THE ROMANOFFS: I LOST MY HEART IN MEXICO

THE ROMANOFFS EPISODE 6- PANORAMA.

This is a particularly intimate reckoning of the relationship one has with the place he has lived in and come to love, the many encounters studded with fleeting moments and how strangers are enveloped in the fabric of our beings when we make them a part of our culture. It’s writing of such depth that we need to follow every intricate detail and think beyond the obvious because our real lives are as layered, without us realizing it sometimes as this episode of the miniseries THE ROMANOFFS beautifully portrays. It’s called PANORAMA and is set in the wondrous landscape of Mexico city where JUAN PABLO CASTANEDA and RADHA MITCHELL evoke the spirit of a brief meeting punctuated by an unique sense of camaraderie, silent acknowledgement and observations . Besides that, a significant idea of haves and have nots is addressed with a satirical tone and an eye for the narrative of the people as seen by one individual, here a journalist / poet at heart Abel (JUAN) who keeps a tab on everything he comes across is uncovered . It’s sensitive and lingers with the idea of belonging emotionally to a provenance.

*****

This episode is about Abel, a journalist by profession but who’s truly a poet finding nuances of life, love and the overarching destiny of his pursuits against the background of his beloved Mexico city. This point is never spelt out for audience direction and yet the city, with its diversity, holds the key to his awakening. In fact, he is the most assured and well defined ‘individual’ THE ROMANOFFS has provided us with, considering he has nothing to do with the royal title and knows his strengths and limitations as also the pulse of the society he lives in. He has clearly marked his place within the larger omnibus of Mexico and its heritage and stays committed to them. Again I will reiterate that nothing is spoon-fed to us yet the intricacy of the writing takes us to the internalized core of each one of us who lives and breathes in a major city – the landscape that consumes us and where random happenings come to crucially mark our turning points. These turning points may or may not have larger consequences. They occur to us in the course of few days, as it happens here. At the end of it all, we stay the same individuals, changed by the new experience, and still latching on to the character of our present existence, defined truly by where we find footholds for our passions and diurnal cycles. Abel finds that in Mexico city and the episode justifies that, photographing it with a natural flair and its importance to him and the narrative.

That Abel is a poet at heart is evident in how even scrolling through photographs of women on dating application Tinder is accompanied by his idea of the inner beauty of these ladies and it begins the episode on an intriguing note. Then the other facet of his journalistic duties emerges as he visits an upscale clinic to investigate as an undercover patient.

This is in sharp contrast to a nondescript clinic for the indigenous people where he visits too. So the earnest side of his daily life occupies the other half. All these aspects seamlessly blend with each other as it does in real life where we juggle the romantic and the gritty simultaneously and the transitions are handled well. The dubious wheeling dealings of the clinic catering to the affluent, on the other hand, fuses the satiric with an observational awkwardness as the interaction with the doctor( Roberto Medina) and presence of a stringent receptionist /manager shows. The most telling part is that few of the terminally ill here are men of shady antecedents who amassed wealth by hook or crook. This detail is particularly effective in delineating the amorality of the establishment altogether. I liked the scene with the doctor in how he goes from speaking in Spanish to English in the end, maintaining the icy exterior of someone who has put ethics aside and is competent in the art of imposture. The real deal here is that the clinic thrives on acquiring stem cells from financially strapped indigenous people with impunity in exchange for monetary compensation for them. This inter generational cum social structure of almost passive exploitation is revealed and in a later part of the story is framed in stirring prose by Abel as part of his print to be submitted for publication.

Then another transition appears as Abel meets Victoria ( Radha Mitchell) who’s here for her son’s treatment(he suffers from hemophilia, a condition requiring constant blood transfusions ) and the sincere lilt of human endeavour comes to the picture. The real charm of the script is in how natural the progression of this central arc is. It warms our hearts and the spirits of Abel and Victoria become one with Nick( Paul Luke Bonenfant) , the precocious and well informed 12 year old boy who has not given up on life. The act of kindness in helping Victoria and the universality of the English language as an unifier were other salient points of their initial correspondence. All throughout, the interior monologues voiced by Castaneda work well to convey his emotional journey.

