Hong Kong city is in distress as there is a typhoon, and the city is almost flooded. A student protest is on the move, and above all, the city is beaming with expats from all over the world. In Episode 5 of Expats, titled ‘Central,’ creator Lulu Wang takes a surprising turn by dedicating almost two hours to exploring the lives of the working class in the bustling city. This departure from the expected storyline offers viewers a new perspective, focusing on the challenges faced by these individuals and how they adapt to survive in their urban environment.

In this article, we are going to dissect our characters and their arcs, along with how new characters take center stage and change our perspective toward the three central expats – Margret, Hilary & Mercy. Please note the article does not follow the chronological order of the sequences in which the episode unfolds. However, to make it easier for you to understand why Lulu Wang decided to bring all these characters into the spotlight, we will be looking at all these stories separately. Please be aware of spoilers.

Expats Episode 5 Recap:

It is a tradition in Hong Kong that housemaids are free to take a day off from their week. All these helpers decide to come together and set up their spots on the streets, doing their best to unwind from their hectic schedules. These women, who are dedicated, hardworking, and usually among the less spoken about entities in the house, are seen chatting, giggling, singing, and dancing – becoming completely different personalities when compared to their professional lives.

What does Puri find out about David Starr?

We see Puri (Amelyn Pardenilla) practicing a cover version of Katy Perry’s song ‘Roar’ (in my opinion, I feel this song is used to showcase that these women have a voice of their own but choose not to use it because their livelihood’s at stake). Puri has been practicing singing because she aspires to become a singer if she wins the upcoming singing competition she applied for. When she joins her other friends, chatting about what has been happening in their employer’s life, Puri comes to know that David Starr, Hilary’s husband, has been sleeping with Mercy and probably even got her knocked up.

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Puri, who has always taken Hilary’s side and considers her a close confidant, feels that she must do something about it, but her friends warn her about her place and how she must have boundaries. After spending a fun day with her friends, on her way back, she meets Essie (Ruby Ruiz) from Margret’s household, and the two women decide to catch up for a snack. At the fast food joint, Puri asks Essie how she is keeping up.

Why does Essie feel guilty?

This is when we come to know Essie’s side of the story. Essie has a family back in Manila. She recently had a grandson. However, her life here at the Woo’s keeps her away, which is why she is extremely attached to the children. For some reason, she feels she is more attached to Gus than her own son, and ever since the little boy’s disappearance, all she can think of is his well-being. Puri comforts Essie when she breaks down saying that her employer’s life is also torn apart and Mercy is the reason why David has been staying at a hotel.

Essie expresses confusion about upsetting Margret, as she was supposed to accompany the children to the night market. Had she been there, she wouldn’t have let go of Gus’ hand. This often makes Essie feel guilty. Puri reassures Essie that it is not her fault for what happened to the family because she knows how much she loves the children. Seeing how the night is turning, the two women head back to their respective apartments as a storm hits the city.

What happens between Hilary and David?

While Puri changes into fresh clothes, she overhears David and Hilary arguing in the kitchen. As she attempts to close the door, Hilary, in frustration, insists that Puri stay and witness what she perceives as David turning their life into a joke. Puri, who doesn’t know if she is to obey her employer’s command or give them the space they need, awkwardly hears them scream their lungs out.

Earlier that day, we saw Hilary celebrating with her friend Olivia Chu (Flora Chan) because she had filed for divorce from David. Olivia, aware of Hilary’s marital difficulties, cautions her that being divorced and childless at the age of 40 might not be a wise decision. Hilary reminds Olivia that despite what the world thinks, this is the first time she has felt free in her life.

When David learns about the divorce, he approaches Hilary to offer comfort. However, it becomes apparent that Hilary has firmly decided to end things with David due to his antics. She feels tired of constantly being questioned about her bold decision. Seeing there is no getting away from fighting, Hilary asks David to get out of the house, and David takes the coffee machine (that he dearly loves) and leaves for his hotel. Upon reaching his hotel room, we see how a suite has turned into a storage room with David’s life in splits.

Why is Tony’s mother worried about her son?

