Expats review: Nicole Kidman leads Lulu Wang's poignant and well-crafted series | Web Series - Hindustan Times
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Expats review: Nicole Kidman leads Lulu Wang's poignant and well-crafted series

Jan 30, 2024 06:15 AM IST

Expats, which is based on the novel The Expatriates by Janice Y.K. Lee, stars Nicole Kidman as an expat American living in Hong Kong, shaken by tragedy.

Lulu Wang's new limited series begins with an outline of a series of tragic headlines. A doctor takes a nap on the wheel, which kills three pedestrians. A small aircraft crashes unexpectedly due to bad weather, which kills many skiers. Elsewhere, a friendly tussle between two siblings results in severe health condition for one. These accidents change the lives of these people forever.

Nicole Kidman and Brian Tee in Expats.
Nicole Kidman and Brian Tee in Expats.

As narrated by Mercy (Ji-young Yoo), whose life will also alter forever due to a tragedy, it is a reflection of how each of these news reports never ask what led to the tragedy in the first place. What about the people involved in them? Will the burden of their guilt ever give way to a better morning?

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Expats asks these questions with vitality and care, allowing room for perspectives and revelations. It is a powerful, gorgeously performed show, led by Oscar-winner Nicole Kidman. (Also read: In The Summers review: Passage of time shapes this superb father-daughter drama)

The premise

The actor plays Margaret, a landscape architect. When we first meet her, we do not what is the cause of her overwhelming sadness. She is married to Clarke (Brian Tee), whose job transfer took them from New York to Hong Kong. She is here with her son and daughter, planning for Clarke's 50th birthday party. The party is but an excuse to lighten things up, which fails when Margaret spots Mercy there as a server. At least, this brings Margaret close to her good friend and neighbour Hilary (Saraya Blue), who is an Indian-American expat having a rocky time accepting her husband.

Wang chooses to carve the suspense wisely, and it is not until the end of episode 2 when we come to terms with what actually happened. At Mercy's care, Margaret's youngest son Gus (Connor J. Gillman) disappears one evening in the crowded market. From here on, Expats connects the lives of these three women in simultaneous arcs, interrogating not just their response to grief and anger, but also the web of privilege that bubbles beneath the surface. With the Umbrella Protest of 2014 also taken into consideration, there's a doubling down on the variety of ways the community is finding ways to grapple with distrusting forces.

Final thoughts

Wang, working here with gifted cinematographer Anna Franquesa-Solano, captures the cultural fabric of Hong Kong with a non-judgmental lens. There's a curious eye for the crude excesses, one that is ridden with guilt and uncertainty. The fascinating fifth episode, almost like an 96-minute independent film in a capsule, breaks away from the strain and follows the lives of the nannies of the Woos and the Starrs, Essie (Ruby Ruiz, in the show's most wondrous performance) and Puri (Amelyn Pardenilla), and their families. The shift of perspective, on the laments and arguments over their work and choices as activists are wondrously communicated.

Kidman, who has played way too many privileged women shaken by some kind of grief in prestige TV dramas by now, is reliably fine as Margaret. But, Expats finds its true power and light in the hands of Blue and Yoo. One has been an actor working in supporting roles for a while, who finally gets to expand on her character. She is a force to watch here. The other gives a true breakout performance: complex and gripping at every point. Along with these three women, Expats finds a nuanced exploration of motherhood and grief, existing in the uncertain spaces of society.

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