Recap: The Honorable Woman, “The Mother Line” (1×06)

The camera rarely stops moving during conversations in “The Mother Line”. Whether it’s closing in on a brutalized Nessa or zooming out from a despondent Ephra, dropping its angle to show Anjelica’s dominance over Hugh, or focusing on Rachel while Ephra is speaking, the lens rarely settles comfortably on one person. So goes the story in the episode, as the characters move in and out of each others’ orbits and share devastating revelations. In the end, we’re still left with questions but also with two certainties: we know who claims to have Kasim, and we know that Monica Chatwin is much, much more than she seems.

It turns out that while Shlomo may not have been entirely ignorant of the wiretap, he wasn’t the one responsible for it – but, with the help of Aron Yavin, the telecommunications tech whose help Nessa enlisted last week, they can figure out who pays for the lines transmitting the Palestinian messages to the Israeli decoding office. (I think? Shlomo may understand the technical details, but I don’t. Give me politics over wires any day.) They run the trace and sure enough, the Stein Foundation is footing the bill.

When Yavin approaches Nessa with the information, he asks her repeatedly, “Am I safe?” It echoes the kidnappers’ calls, and although Nessa assures him he is safe, that assurance is all but meaningless. Nobody involved with the Steins is safe: not their family, not their allies, and not their enemies. Nessa and Ephra have lost all control; a lethal entropy now drives events, even as Hugh and Julia struggle to reclaim the reins before more people die.

Although Ephra Stein facilitated the wiretapping and monitoring of Palestinian communications, neither he nor the Israeli government was responsible for the death of Samir Meshal, as Hugh discovers from Judah, his Israeli intelligence contact. Meshal made a brief, intercepted call from Washington to the West Bank shortly before his death and uttered three simple words, twice: “She has agreed.” If the Israelis didn’t kill Meshal, then someone else did; they just need to find out who else was listening, and who else knew about the wiretap.

Hugh and Shlomo arrange for the tapped line to be damaged in order to see who comes to repair it. When Hugh sees the van used by the repairman pull up to the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, he exclaims, “Tell me it’s not that fucking easy” and I have to admit, I had a similar reaction.

Then I remembered what I was watching. Even though Hugh has most of the pieces, he can’t quite see the entire picture, and I don’t think we have it yet, either. Remember, Monica was the one who gave Nathaniel false intel connecting Shlomo to Hezbollah; she clearly wanted Meshal to get the Phase 3 contract. Later, she calls Nessa to congratulate her on selecting Jalal El-Amin as Meshal’s replacement; she’s aiding the Palestinians in surveilling the Steins. Monica told Nessa about the wiretap, and tried to blame Shlomo; as she was stationed for a long time in DC, presumably she told the Americans about the surveillance opportunity. She’s also seen calling the radical Israeli assassin, Yaniv Levi, who ordered Professor Ben-Reuven’s death last episode. At this point, it remains unclear if Monica and the Americans are working toward the same ends, and even what those ends are.

Sadly, the wiretap is really what led to Kasim’s kidnapping. The Palestinians had long suspected that the Stein Foundation was compromised; they worked hard to eliminate Shlomo from contention in order to get Meshal as Nessa’s contractor, so he could keep an eye on her. When Meshal was killed, they resorted to messier tactics, making use of Zahid Al-Zahid’s (and by extension, Fatah’s) knowledge of her secret – Kasim – to force the new, less “scrupulously neutral” Tahet Technology, led by El-Amin, to get the contract. Once Nessa opens Phase 3, she’ll get Kasim back.

As the pieces of the investigation begin to come together, the balance of power and secrets shifts, but not all the players are aware. Nessa, still battered and bruised after her second time being raped, loses any remaining faith she has in Ephra once she learns of his collusion in the wiretapping. Yet in some way, this frees her from the shackles of her family; she abandons her black mourning-like clothes for a pure white coat as she lays down the terms for her silence to the Israeli ambassador. When he frostily dismisses her as Miss Stein, she wheels around to say, “Not that it matters, but I am a Baroness. I was made one for my public efforts in international reconciliation. My marital status really doesn’t come into it.” *Drops metaphorical mic and walks out.*

However, even in this moment of triumph, Nessa is losing more control than she knows. She thinks she’s aware of all the secrets, but even as more and more people learn hers (including now Rachel), she doesn’t learn everything they know in return. Nessa isn’t made aware of Monica’s connection to Meshal’s death. Instead, the scales of knowledge seem to be shifting towards Hugh – while he still believes Kasim is Atika’s son, he knows Nessa was raped in Gaza, and he knows more about who killed Meshal – Nessa, perhaps dangerously, still believes Monica is on her side.

Hugh tells Judah that he got his job because he was a “biddable night watchman” who earned his position lying down (under his boss, Julia, as we already knew). He was under no delusion about what Julia saw as his most important qualities, but his work in the past two episodes reveals a defter touch than he admits to. Remember, he handily got to the bottom of Tracy Vorman’s lies, and he knows how to drive a wedge between Ephra and Nessa, manipulating her sense of inferiority and his delusional self-image as a hero. Sure, he may be more George Smiley than James Bond. However, Hugh may play the bumbler, but his spy work is first class, and with Monica’s questionable allegiance, he’s definitely the best hope Julia has of getting to the bottom of this Middle Eastern quagmire.

Odds & Ends

– The lemon in Nessa’s drink in the opening scene picks up nicely on the lemons surrounding Professor Ben-Rueven in the dumpster in last episode’s closing scene.

– The shot of Tom Crace throwing the bottle at Nessa’s head was one of the most disturbing things I’ve seen on this show. While I understand that we needed to see Nessa hit her emotional nadir, I’m torn on the use of another, even more violent sexual assault to achieve it. It does show her seeking out the same type of pain that started the whole ordeal in the first place, yes, and it leads to a series of brilliant scenes as Hugh takes care of her, but there has to be another way beyond rape to get there.

– Atika, not Ephra or Nessa, tells Rachel about Kasim’s really parentage. Rachel’s anguish over being the consummate outsider in the Stein family becomes more and more sympathetic each week.

– Saleh Al-Zahid is still around, telling his host’s young son all about the virtues of belief and bravery, stoking the kid’s desire for a gun and then leaving a loaded one around for him to find. This ends exactly how you’d expect it to end. Saleh is still two dimensional, more of a stock plot point than a character, so I struggle to connect to these scenes.

– Nessa Stein is one of the most fascinating female characters to grace the television screen in a long time. I’ll have more thoughts on this when the series finishes, but rarely do you see a woman on TV who subsumes her own personal desires so deeply, who does despicable things at huge personal cost in service to what she believes to be the greater good rather than just out of malevolence, and who is still allowed to fluctuate between fragile and steely as most real people do. It’s easy to see why Maggie Gyllenhaal came to television to play such a woman.