Created and directed by Lulu Wang, the season premiere of Expats is off to a fascinating start, even if the series is a little slow at first.
At the beginning of the Expats season premiere, the voiceover introduces us to multiple tragedies while telling us “I wanna know more about the perpetrators.” Interestingly, this puts the focus on the perpetrators from the very beginning of the series, rather than the victims we had initially heard about. It is an intriguing start that already suggests to us what the main theme of the Prime show is going to be: tragedy. In the two-episode series premiere, tragedy, loss, and grief are recurrent, setting the tone of the show from the very beginning.
Set in 2014 in Hong Kong, Expats shows us the lives of an expatriate community where, despite the highly public lives their members lead, secrets are as popular of a currency as the money the characters deal with. In the first two episodes of the season premiere, the Prime show introduces the audience to the three main characters: Margaret Woo (Nicole Kidman), a grief-stricken woman who is mourning a loss in her family, Hilary Starr (Sarayu Blue), Margaret’s now estranged friend and neighbour, and Mercy Cho (Ji-young Yoo), a young graduate who has just moved to Hong Kong.
Visually, Expats is a beautiful show which is genuinely a pleasure to watch. It’s masterfully directed and it has some impressive lighting and camerawork; there is so much to unpack when looking at the cinematography of the Prime series. In particular, the water scenes from episode 2 and the shots of Hong Kong stood out the most to me. The show does a very good job at creating tension with its dramatic musical score and fast-paced sequences, especially in the second episode of the series premiere.
I also thought the two timelines‘ structure was particularly fascinating. Episode 1 shows us the characters’ lives after the big tragedy that is always mentioned, but never properly talked about. But episode 2 takes us back to the “before” timeframe where the audience gets to see all of it play out, knowing this will end in tragedy. This dual timeline works particularly well because the flashback scenes are visually very different from the main timeline with a lighter and brighter colour grading, so much so that it is already clear we are watching a flashback without Expats telling us so. Similarly, the characters appear incredibly different from those we know from the first episode of the season premiere, which makes things even more interesting.
In terms of narrative, Expats is very much a character-driven show. The main characters are immediately gripping and fascinating: we can immediately tell that there is more to them than meets the eye. As the episodes go on, we desperately want to learn more about the main characters and find out the truth behind their façade. One of the key elements of the season premiere of the Prime show is the stark difference between the main characters. However, these only come into play in episode 2 which characterises its protagonists a lot better and more clearly than in the first episode of the series.
Other than the themes of grief and loss that are the biggest focus of Expats, the series premiere also introduces some other fascinating topics. In particular, the focus on women allowes the show to focus on important discussions around having kids and the gender imbalance in taking on responsibilities at home for women. Most interestingly, episodes 1 and 2 introduce a reflection on capitalism, as we see the difference between the lives of working-class women, such as Mercy, and those of the rich people they work for. However, neither of these is explored deeply in depth but this is only the beginning of the Prime series, I would like to see these topics more thoroughly explored in future episodes.
The season premiere of Expats feels a little too slow in the beginning, especially in episode 1. The first episode of the show, while setting up the context and the characters, suffers from its slow pace and unclear focus. As the audience sees the characters move through their lives, I struggled to understand who the focus of the show was meant to be as everything seemed to be disconnected in the beginning. By episode 2, however, the Prime series does a much better job with its pace as it delivers clearer stakes and better-explored characters.
The setting of Expats is undoubtedly one of its most interesting elements and one of the reasons that personally attracted me the most to the show. However, after the first two episodes, I could not help but feel that the Hong Kong setting and its 2014 timeframe both seem irrelevant to the plot of the show. In the season premiere, it feels like the Amazon Prime series could have been set in any other time or any other place and still analyse the same themes after all. In the future of the show, I can only hope that its setting will come into play more and, thus, be more justified.
Overall, the season premiere of Expats is successful and certainly made me more excited to see more in the upcoming weeks, despite its slow beginning. Thanks to its excellent camerawork and fascinating characters, the newest Prime series creates a thrilling drama audiences will want to know more of as the show goes on. Episodes 1 and 2 are definitely companions to each other and need to be watched together in order to fully appreciate the show and the callbacks between the two episodes that make up the season premiere.
The series premiere of Expats is now available to watch on Prime Video.