While “Prisoners of War” follows the return of three Israeli male soldiers after 17 years of captivity, the women in their lives are as central to shaping the narrative as the hostages themselves. Nurit, Talia, and Yael have spent 17 years living in a different kind of purgatory, wondering whether their loved ones were alive or dead. And though they all start off from this common point, they embark on very different journeys. The robust development of the female characters on “Prisoners of War” is one of the things that grounds audiences in the intimacy of the series and provides compelling universal themes of family, loss, and sorrow.
In flashbacks, Nurit and Uri are depicted as a young couple giddy in love, promising one another they’re always going to be together. When we flash forward to current-day when Uri returns, the formerly smitten couple has devolved into a deep sadness. Nurit has committed the ultimate betrayal: marrying Uri’s brother. And the entire country rejects this act with disdain.
In one particularly effective scene, Nurit tells Uri: “We were also prisoners of war.” This statement seems to be an inappropriate comparison when we consider the heinous treatment the captives endured. The metaphorical ripple, however, rings true: for 17 years, Nurit has tortured herself, and she’s never stopped judging herself.
In contrast, Nimrode’s wife Talia devotes every minute of her life advocating for her husband’s return. In many eyes, she perhaps plays the role of the model wife in this unthinkable situation, continuously campaigning with a brave face and strong resolve. But we come to realize she’s been caught in a time warp of sorts, lost in the shuffle of public appearances with world leaders and stiff upper lips, while her children feel alienated by her activism for a man they barely know. Ironically her tremendous strides in getting her family back together come at their expense.
Considering Nurit as traitorous allows Talia to feel better about everything that she has sacrificed, a sentiment that produces a brilliant source of drama in the series. As the families wait for the first glimpse of their loved ones in 17 years at the airport, Talia barely acknowledges Nurit as she reaches out to her and say's she’s “the only one in the same situation.” Talia snaps back dismissively, “we’re not in the same situation.”
In episode 5, after the funeral of Amiel Ben Horin, the two have a confrontation that reveals the impossibility of their situation:
Nurit: You’re angry because I wanted to live?
Talia: That’s not a right we have, we’re supposed to wait and fight not surrender.
Nurit: You’re stronger than I am. I couldn’t wait.
Talia: Maybe you’re the strong one. What did I do with my life? I waited. You dared to live.
We see how two strong women have taken very different paths, and how the return of their loved ones allows them to realize that there’s no perfect end game for either of them.
The third woman we meet in the series is Yael (or “Lali,” as her brother used to call her). She was a child when her brother Amiel went missing, thus she imagines him alive as a ghost born out of a little sister’s love for the older brother she admired. She is crushed to find out that he will be returning in a body bag, though insists on greeting her brother’s coffin at the airport, even as the other families will be happily reuniting with Uri and Nimrod. “Someone needs to receive him too,” she declares.
Her love for her brother seems uncomplicated and pure, and the scenes between Amiel and Lali are as effective as any, imbued with a deep sadness, especially in the moments when she seems to be most happy with him. We know it’s not real, and we’re heartbroken for the day when she realizes it too.
The plight of the female characters provides American audiences with emotional situations that transcend global boundaries and force us to ask an important question: how would others judge our actions in the wake of such as impossibly sad and tragic situation, and perhaps more importantly, how would we judge ourselves?