Charly (Bonde Sham), and Mercy (Ji-young Yoo) in Expats Episode 5.
Charly (Bonde Sham), and Mercy (Ji-young Yoo) in Expats Episode 5.

Amid protests, heightened security measures, and the looming threat of political unrest, the episode delves into the lives of various characters, depicting families from diverse backgrounds grappling with significant challenges and uncertain futures, unsure if they will emerge from their struggles.

At the beginning of the episode, we saw Charly (Bonde Sham) meeting up with her friend Tony (Will Or) at the Umbrella Movement – a passive resistance protest that demanded transparent elections. Soon after their presence at the protest, on their way back home, Charly reminds Tony that they also have to take care of their studies because of the long-term plan they have in mind. However, Tony, who is more inclined towards a fair move, disregards Charly and her plans, and the two have a small tiff about their differences.

Tony’s mother had been waiting the whole day for her son to return. She is worried that his agendas have shifted from having good grades in order to secure a decent job to doing something that might bring trouble to them.

Upon Tony’s return, his mother starts grilling him for not taking care of himself and his studies, but Tony reassures her that nothing will happen to either of them. Tony’s mother serves him hot food, picks up her bags, and leaves for a night shift. Soon after his mother leaves, Tony packs up some essentials, eats a bit of food, and leaves immediately.

How is Olivia’s life no different from Hilary’s?

On the other hand, we also get a chance to see how Olivia’s life is no better than her friend Hilary’s. After coming back from meeting her friend, Olivia finds her husband glued to a sports channel. She shares with him that David and Hilary are getting divorced, to which her husband remarks – ‘Good for them.’

As their children are staying at their grandmother’s place, Olivia’s husband gets ready to leave. Olivia is angry and demands to know why her husband has to leave her all alone in the house with a typhoon hitting the city. Her husband points out that it was her decision to agree to such an arrangement in their marriage and questions why she can’t also find someone for herself.

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Alone, tired, and sad, Olivia calls her mother for reassurance. However, like any Asian parent, Olivia’s mother asks her daughter to toughen up and let the night pass by because once the phase passes by, it’s in the past. When the lights go out due to the frequent thunderstorms, something takes over Olivia as we see her heading upstairs and packing her clothes. When the damp ceiling of her living room finally breaks out, we see Olivia trying to fix it by putting up a plastic sheet and stapling it to the rooftop.

Why does Pastor Alan visit Clarke?

In the meantime, Pastor Alan (Blessing Mokgohloa) comes to see Clarke at his apartment after learning that he has been missing from his office. Clarke has been falling apart since his visit to the morgue to identify a deceased child. We know that both Margaret and Clarke are not religious. However, things have changed for Clarke ever since he lost his son.

When Pastor Alan inquires about his well-being, Clarke admits that despite his hopes that his prayers would be answered, they weren’t, as he had prayed at the morgue that the deceased child would be Gus instead. We understand why he says this because, as a parent, not having any answers to losing your child in a city is painful, and to have your child’s body right in front of you will give you the respite from not knowing any answers.

Why does Margaret decide that the family move back to the States?

Margaret and the children return from school and find Pastor Alan in their apartment. Margaret is not pleased with the fact that a religious man is inside her house when the family doesn’t believe in any religion.

When the cab agencies deny their services because of the storm followed by a blackout, Pastor Alan is compelled to dine with the family.

At the dinner table, Clarke requests Alan to say his prayers, and it is only Essie who ends up saying Amen in the end. We get a little background of Alan and how, even after being a man of religion, his faith tumbled when his brother returned from a war zone with post-traumatic stress disorder.

One thing led to another, and Alan, along with his wife, who is also a pastor, had a falling out, resulting in the church losing several members because Alan failed to set a good example. In this conversation, he draws from his own life as an example and uses it as a metaphor in front of Margaret and Clarke, emphasizing the importance of being a beacon of support for those in desperate situations.

Overhearing this conversation, Philip and Daisy ask Alan why he doesn’t know where Gus is if he knows a lot about Jesus. Margaret asks Philip who told him about Jesus, leading the poor boy to look at Essie. Margaret ends the dinner conversation by deciding that the family will move to the States, and the arrangements must be made immediately. Essie, who has been a witness to the daily conversation of the Woo family, prepares her mind, informing her family that she will join them very soon as her employer has decided to move to another country.

