thu 25/07/2024

The Honourable Woman, Series Finale, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews

The Honourable Woman, Series Finale, BBC Two

The Honourable Woman, Series Finale, BBC Two

Final episode of Hugo Blick's absorbing thriller avoids neat conclusions

The Honourable Woman: Nessa Stein (Maggie Gyllenhaal) escapes with Kasim (Oliver Bodur)

In the current political climate, it would have been grotesquely inappropriate to conclude even the most fictionalised account of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with any kind of neat resolution. But even if Hugo Blick’s absorbing thriller had ever dealt in such things, the carefully orchestrated dual-location bloodbath at the climax of its penultimate episode was all the hint one needed that a happy ending was never on the cards.

Moral ambiguity makes for more interesting drama, of course, but by its ending The Honourable Woman had turned traditional notions of “good” and “bad” on their head so many times that the only character it seemed safe to root for was the kidnapped boy, Kasim. Amongst the adult characters, nobody triumphed; unless by “triumphed” you meant “got out with their lives” and even then the answer was still very few.

Moral ambiguity makes for more interesting drama

Criticisms of the serial have fallen into two camps, seemingly mutually exclusive: the drama was too slow and the plot too complex. Perhaps the double-crossings, the complex machinations, will make more sense on the repeat viewings that the serial seems to have been designed for, but to analyse it properly is to dismiss the charges as to pacing. The flashbacks, the long looks and the scenes that seemingly did nothing to further the plot gave some fantastic performances room to properly breathe, creating characters both compellingly flawed and utterly human.

Lubna Azabal at Atika in The Honourable WomanWhile Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Nessa Stein will rightly take many of those plaudits, hers was the headline act on a full bill of showstopping female characters - a feat still so rare that it begs to be highlighted. Chief among those was Lubna Azabal as Atika (right), Nessa’s former translator and companion through the Gazan kidnapping nine years ago that we were supposed to believe was the first step in a complex plot that would ultimately lead to a pledge from the US to drop its veto of Palestinian statehood. No matter: while plenty of the serial’s twists were easy to call (Kassim’s parentage, for example), the emergence of Atika’s true motivations was done so brutally that Nessa was not the only one to whom it seemed like a betrayal.

But such were the gender politics at work in The Honourable Woman: one half driven by commitments to causes larger than life, love and family, and to the furthering of their careers; the other hot-headed, overly emotional, driven by lust and revenge and attempts to win back the ex-wife. The power-plays between the duplicitous Monica (Eve Best), ballsy intelligence chief Julia (Janet McTeer) and hangdog Hugh (Stephen Rea) were far less compelling than the slow unravelling of the Stein family but in the end even I found myself warming to Rea’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Sigh, a curly-haired Eeyore of a man who seemed to have a sexual history with half the female senior management.

The tension of this final hour was so heady you could have cut it with the shard of Stein-manufactured shrapnel left from the weapon that killed Atika’s family and cemented her devotion to her political cause: a devotion that was a death sentence for the Stein sibling that became her lover and the saving of the one that she actually loved. It seems too obvious to comment that, across a complex and carefully crafted piece, it was Atika who was the “honourable woman” all along - but, committed until her dying breath was used to spit “get off my land” at the assassin sent to resolve all loose ends with bullets, it’s an unavoidable conclusion.

Perhaps the double-crossings will make more sense on repeat viewings


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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That the first episode ended with Maggie Gyllenhaal (whose whole shtick consisted of sniffing) running - in slo mo! - through the park, should have been warning enough. The last episode had her being able to run - in slo mo!! - away from an explosion that killed 74 people. What a waste of time and money. Check out the original BBC production of Tinker, Tailor if you're looking for genuine suspense and dramatic challenge.

Couldn't agree with you more. The show took itself so seriously and its convoluted plot was so unnecessarily complex that I threw my hands up in exasperation, feeling like I'm being purposely confused to make me believe its brilliant. Watching Maggie Gyllenhaal pinball between powerful and powerless three times per episode gave me vertigo. Don't waste time.

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