The relationship that is established among them then allows the narrative to let Abel express pride in his city and heritage as he takes Victoria and Nicholas on a brief sight seeing tour of famous locations and comments on the rich and often volatile history behind the country. Whether it is the sombre visit to the Cathedral or the National Museum where the iconic mural THE HISTORY OF MEXICO by Diego Rivera unspools a mosaic of Mexico and the diversity it encompasses for the locals, these portions are beautifully integrated to inform and enlighten us about the duality of destruction and creation that lies at the heart of every civilization. Abel as a local transfers his knowledge to Nicholas and Victoria who graduate from becoming strangers in a foreign land ( as we can’t call them tourists, considering they are here primarily for Nick’s treatment) to becoming integral to the aura of discovery so crucial to the series and to humanity. The connection between individuals is most often forged by discovering places and communities and it is realized wonderfully here.

As for the Romanoff ancestry, Victoria is a descendant but the strain of her legacy is portrayed by the genetic presence of hemophilia in the bloodline and which has consumed her son. A stirring conversation is built around this as she shares her lack of interest in her background which once overwhelmed her estranged husband Philip ( David Sutcliffe) and now has become a bone of contention for the future of their son in an unhappy marriage. Abel uses the important term ‘history’ here to refer to the Romanovs and in a heartwarming way gives her a valuable, selfless piece of advice that can help husband and wife iron the creases for their shared love for Nick.

Victoria is a concerned mother who has to put up a brave front and her loneliness is offset by the welcome presence of Abel, who becomes a source of support for her in his own unobtrusive way. Their trip to the ancient city of the Mexicos is shot with a breathtaking sweep and again the perspectives of Abel and Victoria are conveyed naturally.

As Abel is shown to investigate goings on at the clinic where he eventually meets Victoria, one may wonder if their moments together are a ruse but it is not so. In the process of knowing her and Nick, Abel finds a profound awakening of his own and his personality is one of fidelity and we never doubt him. His professional duties find an unexpected detour when he personally opens up his heart to them. So when he confesses he isn’t sick, Victoria reacts wordlessly, taking a moment to process her thoughts and then is happy he is fine. Radha performs wonderfully in this instance. She knows as do we that Abel is a facilitator of little changes from the cycle of the everyday for her and her son, who so far was kept insulated from the outside world owing to his sensitive condition. It’s shown authentically, with no grand statement or emphasis on the idea of one individual going out of his way to give others comfort. This matter of fact rhythm is winsome. It’s a repository of the different experiences that make Abel the person he is and his bond with Victoria is a platonic one that clearly defines him. So even though his investigation and eventual publication is nixed by his editor ( Griffin Dunne), the latter lets him quit as he understands instinctively that the dry well of journalism isn’t for Abel.

Victoria too leaves and Abel is the solitary voyager aiming for new avenues yet is ensconced in the panorama of the experiences, funneled through his love for the city that figuratively raised him.

The closing moments that see him merge with a tableau of central cultural figures like Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Karl Marx and the various populace of the city ( and by extension country) in the city center concludes it on a sweet note. The cityscape is ready to replenish him and he’s the better for it, reveling in the promise of the future and its ambiguities, just like there is no one moral/ cultural lens to look at a place or its residents.

PANORAMA is a welcome counter narrative, in my opinion, to the anti Mexican polemic that has become mainstream. Here the universality of the global world is celebrated with nuance, sensitivity and love for the everyday. Ably performed, it’s about how we extend our humanity to others and in turn receive chances to explore our inner selves. In the end, all I can say is that thank God for the novelty of THE ROMANOFFS, a point that gets proven with each new weekly episode.

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