Hillary In ‘Expats,’ Explained: Was Hillary Happy That Her Marriage Had Ended?

Lulu Wang’s Expats was a female-centric show that painted a broad picture of the kind of turmoil women go through daily. Hillary was an upstairs neighbor of Margaret. She lived with her husband, David, and many assumed she led a rich and peaceful life. On the outside, her marriage was glossy like a magazine cover, while on the inside, all the pages of her life were crumbling. The series began with Hillary being in denial about her marriage, and pretending everything was smooth sailing. This was probably the result of years of conditioning by her family to make the marriage work. David could not keep up with the façade of their marriage and walked out.

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Hillary worked as a corporate executive in Hong Kong, away from her family in Los Angeles. Her marriage began to show cracks when David suddenly wanted to have kids. Hillary married him because both did not want children. The sudden change in his plan threw her off guard, and she tried to get in touch with her maternal instincts by visiting many orphanages in the city but could not emulate the feelings many women talk about. Hillary and Margaret were friends until Gus’ disappearance. David had provided a statement in the police investigation after the incident, which turned out to be false. This further caused a crack in their friendship, as Hillary could not be friends with a woman who accused her husband of misleading the investigation.

Gus’ disappearance, followed by Maragaret’s accusation, was the catalyst that caused the breakdown of Hillary and David’s marriage. Hillary believed her marriage was going through a phase and waited for David to come back. Hillary had an amazing career going, but her failing marriage bothered her, which made her beg David to come back and consider making it work. Hillary comes from a background that focuses on the strength of the marriage rather than the financial security of women. The extent of this was demonstrated when Hillary’s ultra-rich mother, who comes from a conservative Indian society, visited her daughter. The mother did not think twice before complaining about the kind of life Hillary was leading and jumped straight to the subject of her not having children. 

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It is easy to believe Hilary was subjected to her mother’s constant taunting, which may have led to countless insecurities festering in her while she was growing up. Hillary, whose real name was Harpreet, may have changed her name to distance herself from the stereotypes regarding Indian families. She had gotten used to her mother’s constant bickering and had developed a thick skin for all the accusations that came her way.

Hillary was the kind of woman who was leading a modern life where she chose to not have kids and never wanted to live as per the whims and fancies of her husband. She chose a partner who was the opposite of her father, and she never wanted to be like her mother, who tolerated years of abuse and stayed in denial about it. Her mother willingly put up with her father’s infidelity and resigned herself to staying in the marriage in the face of adversity as her duty. This is something she expected Hillary to do too. Hillary was aware of the trauma she was put through, because of the abuse she witnessed, and vowed to never be like her mother. She went from being a person who was trying hard to save her marriage to coming to terms with the fact that she would rather be alone. She also wanted to prove that marriage was probably not the end of life for women. She had her career to look forward to.

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Hillary, at the beginning of the show, comes across as a shallow person who cannot find her self-respect. She managed to host a dinner for her office friends and chose to keep them in the dark about her personal life. It is the arrival of the mother that gives the audience a perspective on what Hillary is going through and why she is trying so hard to save her marriage. There was a reason behind every action she took.

David was not like her father, and that could be the reason she wanted him around. The reasons for her marriage falling apart were genuine, and she slowly got around them. Accepting that the problems existed made Hillary, at this stage, better than Margaret. She chose to find a solution instead of hanging onto her marriage. Hillary dealt with her trauma by choosing to never make the mistakes she witnessed her mother make while growing up. This was her way of dealing with the pain.

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Hillary’s only way to move on from the pain of watching her father relentlessly abuse her was to confront him about it. She flew to Los Angeles in the hope of making things right or maybe meeting her father one last time. Hillary and her father never had a decent relationship; one main reason was the age-old Indian tradition of wanting a boy, with her father being disappointed they had a girl.

Hillary’s estrangement from her parents was proof of the bad treatment she received growing up, as both wanted a boy. Hillary had no plan to confront her father, but the child in her revolted and spoke up about the trauma. Hillary should have done this when he was healthy, but since there was never a good time to talk about childhood, she took it upon herself to be blunt about the amount of pain she was put through as she took care of her bruised mother. Hillary was a victim of years of generational trauma, of women suffering and staying in marriage just for the sake of it. She could not fix things for her mother but planned to be honest with her kids about the reality of her family so that history did not repeat itself.

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Hillary could not believe her mother was okay with the mistress and the children from that relationship. She was appalled by her mother criticizing the woman, but she uttered not a word against her father. This is the kind of generational conditioning she was against and chose to step away from because she wanted to set a good example for her children if she planned to have one instead of sugarcoating the toxic behavior of men, which has been normalized in subcontinental and Southeast Asian cultures. Hillary’s choice to divorce her husband did not sit well with her mother, but she chose a path that would be easier for her in the long run. She could not be married to a person who did not want her, and living alone was an adventure she was looking forward to too. 


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Smriti Kannan
Smriti Kannan
Smriti Kannan is a cinema enthusiast, and a part time film blogger. An ex public relations executive, films has been a major part of her life since the day she watched The Godfather – Part 1. If you ask her, cinema is reality. Cinema is an escape route. Cinema is time traveling. Cinema is entertainment. Smriti enjoys reading about cinema, she loves to know about cinema and finding out trivia of films and television shows, and from time to time indulges in fan theories.

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