The HBO miniseries “DMZ,” created by Roberto Patino, sometimes reminds us of the state of the Middle East during the cold war. There are two opposing forces patrolling the borders of a third-world country trying to impose their ideology on the people who want to remain autonomous. But greed, violence, and power can drag you into war. The hunger for power influences the minds of even innocent men and women, taking away books and culture from their hands and leaving them with guns to fight a war that they really don’t understand.
But it’s too late. When you are on the battlefield, sometimes you pick up a gun not to win, but to survive. And “DMZ” narratively follows two survivors, a mother and her son, who get separated during one such insurgent attack in Manhattan. It’s the story of a mother who spends eight years of her life trying to find her missing son, and when she finds him, he is a completely different person. He has seen the horrors of the war, and the struggle to survive has taken away his innocence. The question here is, will a mother be able to find her son again, not only physically but emotionally too?
‘DMZ’ Plot Summary
The series portrays a dystopian America divided into three parts due to a second civil war raging at its heart. The first part, the United States of America (USA), is ruled by the government. The second territory, the Free States of America (FSA), is monitored by the anarchists. A demilitarized zone (DMZ) covering Manhattan that remains autonomous separates the USA and the FSA. In the demilitarized Manhattan, there are many small communities that protect their piece of land. However, as the series begins, two warlords named Wilson Lin, the commander of Chinatown, and Parco Delgado, the ruler of the Spanish Harlem Kings, try to rule the entire DMZ, thus announcing democratic elections to choose the governor of the free zone.
Amid the civil war, there is a medic named Alma Ortega who works in a US intake facility in Brooklyn. Alma was separated from her son, Christian, during the evacuation of Manhattan eight years ago, and since then has been trying to find him in both the free and the United States. She has looked everywhere except the DMZ, and so, with the help of a smuggler named Franklin, Alma enters the demilitarized zone via a closed underground railroad.
The same lands with a new identity treat Alma as an outsider, but ironically, the people and their ideologies are more or less the same. To get information about Christian, she arrives at Yunnu Tea House in Chinatown to meet a gang leader, Wilson Lin, who happens to be her old friend. Wilson used to peddle weeds and pills from the hospital pharmacy where Alma worked before the war broke out, but during the unrest of evacuation, he stole gold from a bank and raised an army of his own.
Wilson fails to help Alma find her son, Christian, and thus, dissatisfied, she decides to return to the United States. However, during her return, she meets a man, Michael Bauer, whose name she read on an assassin, Skel’s hit list wall. Through Michael, Alma learns about the leader of the Spanish Harlem Kings, who is none other than Alma’s ex-boyfriend, Parco Delgado, and also the father of her son, Christian. Michael even tells Alma that Parco has turned his son, Skel, into a cold-blooded assassin. Alma remembers the name “Skel” as it was the same name under which Christian filled out the form for an arts college and had also gotten a tattoo of the same on his fingers. As soon as the revelations hit Alma, she decides to go back to the DMZ, and suddenly, the border patrol officers find the group infiltrating the border and open fire on them. All of them are shot dead except Alma, who returns to the DMZ to find Christian and save him from the shadows of his own father.
Major Spoilers Ahead
What Did Alma Do To Save Christian/Skel?
In eight years, Parco had poisoned Christian’s mind and turned him into a psycho bogeyman who killed people at his father’s command. However, for Christian, carrying out his father’s orders was also an act of redemption, as he held himself responsible for his father’s arrest years ago. Parco was an ex-American soldier who fought in the Middle Eastern war, which gave him PTSD. Eight years ago, when Christian went out with Parco, he showed him unregistered guns that frightened the son. To protect Christian from Parco, Alma reported Parco to the police, and while he was in prison, a civil war broke out. During the evacuation, Christian returned to save his father, most likely to redeem himself.
In all these years, Alma believed that she was separated from Christian during the evacuation, but Christian cleared the air and told her that it was his decision to run away from her. Christian chose Parco over Alma for two reasons. Firstly, Christian despised Alma’s overprotective and controlling nature, and as an artist, Christian wanted to be free from any kind of bondage. He was a rebel, and Alma failed to understand his artistic soul. Her overprotective motherly love suffocated his free spirit sometimes, but with Parco, he found his freedom. He would let Christian do anything he wanted to, and getting a tattoo was the first validation. Second, Christian blamed himself for his father’s arrest; he was the one who told his mother about the guns, so he felt obligated to save his father during the evacuation.
After the civil war broke out, Christian turned into a new man called Skel and became loyal to his father, who used him as a weapon. But though Skel killed for his father and became a monster, the artist in him never died, which is why he used to disappear into his loneliness and paint his heart out on the walls of closed warehouses. Skel would become Christian again and get lost in the darkness of the night, away from his father’s clutches, to meet his lover, Tenny, the princess of rival Chinatown. When Alma saw a Christian exchanging a warm look with Tenny, she instantly knew at that moment that there was still some warmth left inside her son. She tried everything she could to ignite this little spark struggling inside Christian.
