Expats is close to my heart, naturally. However, I found there is more to be said about this series. In several ways, it is not the usual, run-of-the mill show. It has been done with artistic flair. It addresses human emotions we feel deep down in our hearts. Some of us only know them as passing phases; there are others who live through with intense emotional consequences, and at the end, come to terms with the turmoils in their lives.
The Expats series is noted as a critically acclaimed series, specifically for its quality acting and directing by Emmy award winning director Lulu Wang.
Simply put, it is a powerful illustration of poignant, life-changing perceptions of grief, motherhood, and life’s other challenges. It provokes viewers into thinking on some hard-pressed issues in life.
Basically, the series addresses highly charged emotions of three expats in Hong Kong. To understand the two main characters, Margaret and Hilary, we need to sift through all the 6 episodes, and figure out where their behaviors were coming from, and why they were acting the way they did.
First, let’s see Margaret. In the first episode, she makes a passing reference to a tragedy (“… defined by a tragedy.”). In ep 2, we learn the tragedy was losing her child in a mall. Other factors that contribute to the gravity of her grief were: 1. She had the child, Gus, late in her life; 2. She did not want that pregnancy at first, but she became very fond of him after he was born (ep 4. Her chat with Hilary), and, 3. She left Gus in Mercy’s care, which led to his disappearance.
All these harrowing experiences lead Margaret to a terrifying thought that she failed Gus as a mother. The tragedy was overwhelming to her and soon finding the kid becomes her sole purpose in life to the exclusion of all others and their needs or feelings. Nicole Kidman as a distraught mother haunted by her desire to find Gus is august, and befitting her reputation. There is no other way to recreate Margaret.
Hilary is beset by self-doubt, universal I might add, motherhood as a defining coefficient. At first, she and her husband, David, had agreed not to have kids, but David changed his mind (ep 4. Her chat with Olivia.). As Hilary feels pressure from friends (Margaret, Olivia), her mother, and other socialites, she slips into an introspective reverie as to why, or if at all, a woman is defined by her status as a mother. While bearing a child for David is a critical issue in their crumbling life, the role of Gus’s disappearance is not to be ignored. Margaret suspected David of stealing Gus, and Hilary was not quick enough to defend him. That was an added sour point for David.
Saryau Blue as Hilary has given a stellar performance. She wanted to save her marriage, despite David’s infidelity, but not at the expense of losing her own self-respect. Various conflicting emotions in her, her confrontation with David, her arguments with her indigenous mother and father, and the denoument in ep. 6 are depicted superbly.
I have read a few comments referring to the Emmy level quality of her performance, and I agree with them.
Mercy’s character sets apart from the other two in the sense she belongs to current generation. Hilary and Margaret appear to be in their 40s or late 40s, Mercy has a college degree and a job, (we learn from her chat with her friend, Charly, in ep. 6.) and adventurous. She too has a problem, though. She grew up, feeling she was cursed. That belief plays out the way she handles her encounter with David, and later, her pregnancy.
When Mercy asks Margaret if she would take her child, bewildered Margaret asks, “Don’t you want your baby?” There again the topic of motherhood arises. Apparently, Gus was on their minds, each for her own reason.
In the final episode, Hilary comes to terms with her situation and moves on. Mercy also finds a way out for her unexpected pregnancy, and moves on. Margaret continues her search for Gus; actually, that becomes her only purpose in life, as it were.
While most of the series is focused on the haves, one episode, ep 5 is exclusively devoted to illustrate the lives of the have nots, namely, the helpers, who are also expats from Philippines. I was very much drawn to this episode. I have always wanted to know the lives of these “helpers” from their perspective. They are also people, real people with their own mode of thinking and living. I may be side-stepping, but I have to say this. Most of the Telugu writers depict the working class people from their perspective of their own standards. In Expats, director Lulu Wang meticulously took steps to present them with great authenticity. She said her family was her inspiration. In that, I would say she has succeeded in presenting them as thinking, enjoying people in flesh and blood.
I was blown away by the artistry of this series. Episode after episode, it doles out very poignant points in small dosages. That is just the way I like it.
Before I end my review, here is a warning. There are 3 scenes with sexual content close to x-rated, rather than 18+ as producers claimed.
My heartfelt compliments to all the actors, director and writers.
(February 29, 2024)