Whom Do You Trust?
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
“Terror thrives in poverty. It dies in wealth.”
The most fascinating new series of the year and perhaps the most intricately plotted, The Honourable Woman was essentially perfection with a couple of snafus here and there. The series largely follows the story of the Stein clan, who find themselves within the terrifying grasp of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. To take such a massive conflict with divisions that run for thousands of years and create a narrative out of it is a difficult endeavor in and of itself. But to execute the story in such a way that light is shed on both perspectives without demeaning one or the other is truly an achievement. The Honourable Woman perhaps is most interested in asking the question “Whom do you trust?” and more importantly, “Why?” There is little coincidence that the title card for the show is one of a rook lying on an empty chair. There are so many games of chess being played across a multitude of boards that at times it may become overwhelming, but it never ceases to be enthralling.
The first five minutes are a doozy. It begins with an air of calm and collected security yet Hugo Blick’s direction gives it an air of steady unease as if everything could explode at any moment. And indeed it does. Eli Stein meets his bloody demise at the hands of a Palestinian sympathizer, his blood splattering all over his youngest daughter Nessa. The title sequence ensues and soon we find ourselves becoming acquainted with the older Nessa, who has seemingly taken over the Stein Group and is intent on taking it into another direction entirely. She opens with a joke, noting how alien invaders landed on the Israeli/Palestinian border after destroying some major cities and how after a while, your sympathy was with the aliens. But in her opening speech, she makes a point of how poor Palestine is in comparison to Israel, a $4 billion economic output in comparison to $220. For Nessa, Stein Group isn’t what it was for her father, who had become known as the “sword of Israel”. She wanted her legacy to be something that wasn’t defined by weaponry and defense. A Baroness, her title was granted to her on account of her legacy being the opposite. For Nessa, the best solution to the conflict is a two-state solution with an economically independent Palestine. That was the best hope for peace.
Yet the political entanglements rarely take the stage by themselves, even though they rightfully take up a significant chunk of the narrative machinery. The writing is deft at taking the politics and intertwining them intricately with the character and espionage, turning from facet of the story to the next before any scene begins to outstay its welcome. The timing is truly impeccable here. Right after the third episode, the time leaps and intrigue began to become a bit tiring as no answers seem to be forthcoming. As if right on cue, the fourth episode (the series’ best) arrives with an extended flashback that takes place entirely within the West Bank and Gaza. It’s an explosive hour and coupled with the intrigue piled on for the previous three episodes, it sets the stage for an explosive second half (quite literally). The writing (much like in Homeland) is impeccable in the sense that it never burdens any of pits characters with blankets goodness or otherwise. The Honourable Woman is fantastic at the shades of grey, never demonizing any of its characters for the sake of the plot.
Hugo Blick is a wonder of a human machine, writing all eight episodes and directing every single frame to one of the most satisfying endings in recent memory. The eight-part series is chalk full of delightful sequences that you will remember far past their end, especially ones that require a constant, slow build of dread. One sequence that specifically comes to mind is a debate between two individuals in the House of Lords that plays over in the background as if it were the score itself. One individual is starkly against any concessions to the Palestinians and the other is, as Nessa puts it, “one step away from a Holocaust denier.” The forefront instead during these sequences is Nessa, who never stops for a second to put a stop to her quest for peace. And then the weight of everything hits her, every single thing that she has sacrificed for the sake of peace. Maggie Gyllenhaal, Philip Arditti, and Lubna Azabal anchor a formidable trio of acting with an astounding supporting cast to boot, with Gyllenhaal arguably walking away with the best performance of her career as Nessa. The ending to the series is bittersweet and understandably so. There is so much violence and spiteful spurning of humanity that one perhaps can’t help but utterly lose hope. Yet as Nessa discovers with the final scene that closes out the series, there is some hope left in the world after all. Sometimes, that is all that we can ask for.
Name: The Honourable Woman
Episode Titles: The Empty Child, The Unfaithful Husband, The Killing Call, The Ribbon Cutter, Two Hearts, The Mother Line, The Hollow Wall, The Paring Knife
Executive Produced by: Greg Brenman, Polly Hill
Produced by: Hugo Blick, Abi Bach
Written by: Hugo Blick
Directed by: Hugo Blick
Starring: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Philip Arditti, Lubna Azabal, Andrew Buchan, Eve Best, Lindsay Duncan, Janet McTeer, Tobias Menzies, Igal Naor, Genevieve O’Reilly, Katherine Parkinson, Stephen Rea
Music by: Martin Phipps
Edited by: Jason Krasucki
Cinematography: Zac Nicholson, George Steel
Production Companies: BBC Worldwide, Drama Republic, Eight Rooks, SundanceTV
Image Courtesy: Indie Wire