Review: ‘Expats’ – Lulu Wang’s Spellbinding Series Perfectly Showcases How Grief and Guilt Changes People

In 2019, Lulu Wang took the world by storm by capturing the complicated dynamics of a family in The Farewell. The poignant story about love, sentiments, and culture went on to touch everyone’s hearts and made Wang a household name. Although the filmmaker showcased her impeccable directing skills with the title above, her latest venture, Expats, is a little darker and closer to what grief looks like in reality.

The six-part series from Prime Video series is all about making the tough choice of “Do I stay, or do I go?” Staying means being close to your loved ones and embracing normalcy, but going means exploring new horizons, learning new cultures, and meeting new people. Wang’s series Expats continuously asks that question with a hint of twist. 

Nicole Kidman and Brian Tee in Expats by Lulu Wang. Image courtesy of Prime Video.
Nicole Kidman and Brian Tee in Expats by Lulu Wang. Image courtesy of Prime Video.

Life’s choices aren’t all black and white

Expats celebrates the nuances in life’s choices, acknowledging the unique details we grapple with in these universal challenges. Staying might involve prioritizing one person over another while going may not even be a choice. Throughout the six episodes, there’s a constant pull of the unknown and the futures that could have been – or might still be. Based on the 2016 novel The Expatriates by Janice Y.K. Lee, the series primarily focuses on the lives of three women: Margaret (Nicole Kidman), Hilary (Sarayu Blue), and Mercy (Ji-young Yoo). 

All three women in Expats used to live in the US and have moved to Hong Kong. Margaret moved because of her husband’s (Brian Tee) job, but it was meant to be a temporary shift. On the other hand, Hilary is a successful woman who has been doing wonders because of her work. She is happy with how her life is. And then there’s Mercy, who has been told by her parents that she is cursed.

At first, it looks like their lives are sorted. However, things are much more complicated than they seem. Margaret is reeling from the loss of her youngest son and has never been the same. Meanwhile, Hilary is trying to save her marriage. On the other hand, Mercy is surprisingly related to both, but it’s better not to disclose how and why. Every one of the women in Expats is dealing with situations that will or already have changed their lives, and the series dives deeper into these situations, giving a nuanced look at what trauma looks like. 

Ji-young Yoo and Bonde Sham in Expats by Lulu Wang. Image courtesy of Prime Video.
Ji-young Yoo and Bonde Sham in Expats by Lulu Wang. Image courtesy of Prime Video.

Expats offers an authentic portrait of trauma

As the story unfolds, Expats keeps adding new layers and perspectives to its compassionate tale. The three main characters drive the series, but all other supporting characters perfectly elaborate their life stories. One aspect that makes this series such a magnificent watch is how it showcases trauma in the most authentic way possible. 

The trauma of losing someone special or losing a grasp of life can vary greatly from person to person. The impact of such trauma can manifest physically, emotionally, and mentally, affecting daily life, relationships, and other things. Most directors might have stopped by showing people trying to fix their broken lives. However, Wang decided to go a notch higher and showcase all the minor details about how an entire family is changed when something really distressing takes place.

Sarayu Blue in Expats by Lulu Wang. Image courtesy of Prime Video.
Sarayu Blue in Expats by Lulu Wang. Image courtesy of Prime Video.

Wang’s story touches every faction of life

Another extraordinary thing about this show is how Wang has stitched a storyline that touches every faction of life. Whether you are super rich or struggling to move on with your life, difficult situations can make you feel hopeless. Margaret and Hilary have everything in their lives, but joy is missing. Meanwhile, Mercy is young and joyful, but there is no sense of security. Additionally, she is struggling to get something traumatic out of her mind. So, watching these characters navigate and grow through disturbing experiences adds layers to their personalities and actions, making them more dynamic and compelling. They are not flat characters.

Apart from the storyline, Wang majestically uses her camera skills to show the unknown horrors of human lives. Be it grief, guilt, or shock, the director skilfully depicts how certain events alter people’s lives. How she captures the intricacies of cultural nuances and personal experiences adds layers of authenticity to her work. She is undoubtedly a visionary storyteller with a voice that will have a lasting impact on the world of cinema.

Amelyn Pardenilla and Ruby Ruiz in Expats by Lulu Wang. Image courtesy of Prime Video.
Amelyn Pardenilla and Ruby Ruiz in Expats by Lulu Wang. Image courtesy of Prime Video.

Expats is an acting triumph

When it comes to acting, choosing who triumphs over who is hard. Expats is one of those projects where every actor is sheer brilliance. Nicole Kidman is magnificent as a grieving mother who leaves no stone unturned to find her son. Meanwhile, Sarayu Blue delivers a captivating performance that is filled with a lot of depth and authenticity. Ji-young Yoo’s Mercy is able to convey a wide range of emotions that showcase her talent most extraordinarily. Her performance is a highlight of the series. 

Brian Tee as Clarke is a revelation. It is nothing short of exceptional and leaves a long-lasting impression on viewers. Conversely, all the other members of the cast, including Jack HustonRuby Ruiz, and Amelyn Pardenilla, are simply phenomenal in their respective roles. Every single actor gets time to shine, and whenever they are given a chance to show their impeccable skills, they knock it out of the park.

Final thoughts on Expats

All in all, Expats is a wonderful yet harrowing tale of people experiencing trauma and sharing it. It is about grief, making people connected to each other. This series is a prime example of how a TV series should be made. Please say hello to the best series of 2024 so far.

Expats is now streaming on Prime Video.

New episodes of the show are available every Thursday until it concludes. Have you watched the series yet? What did you think? Share your thoughts with us about Expats on X @MoviesWeTexted or in a comment below.

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