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The Honourable Woman Review: “The Ribbon Cutter”

(Episode 1.04)

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<i>The Honourable Woman</i> Review: &#8220;The Ribbon Cutter&#8221;

It is a rare and extraordinary thing for a TV show to keep you captivated, and hold a following for three solid episodes without telling the audience much of anything. But, if you stayed committed, “The Ribbon Cutter” rewarded patient viewers, and finally we received some answers about the plot at work on The Honourable Woman.

For starters, who knew Nessa could be so subordinate to Ephra? Frankly, I was shocked to hear her say, somewhat pridefully, that she was not used to giving speeches because  “ if there’s one advantage to having a darling elder brother it’s that.” Eight years ago, Ephra was the big man on campus and the face of their father’s company, and Nessa was “just” his little sister.

We see a shift after Nessa’s trip to Israel. Before, we had a timid Nessa, content with playing second to the Stein Group, and blissfully ignorant of the company’s actual moves. Then, her whole world is turned upside down when she finds out that there is no European languages department at the school where she thought they’d donated funds, and the money was actually transferred… to Gaza! I think we can mark the change in character to the lone phone call between Nessa and Ephra. She says, “Do you believe in what we are doing? It is not just the results, it’s every step.” The idealized version of Ephra that Nessa held in such a high regard, is shattered. Suddenly, Nessa the dutiful sister is replaced by Nessa, the badass—and dammit, she is going to trace that money in Gaza.

Gaza changes everything. Everything for Atika, for Nessa, for Ephra, for everyone, really. Nessa and Atika’s plan to meet the first guy with information falls through and so, without a plan to execute, they go to meet the other informant. But they never make it to the meeting. In broad daylight, Nessa and Atika are kidnapped.

Nessa’s kidnapping puts some characters in a compromising position (Ephra, Sir Christopher Grieff, Harold Parr), while putting others in a very favorable one (Julia Walsh, Hugh, and, arguably, Nessa herself). The Israeli government, “does not deal with terrorists,” but Ephra so sweetly informs them that indeed they do, and they will again. Julia Walsh finds out Sir Christopher is not so great. And as Ephra’s new confidant, she finds herself armed with information to take over the secret intelligence as Sir Christopher becomes just plain Christopher. Continuing to connect the dots, we now know Julia and Hugh had a brief but passionate love affair, so she gives him her job. Now, much to Angela’s excitement, Hugh must become passionate about something. Harold Parr, who oversaw the transfer of the money to Gaza rather than the European language’s wing, also resigns.

This is all background, so let’s get to the meat of the episode. First, the burnt-faced man, Saleh Al-Zahid is revealed to be Nessa’s kidnapper, and a member of the Fatah terrorist group. And the father of her child…Kasim? In a very drug-induced night, the burnt-faced man—who is not burnt yet—pours his emotions out to Nessa—how he lost his child and his wife and has nothing. I almost feel sorry for him, but then, in a dark and terrorizing moment, he rapes Nessa. She begs and pleads and Atika jumps on him to fight him off, but as his slimy hands are wrapped around Atika’s neck in a firm chokehold, Nessa desperately pleas, “Stop, I’m lying down,”

The rape scene is simultaneously sobering and angering.  But before the scene changes, Atika wraps her chains around the beast’s neck, and burns his face.

Then it gets a bit confusing. The two have a meeting with the head of the Fatah group, which os currently fighting Hamas. They tell Nessa she is free to go once the baby is born. She is not allowed to have an abortion, and if she does, they will kill Atika. What a somber thing—for Atika to have to translate the threat of her own death. Somehow though, Nessa appeals to their emotions, and in nine months they are both allowed to go. We never find out if the child is Kasim, but I think it would be too far-fetched and unbelievable for it not to be.

In an especially twisted moment, we also find out that Saleh Al-Zahid’s father, who is the head of the Fatah, also gave the order to kill Eli Stein. He coldly says, “First I ordered his death, now I take his heritage; how great is his defeat?” Saleh Al-Zahid has big plans for Nessa Stein, which worries me. Have these plans been carried out, or are they still in the works? The leaders of the Fatah banish Saleh Al-Zahid, which leads me to think that maybe he and Nessa are on the same team now.

So, the question remains—is he friend or is he foe?

Other thoughts on “The Ribbon Cutter”:

•The strong female leads in this show, and the way the writers handle their character development, impresses me. In an Orange is the New Black sort of manner, we realize that no character is insignificant.

•Atika is Nessa’s backbone. I loved when she said to Nessa, “You are the company.” That was a defining moment in Nessa’s transformation, I believe.  Some have speculated that the two could be more than mere friends, but I think that it is clear Atika has feelings for Ephra, not Nessa.

•Why is Nessa so secretive? I cannot fathom why, after she was given permission in Gaza to tell people what happened to her, she would not. There must be more to the story we do not know.

•Finally, if you were stressed out about not knowing anything about what was going on with the show and gave up, I urge you to start again. The way Hugo Blick has maneuvered The Honourable Woman so far, I think it will end up being recognized as one of the best shows this year.

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