‘Expats’ series review: Following her roles in acclaimed series such as Big Little Lies, The Undoing, and Nine Perfect Strangers, Nicole Kidman is set to captivate audiences once again in a new lavish adaptation. In this latest venture, Kidman portrays a privileged woman entangled in a gripping mystery, marking her return to the genre.
This time, the narrative unfolds against the backdrop of Hong Kong, where the sudden disappearance of a child sets off a chain reaction of shockwaves through the interconnected lives and families of three American women residing in the city. The incident disrupts their existence, plunging them into a world of mystery, cultural reckonings, and emotional turmoil.
Directed by Lulu Wang, known for her work on The Farewell, the six episodes seamlessly navigate multiple timelines, delving into the lives, loves, and lies of expats in 2014 Hong Kong, during the Umbrella Movement protests. The story revolves around Margaret (played by Kidman) and her husband Clark (Brian Tee), who, lured by a high-paying job, have relocated to Hong Kong with their children.
Residing in the opulent apartment named The Peak, Margaret, a former architect, grapples with the comforts and challenges of expatriate life. A tragic turn of events occurs when Margaret’s youngest son, Gus, goes missing at the night market while in the care of Mercy (Ji-young Yoo), a chance acquaintance and a young Columbia graduate in Hong Kong. Margaret’s descent into guilt and despair becomes the focal point, causing ripples of chaos within her family.
The narrative also introduces Sarayu Blue as Hilary, an Indian-American friend and neighbor of Margaret and Clark. Hilary navigates a crumbling marriage and parental expectations, all while concealing a deepening mid-life crisis with material indulgences. As Gus’s disappearance strains her relationship with Margaret, Expats weaves a complex tapestry exploring class, race, and grief, based on the novel by Janice Y.K. Lee.
Despite the rich exploration of these themes, the series occasionally falters in maintaining focus on the central plot. Kidman’s performance, while infused with gravitas, may evoke a sense of déjà vu. The intertwined narratives sometimes lead to a messy conclusion, satisfying only a portion of the audience. The intentional but labored pacing adds to the challenges.
Nevertheless, Lulu Wang deserves acclaim for her handling of the fifth episode, resembling a stand-alone film. This segment shifts the focus away from expat lives to their “helpers,” Essie (Ruby Ruiz) and Puri (Amelyn Pardenilla), against the backdrop of mass political protests. Over 90 minutes, the audience gains insight into the lives, dreams, and fears of these helpers, providing a unique perspective on the series.
Expats, while not flawless, offers a compelling exploration of complex characters and societal dynamics, leaving viewers to grapple with the uncertainties and complexities of expatriate life in Hong Kong.