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A devastating event impacts the intertwining lives of three women in Expats

When the curtain for the drama series Expats opens, the audience is immediately introduced to a tragedy. The exact nature of the event remains a mystery, but whatever happened, it was awful and it has changed every person we will encounter from this moment on. We also know who is responsible, if not yet how.

Expats, streaming on Prime Video. Pictured: Sarayu Blue as Hilary.
Prime Video

Based on Janice Y. K. Lee’s novel The Expatriates, Lulu Wang’s followup to critically lauded 2019 film The Farewell is a 360-degree view of trauma. To categorize Expats as a reverse whodunit, however, is selling it short. “I think the story is really interesting,” says Ji-young Yoo, who portrays Mercy, a carefree New Yorker in Hong Kong who is introduced in the opening moments of the show as responsible for whatever horrific event took place. “I won’t spoil the tragedy, but I think what happens in our story is something that will probably resonate with a lot of people, or it’s a fear that a lot of people have.”

What drew Yoo to the project was the idea that nothing in life is as simple as it seems. “What I love about our show is the deliberateness that we tell it with,” says the actress. “I think Janice and Lulu both resist this idea that there are people who are easy to understand. I think everyone in the show is incredibly complex and multifaceted and makes a lot of decisions that you understand once you’re seeing it, but it’s hard to understand at first. You have to look closer.”

Expats, streaming on Prime Video. Pictured: Left to right: Charly (Bonde Sham), 
a young student activist in  a budding relationship with Mercy (Ji-young Yoo).
Prime Video

While the show appears to centre around American parents Margaret and Clarke, played by Nicole Kidman and Brian Tee, trauma is prevalent in the life of every person that surrounds the couple. “I think each character, individually, is going through their own trauma and trying to come out of it,” says Tee. “Each character deals with it differently, and I think that’s the wonderful nuance and complexity of our show. The themes are universal and so incredibly relatable because each individual the audience can relate to, especially as far as their process. And it’s not just one thing. There’s this incredible arc and journey that we all go through.”

Expats, streaming on Prime Video. Pictured: the cast shares a meal.
Prime Video

For expats Hilary and David, played by Sarayu Blue and Jack Huston, the cloud that looms over their marriage is one about starting a family. “A piece of Hilary that has really resonated with me was her questioning motherhood. Really, did she want to be a mom?” says Blue. “Throughout the show you see her ask various people, really grappling with the answer. Whether she finds it or not, just having that space for the question, I think, is so new.” Regardless of outcome, it was the conversation alone that excited Blue. “It’s not a representation we see very often, and it’s one that I think is so valuable,” she says.

Expats, streaming on Prime Video. Pictured: Brian Tee and Nicole Kidman play American parents Margaret and Clarke.
Prime Video

Mercy — our culprit, should we choose to believe the initial setup — enters the series believing there has always been a curse hanging over her head. “She really believes that no matter how hard she tries, she’ll always fall short,” says Yoo. “That’s a really interesting psychology to have, and I was attracted to that because I think that’s probably something we all feel when we shoot for things that we really want and are scared that they might not work out. Mercy’s really embraced that for her whole life, and I was interested in exploring that.”

What the viewer will discover along the way is that when an event is viewed from multiple perspectives, the conclusion may not be as conclusive as in other narratives. “It’s a show that really leaves people with more questions than answers,” says Blue. “The truth, I’m not sure, is a statement. I think it’s a conversation.” Adds Yoo: “I have a feeling that everyone, upon watching the final episode, is going to walk away with something a little different. They’re probably going to find bits and pieces that are going to make the argument for them. I’m really excited to see what everyone thinks.”

Expats, streaming on Prime Video. Pictured: Amelyn Pardenilla (L) is Puri, who works as a housekeeper for Hilary and her family.
Prime Video

With Kidman and Wang at the helm, it is sure to be an interesting conversation. Working with the duo certainly made the cast and crew bring their A-games. “If you come onto a project with Nicole in it, everyone elevates,” says Tee. “There is a standard that she has set for herself, and we all want to be a part of that standard — and go further than that. What’s great about her is that as a producer, as an actor, as an artist, she really allows artists such as ourselves, and especially Lulu, to take the reins and go. Her brilliance allows others to bring this creative force that can also elevate [the material] above and beyond. It’s something I’m incredibly happy and proud to be a part of.”

Expats, streaming Friday, February 16 on Prime Video

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