ABC and Matchbox series Stateless has its US debut on Netflix this week.
Here’s what the review are saying about the series with Yvonne Strahovski, Cate Blanchett, Asher Keddie, Dominic West, Jai Courtney, Fayssal Bazzi and Marta Dusseldorp.
Strahovski, who’s spent the past three years hemmed into Serena Joy’s circular character arc on The Handmaid’s Tale, gives a beautifully nuanced performance as Sofie. Stateless tracks her decompensation through fragmented flashbacks and hallucinations, but Strahovski resists the temptation to go For-Your-Consideration big. Instead, she renders Sofie’s distress as a series of agonizing internal implosions, as she succumbs to debilitating paranoia. The ending does offer viewers a modicum of hope, without discounting the significant reforms still required to amend immigration policies around the globe. Stateless is a bit of a tough sit, for sure, but you’ll find it even tougher to turn away. A-
West and Blanchett appear only in a limited capacity, haunting the story in flashback later, but clever intercutting between their ministrations and the action of the camp make the show’s perspective clear. The fear of our fellow humans, so much so that fortresses are built to keep them out, is as much the behavior of a cult as anything practiced by these two charismatic weirdos, and every bit as destructive besides. It’s just that West and Blanchett are at society’s fringes, while anti-immigrant sentiment — as series-ending onscreen titles about the ongoing crisis of Australia’s detention centers, now placed offshore — is at the center of societies the world over. It’s a point “Stateless” makes crisply, one that gains in power from the hairpin-reversing manner through which the series arrives there, and one that makes it urgent viewing.
Strahovski really gets the chance to shine, as a woman who, it becomes increasingly clear, has a mental illness. She makes the story of Sofie — inspired by the true story of a woman named Cornelia Rau — into something both tragic and darkly ironic. Courtney and Keddie also do fine work. The heart of the series, though, is Bazzi, whose Ameer drives home both the hopes and the horrors of those seeking asylum from violence and cruelty. While Sofie copes with the anarchy and illusions of her own mind, Ameer is fighting against a world that doesn’t seem to have a safe place for him. I do hope I’m not making “Stateless” sound like some kind of general treatise on immigration and detention centers. It’s very much a drama that will pull you in, and it’s about specific people facing distress on both sides of the fence — the barbed-wire one.
Sofie Werner’s (Strahovski) perspective is just one of several highlighted throughout the series that exposes the rampant physical and ethical abuse that occurred at this detention center. Directors Emma Freeman and Jocelyn Moorhouse sensitively though objectively tell the stories of an Afghan father (Fayssal Bazzi) who compromises his own morals to seek safe passage with his family, Sofie’s journey from airline hostess to cult victim and eventually a prisoner, and the many refugees they meet on their paths to freedom (including Javad played by Phoenix Raei, who rounds out the largely Australian cast). Right before it becomes full on tragedy porn in the first few episodes, Stateless interweaves the voices of the gatekeepers in the process who are all strikingly written as solemn, “just doing my job” types. Jai Courtney plays Cam Sandford, a dad on the heels of leaving an unfulfilling job for the higher-paying position as an officer at the detention center. Asher Keddie is Clare Kowitz, a bureaucrat called in to examine the goings on at the detention center to ensure everything is copacetic (it’s not and it never has been).