Prisoners of War - Series 1 (a.k.a. Hatufim), 2010.
Created by Gideon Raff.
Starring Ishai Golan, Yoram Toledano, Yaël Abecassis, Mili Avital, Assi Cohen and Adi Ezroni.
After seventeen years, three prisoners of war are returned back to their homes and families. One of the prisoners returns home in a coffin whilst the other two have to deal with returning to their lives and how things have changed.
When I signed up to watch Prisoners of War, I had my own preconceptions about what the series would be like. I thought there’d be loved ones lost, then found and then lost again over the whole series. There’d be double crosses abound as people trick their way around to get what they want. Surprises, maybe a bit of action, some spy stuff. I hadn’t seen Homeland apart from the odd couple of scenes. Because having as much TV as I do recorded on Sky+ makes it impossible to watch unless you make like Elvis and have a dozen screens in your room.
And so, with my jumpsuit coincidentally back from the dry cleaners (I also use it for watching Tron: Legacy when I want to see the Dude inside a two hour Daft Punk music video), I sat down and watched Prisoners of War. Would these preconceptions help, in that I’d have fun trying to pick out the bad guy and the good guy? Or would they leave me not believing anything anyone said, ruining the entire experience?
Well, despite the links to Homeland (which I won’t mention anymore, I promise) this is a series that unfortunately makes the guessing game too easy. But that’s okay, because Prisoners of War is really a drama more than a thriller. There’s one character, Haim Cohen, who thinks he’s in a thriller and somehow pulls off the feat of making everything that little bit more tense whenever he enters a room. But for the most part the series is about the trials and tribulations of family, friends and the prisoners themselves, instead of the frankly clichéd ‘mole in the intelligence agency’ vibe I thought it’d have.
The main theme over the series is probably guilt more than hunting down the bad guy. Every character has done something, to a more or lesser degree, wrong. Some try to make amends, to others amends are an impossibility. A lot of the characters have something to hide but, as they struggle under the strain, they only end up making things worse for themselves and those around them.
Tensions arise from the beginning as we see the series ties into real life political climates to set up the world. Three prisoners of war are returned, one of them dead, to their families. The two remaining alive are shocked by the changes they encounter off the plane, with the feeling being mutual from their respective loved ones.
You’ve got Nimrode, who runs headlong back into everyday life, trying to ignore his troubles from the past seventeen years as a captive. He, his wife and children must play happy families, despite the fact his teenage son hasn’t met him before. You’ve got your Amiel, the prisoner who didn’t make it. His loved one, his sister Yael, must struggle with the fact the brother she thought was alive is now dead, and can only seem to do this by seeing visions of him around the house. And then there’s Uri. He’s in a bit of a pickle. Y’see, his wife didn’t stick around like Nimrode’s. She left him, married his brother and had a son. Now while you may, think that sounds like a soap opera storyline in the making, it actually makes perfect sense when you watch and think about it.
But don’t worry. It’s not all doom and gloom. There are bits of humour found in the series which helps the series from getting too dark and depressing. The situations are made all the more human for it, meaning I was drawn in to the situations with a lot more emotion than if everything just kept getting worse and everyone wandered around with a grumpy face.
And in that way, it’s strengths lie in scenes where characters meet and talk. The rhythm is sometimes that of a play. A basic set entraps two more people as they must talk through their differences. All the characters have friction with each other and the realism plays out through the revealing of motives. Reasons behind their decisions. The actors all do a great job, with no show off performances. Everyone does their best in developing their characters; meaning already good writing is helped along.
Each character is at times unlikeable but, thanks to back-story and flashbacks, you understand why they do what they do. Mostly everyone has three dimensions, no character is more important than another. There isn’t the traditional protagonist-antagonist relationship besides the occasional interjection from Cohen, who in his quest to find the truth behind the suspicious prisoners’ behaviour, is perhaps the only character who needs fleshing out.
Because of this focus on characters and relationships, the series does move at a slower pace than some might be accustomed to. This is commendable in the first few episodes, but severely hinders in the middle of the series. The editing isn’t the problem per se, but the script. Fortunately, it does make some of its way back in later episodes as tension builds, both in Cohen’s pursuit and the prisoner’s struggle with everyday life.
While the pacing is problematic, the balance between everyone’s stories is near perfect. The series flows from one character to another, even if they have no relation to each other. And you want to find out what happens to everyone. What will happen with Uri and his ex-wife? Will Nimrode be able to survive trying to live out his pre-war dreams? Will Amiel’s dogs get walked each and everyday?
Some of these story points are, as suggested earlier, seen coming from a mile off. And because of the slow pace of the series, this can sometimes mean you can tell what’s going to happen two episodes before it does. I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed as, instead of relishing the mystery of what Amiel’s dogs were gonna get fed, I instead was forced to wait two hours before they inevitably got Pedigree Chum (this is me avoiding spoilers).
Some elements are a mystery, though. We’re introduced to a character named Ilan who helps the prisoners get back on their feet. But his concentration falls fully on Yael after a few episodes. We’re supposed to see him as selfless and commendable, but really he’s too busy getting busy with Yael to help out the guys who, y’know, have been prisoners of war for the past seventeen years. So really, the character who’s supposed to be most sympathetic is, actually, the least sympathetic of the bunch.
The scenes that jump back to the imprisonment of the three soldiers work well and are realistic enough (at least to my knowledge. I’m not a big expert of torture besides that one time I watched Two and a Half Men. Oh look. The kid made a poop joke. I hope they tell another knock knock joke soon, it’s like watching the new Frasier). These flashbacks are gradually extended, slowly revealing important plot points or character motivations and, while I first thought the idea would grow stale or lack subtlety, actually got better as the series went on.
In the end, I didn’t get what I expected from Prisoners of War. Which is a good thing. It’s more a series about real emotion and situations as opposed to getting the heart rate up with chases and stark reveals. The tension that’s most built up is a psychological one within the prisoners. The slow pace does create boredom at times, but it’s mostly to the benefit of the series that it takes its time and slowly shows the audience every intricacy of a character as opposed to going too quickly at first and leaving nothing for the ending.
Flickering Myth Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★