A star rating of 3 out of 5.

There's an episode to come in the six-episode release of Expats that is worth a five-star review on its own but speaking generally about the new Prime Video series, it's hard for the term 'style over substance' not to spring to mind at times.


The series gets off to a stellar cinematic start, laying the foundations for poetic storytelling and meaty character development as we hear Mercy (Ji-young Yoo) narrate and talk about her fascination with the stories of those who are responsible for tragedy, rather than the focus solely being on the victim. It's an engaging and outright way to begin the drama – not to mention a stylised format that gives us a taste of the cinematography to come.

At the heart of this story is Margaret (Nicole Kidman), a somewhat former wealthy landscape architect who struggles to find work in Hong Kong and also struggles in her newfound role as a housewife. Her move to Hong Kong was done for the betterment of her husband's career and, despite groans from his family to return to the US, they've found a rhythm in the hectic city and have enjoyed bringing up their children with the help of their live-in nanny Essie (Ruby Ruiz). What a life!

Well, Margaret's world caves in when her youngest son Gus goes missing at a hectic night market, left to roam off after losing grip with Mercy's hand. Of course, blame is slung her way and, in the second episode, the series of events pans out with incredible pacing and detail, retaining an unshakeable sinking feeling.

Leaving the unfolding of that traumatic event until the second episode is a clever device, forcing viewers to cling on with curiosity but also, without it there in front of you, you're left to form opinions of the characters without knowing exactly how it forces these three women's lives to intersect.

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Bonde Sham as Charly holding a yellow umbrella over Ji-young Yoo as Mercy as they look down the street at something.
Bonde Sham as Charly and Ji-young Yoo as Mercy in Expats. Prime Video

Mercy moves to America in the hopes of creating a better life for herself but makes a string of bad decisions and blames them on an age-old (and convenient) curse that her mother has told her about childhood. She works temp jobs, struggles to keep up with her wealthy friends and slips out of lavish brunches after one drink, but is the joker of the group to distract from other insecurities. Like the other women, Mercy remains an enigma till the very end.

While you may think Hilary (Sarayu Blue) isn't exactly involved in the central drama, the impact of the disappearance weighs heavy on not just her but her marriage to David (Jack Huston). Her friendship with Margaret remains changed forever but through Blue's standout performance, we too get an insight into Indian American identity and the cultural expectations of marriage.

But where is Gus? It's a question and unimaginable sequence of events for Margaret and her family which ultimately peppers the series with an eerie feel of silence and the macabre. Expats is excellent at creating pockets of silence throughout the episodes that force viewers to reflect, grieve and be enveloped by the unashamed emotions of the three women at the centre of this series. But Expats unfortunately suffers from a feeling of sluggishness, with uneven pacing making these characters not the easiest to follow.

Series creator, writer and director Lulu Wang has said that Expats can be watched in a non-linear series order, to be lapped up at your own pace and in your own way. But this format slightly loses its autonomous magic when Prime Video releases episodes in their episodic order weekly. Saying that, though, the order in which you watch the series isn't imperative to the understanding but will likely colour the way in which you acknowledge and empathise with the characters.

Sarayu Blue as Hilary Star standing in a vest and looking at something.
Sarayu Blue as Hilary Star in Expats. Prime Video

We meet these women at different stages in their lives, all of whom are ultimately performing an act of sorts. Mercy is the group clown, Margaret is the put-together wife and mother, Hilary is the matter-of-fact socialite. But really, as we come to see, they're hiding beneath that facade. Through these women, though, we get an insight into the wealthy world of the Hong Kong expat elite – and that is where the true meat of this series lies.

Taking place with the 2014 Umbrella Movement as its backdrop, Expats puts these lives of privilege on full display for us to interrogate and compare against the lives of their live-in servants, drivers and hired help. It's a stark contrast – putting it lightly – and brings up the thoughtful line of questioning of who can be referred to as a successful expat versus an immigrant who has moved to the country for a better life.

Politics, class and wealth are all major themes of the series with quiet consideration being paid to all of them. It outlines what expat living is like, how secular and privileged it can be, but you get the sense that the series could do that step more. Sure, Margaret, Hilary and Mercy are all dislikable characters but you can't help but feel that you want a little more insight into themselves as singular people rather than as extensions of others.

Because of this, Expats can suffer from feeling slightly hollow at times where, really, there's an opportunity for so much more.

As mentioned at the start of this article, episode 5 really is where the beauty of this series lies and is an example of the standard of drama crafted by Wang that can be achieved in a thoughtful, engaging and aesthetic way. The episodes surrounding it are fascinating, well-shot and brilliant explorations of loss in all its forms but Expats unfortunately suffers from generally feeling meandering, propelling you towards an ending that feels less than fulfilling – but hey, perhaps that's the point.

Expats premieres on Prime Video on Friday 26th January with the first two episodes. Check out more of our Drama coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to find out what's on.


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