Published Jul 02, 2013Prior to the many award wins and virtually unanimous critical acclaim of the impeccably acted and consistently taut Showtime series, Homeland, the premise had already been played out in Israel with the more relaxed and contemplative Prisoners of War. No super-sexy, schizophrenic CIA agents run around, sleeping with soldiers they suspect of terrorist involvement, just as the return home of the titular prisoners isn't limited to one man.
In the original Israeli series, three women await the recently announced return of the men they presumed lost seventeen years prior. Talia (Yaël Abecassis), a depressive single mother with two teenagers—her daughter Dana (Yael Eitan) makes a habit of screwing strange older men she meets online—is excited and anxious about the return of her husband Nimrod (Yoram Toledano), while Nurit (Mili Avital) is filled with different concerns, having married the brother of her missing boyfriend Uri (Ishai Golan) many years prior.
Yael (Adi Ezroni), on the other hand, tries to adapt to the knowledge that her older brother Amiel is returning in a coffin.
The litany of emotions these women experience during this transition is the primary focus of the pilot episode. The awkwardness of making conversation and modifying home lives—in particular, Nurit, who pretends not to be married while Uri adapts to life outside of confinement—is captured in intimate detail, with the timid, emotionally erratic men trying to act as normal as possible in the face of returning to women that are now almost virtual strangers.
Where Homeland was filtered through the eyes of a suspicious CIA agent from the opening, with the soldier immediately being suspected of terrorist involvement, Prisoners of War throws out subtle hints, such as a tendency for Uri and Nimrod to depend on each other in a somewhat clandestine manner, instead. We also get some flashbacks to Uri's experience in confinement, being brought out by his captors and given an article explicitly outlining Nurit's betrayal, which is something he doesn't admit to knowing during the episode.
These hints at a bigger story and a slower, less contrived, reveal of motivations leaves this engrossing Israeli series playing as a quiet dramatic mystery. Characters are treated with substantial humanity, allowed to demonstrate the many layers of change response in a conversely positive and unflattering light, making them relatable and adding a sense of personal tragedy and complexity to the inevitable secrets that will be revealed later in the season.
It's the sort of subtlety that simply doesn't tend to work on American television (though AMC and The Sundance Channel are making noble, successful efforts). The time actors are allowed to explore their characters and the lack of reliance on formula and sensationalist plot points is as commendable as the restraint demonstrated in holding off revealing secrets.
It's easy to see how this series caught the attention of those who watched and why an American cable network would jump at the opportunity to put their own spin on the material.
Prisoners of War premiers on Wednesday, July 10th, 2013 at 8pm on Super Channel. (Keshet Media Group)