Does Puri tell Hilary about David and Mercy?

When Hilary starts drinking to escape her sadness, she calls Puri to join her. The two women bond as Hilary does Essie’s makeup and share stories about life’s saddest moments. Puri politely listens to Hilary, occasionally offering appreciation and boosting her confidence. This is when Puri feels she should tell Hilary about David, and when she does, Hilary becomes extremely sad and depressed.

Sarayu Blue (Hilary Star) in Expats Episode 5.
Sarayu Blue (Hilary Star) in Expats Episode 5.

What does Mercy tell Charly about herself?

We see Charly meeting Mercy at a shady restaurant. Mercy was not sure if Charly would come by after abandoning her the first time. Mercy takes Charly along with her to David’s hotel and lies at the reception about leaving something important. The women then break into the pool arena, and while taking a swim, the two end up kissing each other. This is the moment when Mercy opens up about her difficult past, and Charly comforts her, emphasizing that it’s not her fault and encouraging her not to let it define her entire identity.

Expats Episode 5 Ending, Explained:

Does Margaret fire Essie?

The next morning, as the city wakes up to the typhoon’s aftermath, we see Margaret summoning Essie after Pastor Alan leaves the house. She explains how Essie’s closeness threatened her position as a mother, which prompted her to take Mercy instead of Essie. Margaret apologizes to Essie and expresses gratitude for her unwavering support to the family. Although Essie initially fears she might be getting fired and returning to her own family, Margaret surprises her by asking something seemingly impossible: to accompany them to the United States.

As the arrangement needs to be finalized urgently, Margaret gives Essie very little time to make up her mind. However, Margaret is confident that Essie will agree, as she already knows Essie will say yes to her anyway.

Does Puri go to her singing competition?

At Hilary’s place, as Puri prepares to depart for her singing competition, she hears Hilary shouting from another room about suffering from a bad hangover from the previous night. She orders her to make her favorite breakfast as she has fallen sick, completely forgetting it is Puri’s biggest day in her life. Without making any arguments, we see a sad Puri making breakfast and doing house chores.

Does Olivia leave her husband?

At Olivia’s place, as the girls return from their grandmother’s house, we see Olivia dressed to perfection, greeting her mother and her children. It appears that Olivia has chosen to address her life’s challenges in the same manner she temporarily repaired the damp ceiling. In Asian households, it’s ingrained that a woman never leaves her marriage and abandons her children, regardless of the circumstances.

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What happens to Tony?

Mercy wakes up to find Charly haphazardly getting ready and taking a call. When she inquires about it, Charly tells her that there is an emergency that needs her immediately. The ending of Expats Episode 5 shows us Charly heading to Tony’s mother after learning that Tony has been put behind bars for breaking the law.

Will Mercy keep the baby?

Essie and Puri go back to their normal routine of serving their master. Margaret and Hilary have come to a decision about their lives, understanding that they cannot control how things are unfolding. The episode concludes with Mercy returning to her apartment and staring at her protruding belly with a blank expression, possibly trying to comprehend how she ended up in this situation.

What is episode 5 of Expats trying to imply?

Episode 5 of Expats was the only episode that was shown at TIFF 2023. I feel the reason why this episode was chosen to be shown to the audience is that it depicts a narrative about women from different parts of the world. Expats means a person working in a country other than their own country for work reasons. The episode highlights characters – Essie, Puri, and Charly, who belong to working-class families and have a daily struggle that goes beyond one big mystery at the center of this story. Since the setting of the show is Hong Kong, without these singular stories in place, Lulu Wang would have felt that the ‘Centre’ of her story was missing.

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Expats Episode 5 Links: IMDbRotten TomatoesWikipediaLetterboxd
Expats Episode 5 Cast: Nicole Kidman, Ji-young Yoo, Jack Huston, Sarayu Blue, Brian Tee, Bonde Sham, Flora Chan
Expats Episode 5 Genre: Drama, Runtime: 6 Episodes (between 35-40 mins each)
Where to watch Expats

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