Expats – Season 1 Episode 4 “Mainland” Recap & Review


Hilary and Brinder in the elevator

Episode 4 of Expats takes place across three different confrontations between the characters. All of them unfold in three different places with varying emotions and conceits. Hilary, who is now staying alone, is reminded by Puri that her mother, Brinder, is due to come in shortly. She rushes to give the impression that she hasn’t forgotten Brinder’s arrival. From her mother’s very first words, it is clear why. Brinder is brazenly critical of Hilary’s styling, demeanour, and perceived masculinity, among other things. The buck doesn’t stop there but you can tell Hilary is used to this.

She remains civil throughout this whole ordeal when many would have lost their cool. The duo gets into the building elevator with another neighbour, Tilda. Brinder remarks how “dressing up as a man won’t make Tilda one,” and to her utter horror, the elevator gets stuck. The panic in the initial minutes turns into uncomfortable acceptance as the women accept their fate. The maintenance staff sounds grim on the elevator comms. The trio sits down on the floor of the elevator. 

Tilda remains quiet for long stretches, refusing to participate in Hilary and Brinder’s insulting match. The spectrum of Brinder’s potshots at Hilary ranges from her defiance to embrace motherhood, to her lack of respect for her father. Hilary defends her life decisions steadfastly. But Brinder is too overbearing and is used to suppressing her voice. However, Hilary doesn’t hold back after the breaking point is reached. She openly brings up her father’s infidelity and Brinder’s acceptance of it. She embraced abuse for years in the guise of sacrificing her self-esteem for the sake of the family. 

Mercy and David in Mercy’s apartment

Mercy and David’s fling is at a critical juncture. Many outsiders would opine it is all set to end, but the episode breathes new life into it. They fight like a normal couple as soon as Mercy wakes him up. She constantly berates him for his size, age, and infidelity and David doesn’t hold back either. Their insulting contest takes on the form of foreplay until David crosses the line. He brings up how Mercy lost a kid and destroyed a family, forcing her to retreat into the bathroom. David brings up an incident from his childhood to “Get even” with Mercy.

While playing with his twin brother, David accidentally pushed him. He landed on the coffee table neck first, paralyzing him for life. David carries this burden with him everywhere he goes. On seeing Mercy vomiting, David grows concerned. She confirms it has been a pattern for the past few weeks. He immediately ventures out to get three pregnancy test kits and Mercy angrily takes them.

We are once again prevented from seeing the results, but the interaction between David and Mercy as he leaves confirms it is positive. This also confirms that David is not infertile and it is Hilary who cannot get pregnant. 

Margaret and Clarke in the Mainland

The duo anxiously waits outside the coroner’s office for him to arrive in China mainland. Margaret rushes after the first human face she sees –  the janitor. However, she locks Margaret and Clarke in a room after they pester her with requests to see the doctor. They are both jumpier than usual, preparing themselves for what might be waiting for them. The couple reflects on how life has transformed into a nightmare after Gus’ disappearance, and how he made their family whole. 

A lot of underlying issues like the children’s scepticism of Margaret and her troublesome behaviour surface. Since they are already locked in, Margaret and Clarke animatedly discuss these issues. She doesn’t want to leave Hong Kong until they find Gus. Clarke remarks that he and the kids want to go back home to their friends and family. The duo also discusses Clarke’s newfound faith in Jesus. 

In her absence, Clarke holds on tightly to the rock that Father Mambo gave him. He prays that Gus is alright, even if far away from them. When the time comes to uncover the sheets, Margaret hysterically bursts out into laughter. We do not see the body’s face but from Clarke’s reaction, it is confirmed that Gus is dead. Margaret fails to register it as Gus and continues to have a puzzled look on her face. 

The Episode Review

Episode 4 is the heaviest of the lot till now. The weight of all the characters’ personal demons and struggles is felt immensely. Much of the action takes place in closed rooms. Still but intense conversations dominate the proceedings, bringing out Expats’ true blood drama undertones to the fore. The theme is clear from the outset as the dialogue reflects mostly what has happened till now. The episode spends a lot of time processing the feelings of the characters, which makes it less palpable than the other instalments.

I did find Hilary and Brinder’s confrontation in the elevator jaded. You wouldn’t put it past an Indian mother behaving in this protective and brazenly insulting manner. But the brunt of all the ideas exchanged feels way too familiar to stand out. A couple of lines on the page would have been enough to describe what the conversation is about, instead of giving us this dragged-out version. It is clear that the writers have an ideological bias, which is reflected in the lack of nuance.

The lack of emotions is uneventful and isn’t helpful to the episode. Hilary’s final “flourish” by embracing the rain’s symbolic freedom feels woefully out of place. Among the showdowns, I found David and Mercy’s the most compelling. Both actors bring fresh energy and share a likeable chemistry. Nicole Kidman, for as good as she has been throughout, is the sore thumb sticking out.

I couldn’t really understand what emotions she was trying to portray. With context, it is easy to discern what to expect, but the execution is way off because of how cryptic it is.

Lulu Wang and co are guilty of overtrying with Episode 4 of Expats. They try hard to be clever and it certainly shows in the final outcome.

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You can read our full Season 1 Review of Expats here!
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