The Honourable Woman: The Empty Chair
September 18, 2014 4:41 PM - Season 1, Episode 1 - Subscribe

This BBC/Sundance production by Hugo Blick, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, Andrew Buchan, Stephen Rea, and Lubna Azabal, is a critically-lauded eight episode series that's certain to appear prominently in next year's Emmy nominations. Reminiscent of le Carré, this is a story of duplicity, of familial and personal tragedy, and is set within the context of the Palestinian occupation and the diplomacy, politics, and espionage of the British, Israelis, and Americans. "It is a wonder we trust anyone at all."

In this first episode, a suspicious death sets everything in motion and introduces us to Gyllenhaal's "Nessa Stein" as she is made Baroness Stein of Tilbury.

Nessa and her brother, Ephra, were present as children at their father's assassination and left as (wealthy) orphans. Having pivoted sharply away from their father's prominent, hawkish role in Israel, the siblings have led educational and technological development in the Palestinian territories. The supposed suicide of the winning bidder of a networking infrastructure project catches Nessa by surprise and the attention of MI6.

There are secrets in Ephra's household and in Nessa's past, some of which are known to some (but not others) of those in British intelligence and which are somehow relevant to the episode's culminating kidnapping of Kasim, the young son of the nanny Atika.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich (14 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm hoping that this post will generate some interest in the show among mefites. (You can tell, right?)

The series has completed in Britain (episode eight aired on the 21st of August), ends tonight in the US, but SundanceTV will air all eight episodes sequentially on October 5th, beginning at noon, so if you're interested (and don't resort to other means), set your DVR accordingly.

I find Gyllenhaal's performance mesmerizing — I can't imagine she'll fail to get an Emmy nomination next year for it. But the show is filled with good performances; from Rea's quiet, odd puckishness, to Janet McTeer's nearly frightening Dame Julia Walsh.

Some quick notes on this episode...

The opening sequence of Eli Stein's murder was nicely filmed. The absence of the children's shock or any response, really, to their father's murder bothered me — but if I think of the scene as a sort of dream/nightmare envisioning from Nessa's memory, it makes a lot more sense to me. It's in accordance with the voiceover and the oddness of the children's reaction seems to me to represent the enduring psychological dissociation they experience as a result.

I also appreciated the realism of Nathaniel's shooting, that it didn't knock him off his feet and that he was uncertain at first what had happened to him.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:12 PM on September 18, 2014

Mrs chazlarson and I recently finished this. Totally agree with Ivan. Really something.

I really enjoyed Eve Best's work, and it took me a couple episodes to realize where I'd seen Katherine Parkinson before.

If there's a weak spot I'd say it's Parkonson's Rachel Stein. The character seemed kinda all over the place, but on reflection maybe that was by design.

Nice that all plot points and motivations were not necessarily just laid out for the viewer. That aspect reminded me of Damages.
posted by chazlarson at 2:22 PM on September 19, 2014

This will also be on CBC TV thus fall j. Canada, it seems. Preview is online already but not first episode. Sounds great, I'll check it out!
posted by chapps at 7:12 PM on September 19, 2014

Its also on google play. Episode 1 available now.
posted by chapps at 7:15 PM on September 19, 2014

I watched it during its original run...and have somewhat mixed feelings as to content. I really enjoyed the style and quality though. But what am I allowed to talk about here, if others have not watched it yet?
posted by travelwithcats at 10:21 PM on September 21, 2014

There should be a rape trigger warning for Episode 6. The opening scene is upsetting.
posted by mlis at 11:47 PM on September 21, 2014

Just finished it. Yeah, it's fantastic. I'm still burned out after 15 years of the best shows being centered around the "shitty humanity is shitty" theme. At least this one wasn't centered around a male anti-hero.
posted by MillMan at 8:18 PM on September 24, 2014

I may post more episode posts when it re-airs next weekend -- maybe there'll be interest in it then? Maybe I should post to talk?

I'd like to talk about the later episodes, specifically about Akita, who was a character who didn't make sense to me until later.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:33 AM on September 28, 2014

Any more discussion on this? I've just finished it and loved it. Fellow Australians were raving about it on social media but few of my friends have heard of it.

Let's talk about it!!
posted by taff at 5:07 AM on January 2, 2015

Hey...the poster for the show below spells honourable wrong. Was it rebadged for the Americans?
posted by taff at 5:08 AM on January 2, 2015

I didn't notice that. I was careful to spell it the non-American way when I made the post.

It's been several months since I watched this and, at the moment, I don't have anything particular to say or ask. (Suddenly I feel like I'm back in college seminar, feeling the pressure to ask the opening question.) Is there anything you'd like to discuss, in particular?
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:19 PM on January 2, 2015

Sorry to see this generated so little interest at MeFi. I hadn't heard about it until this week when a friend recommended it as a new Netflix streaming release. My houseguest had expressed an interest in some "compelling drama" after burning out on her first choice Portlandia after a rather sad third or fourth episode. We both sat stunned after the first episode of THW, establishing the complex plot threads and characters. I said, "was that compelling enough?" Tonight, after Episode 5, we are still marveling at the fact that there are so many really, really well-written, ambitious and finely acted female characters. Quite a turnabout for a spy thriller. Gyllenhaal is phenomenal. Are there some problems? Sure, every story has weaknesses. But I was surprised to see so many negative comments over at the BBC site, because I think this show competes in quality with The Wire and Breaking Bad, in other words, the best we've put out on this side of the pond. What may be most amazing is that it is the work of one man, Hugo Blick, not the army of writers, producers and directors we expect as necessary to such a fine product.
posted by kemrocken at 1:38 AM on January 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

I am getting into this series--I think I just started episode four--and am enjoying it.
posted by blueberry at 10:51 PM on January 28, 2015

I just found this again on Netflix, where it is indeed labeled as The Honorable Woman. I really enjoyed that there was very little exposition and just fed you the story as it went along, trusting the audience to pick up the pieces and follow. There's not a lot of shows out there that honor the audience's intelligence. I've only seen this one episode thus far, but clearly they have been layering in some foreshadowing. The ending was gripping, and definitely compelling and I cant wait to see more.
posted by sweetmarie at 5:20 PM on March 27, 2016

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