There is a feeling of complete chaos when experiencing tragedy away from home. The constant negotiation with the foreign city becomes all the more overbearing in such situations. In Lulu Wang’s Expats, the city of Hong Kong becomes a character in itself, and we are introduced to three women who are trying to find their rhythm in the city. In the first episode, we could sense that something unspeakable had happened in Margaret’s life, and the name Gus was of great significance. We also learn about the all-consuming guilt that Mercy carries within herself and the desperation Hillary, at times, experienced as she struggled to blend in with the crowd. Based on Janice Y.K. Lee’s “The Expatriates,” the Amazon Prime miniseries is all about pain, guilt, and womanhood.
What Happens In Episode 1?
Margaret kept herself busy planning the celebration of her husband’s 50th birthday. She seemed distant when the event planner, Priscilla, discussed the party in detail. The long guest list scared Margaret, suggesting that she is afraid of facing people and having conversations. Margaret abruptly left the meeting when Priscilla asked Phillip about the drawing he had made. Along with him, his sister Daisy, and his mother, there was a third kid in the frame, and his name was Gus. At the mention of the name, Margaret hurried and left with her kids. The past continued to haunt Margaret, and even though the party was a way to get back into their social lives, the pain often overwhelmed the family.
The first episode begins with a woman discussing how often, in cases of accidents, we tend to talk about the victims but not about the ones responsible for the loss. It is the tragedy that becomes our focus, not the entire story. The crime itself becomes so grave that we often dehumanize the one on the wrong side. We tend to not want to know their stories because they sound like excuses, and the anger we experience makes us believe that they do not deserve to be heard. We do not take into account the guilt that such individuals carry within themselves, because none of it is ever intentional and most of it is purely coincidental. How does such an individual cope with their reality? Can they ever get past the haunting memories of tragedy? Do they ever get back to their normal lives? Or does normalcy become a far-fetched dream? Mercy is wrapped up in all these questions, but she struggles to find an answer to any.
In episode one of Expats, we are also introduced to Hilary Starr. There seemed to be friction between Margaret and Hilary. She invited her to the birthday party, but Hilary looked uninterested. Margaret wanted her to be there, and she decided to attend for the sake of it. Hilary’s relationship with her husband was unstable. There was a lack of spark between the two, and David’s failure to give up on alcohol left Hilary disappointed. In the first episode itself, we learn that David is involved with Mercy, and he makes it quite clear that he has not been completely honest with Hilary. The past incident affected their relationship as well, and David did not hesitate to walk away from Hilary just as they were about to reach the party.
Who was Gus?
The first episode is all about slowly introducing the audience to the tragedy. While we are hinted at it from the very beginning, it is eventually spelled out in the series. The birthday party was not perfect, but at least it was an effort Margaret made to bring normalcy back into their lives. Many thought it was too soon for a celebration, but they showed up to support Margaret. Margaret could not stop thinking about the drawing, especially the religious connotation attached to it. Clarke advised her to relax, and just as she was trying to take it all in, Margaret noticed Mercy. It was almost like seeing a ghost—unpleasant, scary, and unexpected. She tried to get a hold of Mercy, but the waitress escaped before things could escalate further. It becomes evident that there is a connection between Gus and Mercy.
The only person Margaret seemed to be comfortable sharing her thoughts with was Hilary. She was relieved to see Hilary at the party after she mistook a waitress for Mercy. Hilary seemed to be the only woman she trusted with her feelings, and even though the recent events had affected their relationship, they continued to play a significant role in each other’s lives. They headed to an eatery and reminisced about the good days they had spent together in the past.
Away from their homes, Margaret and Hilary often felt trapped. Hilary could sense that her marriage was falling apart, yet she was helpless. The overwhelming pain often made Margaret feel claustrophobic in her house, and she secretly started to spend some time alone at an apartment she got. She was tired of being reminded that she was now a mother of two, not three. In the course of becoming the perfect wife and mother, she had lost her own identity, and the few hours that she got to spend with herself helped her be more in touch with her feelings. Gus was Margaret’s youngest son, and the reason behind his sudden absence is not known; we are only familiar with the emotions that Margaret experiences. After dancing their hearts out, Margaret requested that Hilary take her to the market. Evidently, the market was significant to the loss, and Margaret took a moment to absorb it all.
What is Mercy running from?
Mercy tried going back to her normal life, but the guilt made it impossible for her. She was Korean and from Queens, living in Hong Kong. She took up odd jobs and had recently joined the catering industry. We do not get to know much about Mercy in the first episode, but with the little that we do, it becomes evident that her life was never easy, and a recent incident had made everything all the more difficult for her. There was someone she had wronged, and she never stopped feeling remorseful about it. She took up the catering gig at Clarke’s birthday party, not knowing who the client was. It was only after she noticed Philip that she realized the mess she had landed herself in. She tried to escape, but Margaret noticed her before she could disappear. Margaret emphasized that she (Mercy) was not a friend, suggesting that Mercy was in some way responsible for the tragedy. Mercy had wronged Margaret and she was afraid of being reminded of her past mistake.
Expats Episode 1 ends with Philip ironing out the crumpled paper he had used to draw his family portrait before. He was aware that the drawing had bothered his mother, but for some reason, he was not ready to throw it away. Maybe he was not okay with his family suddenly deciding not to discuss his brother anymore or his mother asking him to no longer include Gus in his drawings. Philip was still a child, and perhaps he could not completely comprehend the concept of loss, so he refused to stop thinking about or drawing his brother. By pasting the picture on the refrigerator, he established that Gus was still a part of the family.