The Hostages TV series on Netflix, a taut and tense thriller, escaped our finely tuned foreign TV series radar detector for several months. We finally watched it and wondered why we waited so long. The title is not unique – that’s part of the problem, and it’s easily confused with other shows – but Hostages is among the better, recent, international series on Netflix.
Hostages Season 1
Yael Danon (Ayelet Zurer, above without a mask) is a surgeon in Israel. A good one, in fact, as she is set to operate on the Prime Minister. Suffice to say, not all goes as planned. Danon is caught between the demands of masked gunmen and gunwomen holding her family and her professional ethics as a doctor.
Had she not been a surgeon, Danon could have been a detective. She investigates the kidnappers, searching for identity and motives, and schemes to free her family. Her husband, Eyal (Micha Celektar) is not much help, but the kids are a different story. Seventeen-year-old daughter, Noa (Dar Zuzovsky, right) is central to story – and efforts to escape – along with her younger brother Assaf (Yoav Rothman).
The hostage-holders, it turns out, are not a united front. There is dissention and competition in the ranks, and, as is often the case, one of the gunmen is a bit of a loose canon and another empathizes with the captives. The question is whether the team will self defeat or whether Yael and others bring them down.
The Hostages series is a standard family-held-captive drama, but several twists, strong performances, and crisp editing keep you glued to the screen all the way through. The show was made for and shown on Israeli TV and has a few network TV-like characteristics. There’s little profanity, no nudity, and many events along the way should not be considered or examined too closely. Still, Hostages is much better than standard TV fare.
The opening scenes reminded us of Fauda, one of last year’s better foreign series, also from Israel. The closing scenes have an element of surprise, while also setting the stage for season two.
Hostages season 2
Hostages season 2 picks up the saga of Adam, Neta, and company shortly after the end of season 1. (By reading this far, we assume you have watched season one of the Hostages TV series .) Just as things get started, events conspire to set up a brand new hostage situation. We expected a different chain of events, but the series creators stay true to the show title and the original concept. It’s a drawn out hostage situation where the viewer is presented with, and feels empathy for, both sides.
Yael Danon was the moral center of season 1, a contrast and counterpart to Adam, the sensitive hostage-taker. It’s too bad she’s not around this time. Season 2 is a bit adrift without her. The series brings in three new strong female characters: Orna (Reymonde Amsallem), a hostage negotiator who works for the police, Zohar (Alona Tal, right), a secret service agent much smarter than her condescending boss gives her credit for, and Lydia (Soraya Torrens), a corporate bigwig tied up in a conspiracy.
None of these characters fill Yael’s shoes, but they add additional and welcome story threads to follow. Too much time is spent on the hostage situation in the early and middle episodes of the second season. It stagnates, and the extra time lets us ponder the improbability of many things that happen. Hostages would have been better served by keeping the series at 10 episodes rather than padding it to 12.
The actions picks up again for the last three episodes. It’s pure political conspiracy thriller fantasy (ie: unconvincing), but complexity and multiple strands to follow give a much needed jolt. While Hostages season two feels much more made-for-TV than season one, it doesn’t end that way. Despite a few reservations, we still recommend both seasons of Hostages as entertaining, well made, foreign TV on Netflix.
Hostages was created and directed by Rotem Shamir and Omri Givon. Season one (10 episodes, 40 – 45 minutes each) aired on Israeli TV late in 2013; season two (12 episodes) followed a couple of years later. CBS produced a US version of the series that was cancelled after one season. The original is hard to match, much less improve on.
(This post was updated 28 September, 2017, to include season 2.)