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In Stateless, the lives of four individuals converge at the Barton Immigration Detention Center, located on a barren parcel of terrain in South Australia. One is an immigrant seeking asylum, and the other three are white Australians. Such a formula seems ill-suited to a political statement on refugee welfare. So, while the new Netflix limited TV series (rated TV-MA for occasional strong language and isolated moments of sensuality) does project concern for displaced persons, the personal dramas command center stage.
Ameer (Fayssal Bazzi) flees Afghanistan with his wife and two daughters to escape persecution. Sofie (Yvonne Strahovski) bolts from her overbearing family, becomes entangled with a cultlike group, and winds up detained at Barton under a false name. Cam (Jai Courtney), a doting father of three, takes a job as a guard at Barton for its good pay, although his sister works for an immigrants’ advocacy organization trying to shut the center down. And Clare (Asher Keddie), Barton’s new director, brings fresh ideas but finds herself on a short leash from the government’s immigration department.
Stateless details Ameer’s family’s hazardous journey, and several characters at Barton also convey the helplessness “unlawful noncitizens” feel while trapped in a chain-link-fenced no-man’s land. Their home country means danger, and their reluctant host country is slow—years, in some instances—to decide their cases. But some critics have fussed about all the distractions from the immigrants’ plights—such as the spotlight on Sofie, particularly her backstory interactions with a self-empowerment group run by a manipulative married couple (Dominic West and Cate Blanchett, one of the series’ creators).
The focus on Sofie, though, is not arbitrary. Her character is based on the case of Cornelia Rau, a German permanent resident of Australia. Fifteen years ago, Rau became a household name in that country after news broke of her long detention at an immigration center and psychiatric hospital.
Each of the four stories demands resolution. Will Sofie admit her true identity and confront her troubled past? Can Clare survive the pressures bearing down on her from her superior, a hostile reporter, the advocacy group’s shenanigans, and an overwhelming caseload? Ameer and Cam are strong father figures whose kindness spills over into the lives of others. Cam, to his colleagues’ derision, puts up swings and pumps up a soccer ball for Barton’s children. Will he play by rules he despises to keep his job? Has one past mistake destroyed Ameer’s chance for a new life?
Stateless is forceful and well-acted (Strahovski shines in a tough role), but it earns its TV-MA rating, at least through the first four episodes.