Advertisement

‘Expats’ Team Break Down Nicole Kidman’s Final Decision and Finding Closure for the Women

SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains spoilers for Home the series finale of Expats,” now streaming on Prime Video.

“Keep on living” is the theme of the series finale of Lulu Wang’s “Expats.”

More from Variety

It wraps up the grief, loss and pain Margaret (Nicole Kidman), Mercy (Ji-Young Yoo) and Hilary (Sarayu Blue) have been experiencing throughout. In the final episode of “Expats,” Wang seeks to show how the women at the center of the story move forward and find peace and resolution in their lives.

Margaret and her family are planning to move back to America after dealing with the disappearance of their young son, Gus. Before that, she takes time to meet with both Mercy and Hilary at a coffee shop trying to put the past behind her so she can move on.

Meanwhile, Mercy is grappling with her unexpected pregnancy caused by her affair with Hilary’s husband David (Jack Huston). She feels immense guilt for what happened to Gus, since he was under her watch when he disappeared. Mercy finally sits down with Hilary and apologizes for everything that has happened.

Hilary is finally making some bold decisions that affect her life. She makes the journey to visit her sick father Daleep in the hospital. In an emotional moment with him, before he’s about to be wheeled into surgery, she claims she’s pregnant with a boy. While he’s happy about the news, she confronts him over his past, and his abusive behavior towards her mother and vows to never forgive him for what he did. She promises Daleep that when her son is old enough, she will tell him about everything Daleep did to the family. Her father doesn’t make it through his surgery and dies. When Hilary travels back to Hong Kong, David meets her and offers his condolences. She has a meltdown at the airport, sobbing as she tells David, “I killed my father.” They later discuss what she means by that and she explains she didn’t want her father to die without knowing how she felt. She asks David for an update on Mercy who confesses she wants nothing further to do with him.

Towards the end of the episode, Hilary has separated from David and is moving out of the apartment and is seen leaving a store with a new rug. “That final single shot is her finding her freedom,” “Expats” cinematographer Anna Franquesa-Solano told Variety.

As for Margaret, at the airport, she realizes she can’t get on the plane and leave Gus there. Her daughter Daisy calls her the worst mother in the world, but Essie (Ruby Ruiz) gives her a tender hug explaining she understands. Margaret watches as her family and Essie board the plane. She’s later seen walking through the crowds – this is her way to keep on living.

Showrunner Lulu Wang and cinematographer Franquesa-Solano are no strangers to collaborating — their work together on “The Farewell” delighted critics and remains a beloved indie classic. Wang trusted Franquesa-Solano to help deliver her vision for the “Expats” and capture the emotional journey of these women through her framing. Here, the two discuss that process.

In the final episode the audience sees Margaret talking to the camera, we don’t know who she’s talking with. But she says, “We need to keep on living,” and that sets up the trajectory for the women in the episode. What was the decision behind that framing choice?

Anna Franquesa-Solano: It wasn’t that way in the script, the script had them in a nondescript coffee shop having a regular conversation. But we talked about the general concept of the scene and episode, and it made sense to make it a more abstract conversation. We came up with the visual concept of having a portrait shot that was completely isolated from the context. Lulu went back to rewrite the script so that you don’t know which woman is talking with whom, and that they’re just talking with us. That’s what gives it more of a closure to the show.

Lulu Wang: We talked a lot about empathy and perspective in the series, and by the time we get to episode six, these women are saying very specific things but they’re also universal to each other. We wanted to play with this idea of not knowing who was talking to whom because they could be talking to the audience as a direct-to-camera-address way of engaging the audience into these words.

Sarayu Blue (Hilary Star), David (Jack Huston)
Sarayu Blue (Hilary Star), David (Jack Huston)

How do their respective journeys visually evolve to represent their conflict? And then, how do you have it all come to a head in this episode?

Franquesa-Solano: It comes down to control. I feel like these three women are trying to control their surroundings because they feel like they are actually not in control. It’s an attempt to not let go because if not, they’ll fall apart. Hilary is constantly doing that by trying to always be perfect and keep things in place. So her color palette is perfect. Her makeup and her wardrobe match the tone of the walls. The framing with her is composed and balanced. When she buys the carpet, that isn’t just a metaphor for accepting to keep moving. That final single shot is her finding her freedom.

Wang: It’s so much for Hilary. I relate to this a lot and that image. She’s trapped. These are values that have been handed down by her family, but also women in general in society we are so hard on ourselves. I think that’s what makes Hilary, in many ways, one of the most relatable on the show, she’s trying to keep it together. As Sarayu likes to say, “She’s strong.”

Anna and I talked a lot about the framing being presentational and you can feel that composure and that control is a façade. It’s part of why she has that conversation with Margaret about children and whether or not she wants to have a family. Those are elements she can’t control. To juxtapose it with the other characters, Margaret especially, is chaos.

How did you want to show Margaret’s chaos unfolding?

Franquesa-Solano: We wanted to layer it in. With Margaret, it starts with this same intent of control, pretending that nothing is going on. We keep that until episode three when she loses it and she hits her lowest point. But by the end of episode four, she switches with [her husband] Clarke (Brian Tee) because he’s the one who falls apart and she needs to take over that spot and take responsibility for her position in the family and be the strong one. But at that point, she gets control over her grief and she becomes a stronger person.

By the end, when she’s made that decision to stay behind, we see her walking through the street, and you feel she’s finally able to live again.

Wang: That ending was something Anna and I had envisioned from the beginning. We always said it would be one single take. For Margaret, we wanted the camera to be much closer. In the end, we’re closing with this single take, but it’s not about tension, it’s about strength. There’s this assuredness in her plight to be in the city, even though a lot of people might judge her decision. Even though it’s a really difficult decision and sacrifice that she’s made, there’s an instinct in her that this is what she needs to do. And so there’s strength and power in that.

Margaret (Nicole Kidman), Mercy (Ji-young Yoo)
Margaret (Nicole Kidman), Mercy (Ji-young Yoo)

Tell me about Mercy. We see her have this conversation with David about the baby, and later with Margaret and Hilary. We get to see her conflict in this episode, but by the end, her resolve and you feel she’s at peace. What conversations did you have about her?

Wang: Some of the stuff with Mercy was our favorite to shoot. She is very much the voice of the show, and she’s the first character that we see. It’s her voice that brings us into this world. Mercy is this young person who makes bad choices. And you forget that she’s a young person in many ways, because she’s in very adult situations, making very adult choices. That’s the world we live in, and I think young people are forced to grow up so quickly. You forget until episode six that she’s just a kid. Because we set up this conflict, it lent itself to these quiet moments with her mother in that apartment that we just really loved. She has such an expressive face that gives you so much even when she does so little. Ji-Young doesn’t have to do much, and all those moments are there.

Throughout the series there are great lingering shots through glass or the mops in Margaret’s secret apartment that lend themselves to metaphors, can you talk about the ideas behind some of those moments?

Franquesa-Solano: With a collaboration like this, it starts very early in the process. I remember when Lulu was in the writer’s room, I went into a Michael Wolf photo exhibition in Chelsea. He’s an amazing photographer who did a study on Hong Kong architecture, and my favorite piece was cleaning tools decorating the alleys, and I was so impressed that I shared it with Lulu. And she loved it. She shared it with the writers and that’s where the images of the mops came from. It’s an homage to his work.

Wang: What I love about the team that I collaborate with is that we start talking so early on, and Anna, because she’s such an incredible visual storyteller, will bring us these images that embed themselves into the script.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.