Television

What Else? Stateless on Netflix

Every so often, there isn’t enough time on the Taking It Down podcast to get to all of pop culture. With “What Else?” Blaine Duncan covers some other things he’s watched, heard, or read.

What are borders but illusions, imaginary lines drawn on some piece of paper? If dropped in the middle of the desert, hardly no one without a map or resources would be able to tell if they were in Mexico or the United States — or perhaps any other locale. If you can, color me impressed.

That’s part of the territory that the Netflix/BBC drama Stateless covers, but it doesn’t limit itself solely to boundaries of nations.

The show — based on a true story — unravels the lives of four people in Australia, all of whom are connected by an immigration detention center in the middle of the desert. There’s Ameer (Fayssal Bazzi), an Afghan refugee who just wishes for he and his family to escape the violence of his homeland and to find safety; Claire (Asher Keddie), the red-tape producing Australian bureaucrat in charge of operations at the facility; Cam (Jai Courtney), the well-meaning father who works at the detention center and who finds the job harder than the money promises; and, lastly, Sophie (Yvonne Strahovski), the Australian airline hostess who first finds herself in a cult, though quickly in the custody of the very immigration detainee program run by Claire, worked by Cam, and jailing Ameer.

Released in July of this year, Stateless seemed to go mostly unheard, though it has plenty to say.

With these actors, it’s not surprising that Stateless is at its best with its performances — Cate Blanchett produced and also plays a small, important role — as all are standouts. Yvonne Stahovki’s Sophie and Jai Courtney’s Cam present different degrees of devastating emotional downward spirals. Sophie’s trauma results in palpable fear, anxiety, and despair; Cam’s benign presence is a slow burn of devolution; Ameer’s heartbreaking decisions are any that a loving father would make. Yet they all end up in hellish circumstances with so few of them at fault for their own demise. The true evils here are both predators and the restrictive laws of a civilized, yet still predatory, world.

The episodes vary in potency, but the limited series set at six episodes keeps the entertainment value high as it bounces between four different stories deftly and speedily enough. Though there’s nothing visionary here and though highly dramatized to a fault, Stateless still does a great job of exemplifying that the ripple effects of immigration are actually waves.

Pair this show with Netflix’s Immigration Nation, and a wider image snaps into focus of who we are as nations when it comes to helping our brothers and sisters across imaginary lines. It’s not a pretty picture.

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