Maybe Christian never wanted to be a part of this war and, like an artist, wanted to become a free soul. Tenny probably had the same dreams; she wanted to sing and play the guitar. Christian wanted to spend a peaceful life with Tenny, but while Christian was his father’s son, Tenny was Wilson’s ward. A love story between our Romeo and Juliet was impossible until Alma arrived.
As Alma revealed to Christian, Parco had joined hands with the Americans and was planning to sell the DMZ land to them; that would mean that the ceasefire would end and the war would rage again. But Christian didn’t believe Alma until Parco used an orphaned kid named Odi to plant a bomb at the entrance of the FSA that would stop their forces from retaliating while the soldiers of the USA would take over the DMZ. Christian witnessed his father ruining the life of yet another kid, and thus he couldn’t control himself but to raise his voice against Parco and put an end to his tyranny.
After Parco was arrested by the US soldiers, Alma helped Christian and Tenny leave the DMZ and live their lives peacefully in the free states of America. She had bought a safe passage off the island of Manhattan from one of the leaders of the FSA in exchange for influence and a foothold in the DMZ.
‘DMZ’ Ending Explained: Is Alma the Righteous Leader?
Alma arrived in the DMZ looking for her son. She had no interest in the politics of the land and only supported Wilson because she needed to stop Parco so that she could save Christian. Alma’s journey, on the other hand, is reminiscent of “Lawrence of Arabia,” in which Lawrence eventually became an integral part of the war. For Alma, too, the entire journey to find her son became a journey of self-discovery where she eventually found her calling.
It all began when Alma met Susie, who was Wilson’s adoptive mother and advisor. Alma had convinced Oona, who controlled the water supply in the DMZ, to pledge her allegiance to Wilson in the elections, and that made Susie question Alma, what made her take an active interest in the politics of the DMZ. Was it for her son or for herself? Throughout the series, Alma called herself an outsider who didn’t want any claim on the place, but Susie could see the influence of her voice and her words that brought new hope in the hearts of the people and was about to start a revolution.
Susie had been through a revolution, and in her past life, she had been loyal to the beliefs of Mao Zedong. But in her blind loyalty, she killed Wilson’s parents and orphaned him, and since then, she has been looking after him as an act of atonement. Hence, it was important for Susie to ask the same question from Alma, or Zee, as she called herself. Alma was about to start a revolution to get back her son, but it may have left many orphans on the way. Thus, Susie finally asked if Alma was ready to stay and raise those orphans. It was indeed the question the real world wanted to ask the superpower that left the deserts more deserted than they really were. Like Charlie Wilson asked the leaders of his country, that they handed over the guns to fight their war, but did they ever entertain the thought of building schools?
When Alma sought safe passage from the FSA, they demanded to see Susie so that they could get a foothold in Chinatown. However, Alma knew that Susie would never meet the FSA and, without her support, Parco would sell DMZ to the USA. Hence, in her symbolic speech to maintain the autonomy of all communities, she decided to stand against Parco in the upcoming elections. Her speech moved Susie, who came out in support of Alma/Zee, the new leader of the DMZ. But Susie again brought up the question of whether Alma was trying to leave so many orphans behind just for the sake of her son. Alma didn’t answer at that moment, but she had already made her decision.
She sent Christian away with Tenny and told him that he didn’t belong to anyone, neither to her nor to his father, and was a free bird who was meant to fly. Alma couldn’t change the past, but she could give a better future to her son, even if she wasn’t a part of that future, and that was the hardest decision she made. She knew that Christian had to build his future, and in that future, it was Tenny who he needed the most, hence she made the sacrifice. This sacrifice, however, was not solely for Christian, but was also influenced by Alma’s social responsibility to the people of the DMZ.
Before leaving, Tenny left an envelope for Alma, which she gave to Odi. The envelope revealed to Odi the location of Tenny’s radio broadcast setup that announced Alma or Zee’s victory in the elections. Maybe Alma gave the envelope to Odi because she knew that the kid had lots to say but was keeping everything to himself due to the loneliness caused by his traumatic childhood. Odi had a lot of things inside him that needed an outlet, like the way Christian used to paint. Alma believed that Odi would stir the world with his words and voice.
And for Alma, as soon as she found her calling and became the leader of DMZ, she announced its autonomy. It won’t belong to either of the two states, but only to the people who lived there. It was her selfless belief as a leader that made Alma a true revolutionary in the eyes of many. She needed neither power nor wealth. She had no selfish goals. She had one, but she sacrificed it for the people and for her own son, and this act of sacrifice turned her into a better person, if not a better leader.
As soon as Alma became the leader of the DMZ, the US troops retreated back to their border and left the Manhattan bridge. Maybe Alma had finally restored peace for the time being, but it still brings up the question, until when? Maybe until she could, or until people could tell their government or their leaders that they didn’t want to be labeled. They just want peace and happiness. But realistically, we all know that human greed is beyond all reason, and it will strike again and again until we bring our own doom someday.
“DMZ” is a 2022 Drama Thriller miniseries created by Roberto Patino.