‘The Diplomat’ series review: Keri Russell headlines cracking political drama on diplomatic relations and defunct relationships

Netflix and Debora Cahn’s smartly-written ‘The Diplomat’ — that scathingly bites off more than what it can chew — works due to its brilliant performances

Updated - April 25, 2023 01:37 pm IST

Published - April 25, 2023 01:13 pm IST

A still from ‘The Diplomat’

A still from ‘The Diplomat’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Relationships require effort, and it applies to a couple, colleagues or even between governments functioning across man-made borders and regulations. Unlike the smaller social constructs, countries have designated foreign services and diplomatic corps to represent and protect the interests of their homeland. While that’s a broad terminology for what a diplomat does, Netflix’s The Diplomat takes a deep dive into the world of foreign policies, international relations and everything the job construes.

The Diplomat follows the trials and tribunals of Kate Wyler (Keri Russell), the new United States ambassador to the United Kingdom, who gets thrown right into the middle of an international crisis that she has to handle with whatever little sources she has, and at the same time, make sure her rocky marriage to fellow diplomat Hal Wyler (Rufus Sewell) survives the change in several dynamics. Over the course of eight episodes, along with Kate, we learn that there are more than just two sides to some coins when it comes to personal relations, and more to it than meets the eye when it comes to international relations.

The territory of the plot isn’t new to the show’s creator Debora Cahn and lead star Keri Russell. While Cahn has earlier worked on the political drama The West Wing and the espionage thriller Homeland, Russell has previously starred in the spy-thriller series The Americans. Together, the duo have come up with a deliciously complicated concoction that leaves Kate and the viewers at a cliffhanger at the end of almost every episode.

The Diplomat (English)
Creator: Debora Cahn
Cast: Keri Russell, Rufus Sewell, David Gyasi, Ali Ahn, Rory Kinnear, Ato Essandoh
Episodes: 8 (45-50 mins each)
Streaming Platform: Netflix
Storyline: The new Ambassador of the United States to the United Kingdom has a defuse a barrage of professional and personal troubles before it snowballs into something catastrophic

While on one side, we’ve got the geopolitical crises that are — no pun intended — foreign to us, Kate’s personal problems that keep intruding on her professional life lend a sense of relatability. Despite her marriage with Hal being in troubled waters, they two have to stay as a couple, due to the potential of Kate’s political career. And what could wreck it more than a divorce? But it’s not all black-and-white in this relationship, given Hal’s history of being one of the most celebrated ambassadors who likes his morning breakfast with a good dose of ego and arrogance. With better contacts and more experience, Hal, unwittingly and sometimes very much intentionally, gets in the way of Kate’s everyday work like paw prints on freshly-cemented pavement. If that’s not enough, there seem to be some clear flirtations between Kate and the British foreign minister Austin Dennison (David Gyasi) while her trusted deputy Stuart Heyford (Ato Essandoh) is in a secret relationship with CIA Station Chief Eidra Park (Ali Ahn). On the professional front, a British warship has been attacked and lives have been lost, and it’s up to Kate to figure out who is behind the attack before the UK executes a premeditated strike against Iran.

The stakes can’t be higher, but The Diplomat uses the events pertaining to the international systems as a backdrop to showcase our characters’ everyday troubles. Kate is having a hard time trying to figure out the curveballs her professional and private life is throwing at her; Hal is unsurprisingly calm about being “the ambassador’s wife” thanks to his ulterior motives; in a much-needed role reversal, we’ve got a trigger-happy British PM (Rory Kinnear) and a laid-back POTUS (Michael McKean, who stole the show as Chuck McGill in Better Call Saul); and the situationship between Stuart and Eidra, who — because of their positions — cannot share work details among themselves. It’s a bloody mess on its own and the cross-country crisis is just that big red cherry atop the cake. Just like the relationships, the people involved in them are also grey and these identifiable and comparable tropes make the series realistic, despite the otherwise cinematic choices that dictate the larger scheme of things.

Wherethe narrative succeeds is building up the tension right from the get-go; however, it loses steam during the halfway mark by when we get used to all the drama. The series doesn’t quite have an answer to all the questions posed as it meanders its way to a clichéd finish that also doubles as a lead for season two.

The Diplomat, also, often subtly highlights the casual sexism Kate goes through in her job; how everything from her panty line to the date of her periods is noted. This is why Kate shouting, “Pants, no f***ing dresses!” during the last leg of the season feels like a small victory. But these tropes don’t really offer much to the bigger picture; what we will really remember The Diplomat for are its witty one-liners. Some of the best moments are when the US President looks at Kate and asks if people even like her, or when Kate complains about how much women apologise these days and that it’s sure to make Gloria Steinem roll in her grave... without realising that the feminist leader is very much alive. Despite the uneven writing, Netflix’s smartly-written political thriller — that scathingly bites off more than what it can chew — works due to its brilliant performances.

The Diplomat is currently streaming on Netflix

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