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Expats (Prime Series): Episode 5 Review

Puri (Amelyn Pardenilla) and Essie (Ruby Ruiz) sit at a table behind glass doors in Episode 5 of Expats

In the longest episode of the Prime Video TV show yet, episode 5 is everything I wanted Expats to be from the very beginning.

Episode 5 of Expats was a surprise, to say the least. While this second half of the show is significantly more interesting and better-paced than the first three episodes, I was happy to see the Prime Video show improve even more in its latest episode. Previously, I have consistently felt like the TV show would have benefitted from showing the reality of its Hong Kong setting more as well as focusing more on the domestic workers we had only seen in passing before. This week, it seems like this episode was made just for me as the show finally pays attention to both elements.

Episode 5 of Expats takes the focus away from the three protagonists. Although Mercy Cho (Ji-young Yoo), Margaret Woo (Nicole Kidman), and Hilary Starr(Sarayu Blue) are still present and their respective storyline all moves forward, in this episode we see everything from the perspective of the women who work for them. In particular, this episode focuses on Puri (Amelyn Pardenilla), Hilary’s help, and Essie (Ruby Ruiz) who works for the Woo family on their day off. On that fateful Sunday, a typhoon takes over the city: as the severity of the weather conditions increases, so does that of the protests as the 2014 political movement reaches a point of no return.

As with previous episodes, the cinematography stands out in Expats and episode 5 is no different. This time, we see the rain as a recurring theme throughout the whole episode, carrying over from the end of episode 4 last week. This is not only often mentioned in the characters’ dialogues, but it also directly affects their plotlines in this episode and it is constantly reinforced visually. As the storm intensifies and all the characters have to live through a city-wide blackout, the episode delights us with beautiful shots and brilliant use of lowkey lighting when the families have nothing but candles or flashlights to light up their shared moments and spaces.

In episode 5, the Hong Kong context finally comes into play as we see the social unrest in the city. After four episodes where it felt like Expats could be set anywhere in the world, the viewers finally get to see and learn more about the political situation of 2014 Hong Kong. The importance of these events becomes immediately clear even to those of us who may be unfamiliar with them as a newscast is constantly informing both us and the characters of the most recent developments regarding the protests. Just like the rain becomes a main theme in this episode, so does the political movement in the city, visually represented by the “sea of colourful umbrellas” that will not stop fighting for democracy, no matter the adversity.

Puri (Amelyn Pardenilla) and Essie (Ruby Ruiz) chat in Episode 5 of Expats
Puri (Amelyn Pardenilla), Essie (Ruby Ruiz) in Episode 5 of Expats (Jupiter Wong / Prime Video, Amazon MGM Studios)

At the beginning of Expats episode 5, one of the characters says, “or because we are helpers and that is all we will ever be?” In this episode, the Prime Video show is finally showing us what the lives of these previously invisible helpers look like, because they are not any less important just because of their job or economic condition. If anything, exploring their struggles, pain, and aspirations is arguably far more interesting than the plotline involving the three main characters. Interestingly, it is in the one episode that features the working class predominantly that the social unrest and political divide in Hong Kong is also showcased for the first time in the show.

The class divide is painfully evident in this episode, more than ever before in Expats. In episode 5, we are introduced to an entirely new Hong Kong, one that almost does not look like the same city we had seen in previous episodes, with the expensive homes and posh restaurants the main characters tend to attend. This other side of Hong Kong the Prime Video series finally gives us access to is made of open spaces, as all the working women congregate in the same square on their day off, post offices, and McDonald’s where they can get a sweet treat together, which to many people in the audience would seem a lot more relatable than the lifestyle we have previously seen in the show.

I do wish the Prime Video series had taken this approach in its first four episodes too. Episode 5 is brilliant, undoubtedly the most interesting so far with engaging storytelling and excellent pace, showing us everything that Expats is capable of doing. And so I could not help but ask myself: why has it not been delivering its best all along? Despite its slow start, this week’s episode definitely makes it all worth it. If Expats keeps going in this direction in the next episode, the series finale of the show is likely to be its best episode yet and I can’t wait to see it.

Episode 5 of Expats is now available to watch on Prime Video.

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