What to Watch This Weekend: Come Home to ‘Expats’

What to Watch This Weekend: Come Home to ‘Expats’

“Prestige TV” is often synonymous with “show about rich people being sad,” and by that metric, “Expats” (Amazon Prime Video) is easily among the most prestigious shows. Early on, its silky misery feels hollow — trite, even — but over six episodes, that emptiness becomes less of a void and more of a vessel, holding elegant, complicated ideas about class, pain and mothering.

Nicole Kidman, whose presence alone connotes wealthy woe, stars as Margaret, an American mother living in Hong Kong because of her husband’s career. When viewers meet her, she’s in a state of fragile, paralyzed mourning, though the specifics of her agony remain vague until the end of the second episode, leaving the audience in the uncomfortable position of hungering for something terrible happening to a child, just to get things moving already.

Luckily — well, unluckily — things do indeed start moving. Mercy (Ji-young Yoo), a Korean American young woman scrambling to find herself, or at least rent money, believes she’s cursed and accidentally catalyzes catastrophe. Margaret’s friend and fellow expat, Hilary (Sarayu Blue), has her own marital crisis, exacerbated by the fallout from Margaret’s tragedy. Essie (Ruby Ruiz), Margaret’s live-in housekeeper and nanny, mourns with her employers and misses her own adult children back in the Philippines. Puri (Amelyn Pardenilla), Hilary’s housekeeper, both admires and resents her boss. Margaret says Essie is “family.” Puri calls Hilary her friend. In each instance, the woman’s peers try to correct her.

Over and over throughout the show, mothers tell their children to “come home.” No one is quite sure where that is, though, geographically or psychologically. Isn’t home wherever you hang your violent resentments? Love and suffering pour forth in equal velocity here, with money or lack thereof as a stand-in for both. When mothering is reconfigured as paid labor, what happens to both mothering and labor?

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