Update: Amazon prime drops all 8 season 1 episodes on March 29, 2019, including episode 1. This post is based on the version of episode 1 that was available for 24 hours after the Superbowl.
Hanna is an Amazon Prime original series which is based on the 2011 film of the same name. The series stars stars Esme Creed-Miles as Hanna, a 15 year old girl who’s been raised alone in the woods by her father and trained to be a survivalist and fighter; Joel Kinnaman as Erik Heller, Hanna’s father and a former agent who took his infant daughter on the run to escape the relentless pursuit which killed Hanna’s mother; and Mireille Enos as Marissa Wiegler, a rogue CIA agent who’s been hunting Heller and his family for many years and will stop at nothing to find them.
Amazon is advertising the story as “equal parts high-concept thriller and coming-of-age drama”. I can’t help but notice the similarities to Les Miserables and the Jean Valjean/ Cosette/ Javert storyline, one of my favorite stories of all time. In this version, Cosette is the star, and gets to show what she’s made of.
But, never fear, if you don’t like 19th century French literature or operatic 80s musicals. This is a thoroughly modern action-mystery-thriller in the vein of Hunger Games or Nikita. Hanna has been trained by her father since birth and has extraordinary talents, but she doesn’t know who she is to the outside world, or why she’s being hunted. Her father has kept her sheltered from the rest of humanity, but has taught her as much as he could about the world from their cave in the forest.
It’s a pleasure to see Joel Kinnaman and Mireille Enos again. Kinnaman spends much of the episode under a scruffy beard and many layers of ragged clothing, gruffly training his daughter, but his soulfulness still comes through. You can see in his face all of the reasons that he works his daughter so hard, from terror that they’ll be found to the immense love that caused him to give up everything else in his life for her. Though Enos’ screen time is brief in this episode, she establishes her character’s determined, efficient, malevolent essence. Esme Creed-Miles is wonderful as a normal girl who’s without ego or pretense, but who’s curious and intelligent. And a highly trained fighter, who’s able to take down a man twice her size, in less than a minute, with her bare hands.
I can’t wait to watch this character discover what the rest of the world thinks of teenage girls. I’ve seen what an adjustment it is for homeschooled girls when they’re fully immersed into sexist cultural situations for the first time, after being raised in egalitarian homes and homeschool groups. I’ll be interested to see if the writer and creator of Hanna, David Farr, who is a middle-aged man, has any concept of what Hanna, the ultimate homeschooler, would face, beyond being underestimated as a fighter. Given the way her first period is handled in the pilot, my guess is most issues pertaining to her gender will be given lip service, then glossed over.
The pilot serves mainly as set up for the rest of the season. Virtually all of it takes place in the forest, near Erik and Hanna’s cave hideout. By the end of the episode, their lives have been turned upside down and it’s clear that the rest of the episodes will be completely different. We aren’t given more than a hint of the origin stories for Erik, Hanna’s mother, Johanna Zydek, or Wiegler, or told why they’re mortal enemies. That’s left to unfold at a later date, probably as Hanna herself unwinds the mysteries of her life. All we know is that Johanna died while she, Erik and Hanna were trying to escape from Wiegler and her team. Erik took the baby and ran, successfully disappearing into a forest in Eastern Europe for 15 years.
As already noted, the pilot spends most of its time in the woods, and that can get a bit slow here and there. I would have preferred that they shave one or two minutes from the middle of the episode and use the time to make the events in the opening more clear. The opening scenes are action-packed and fast-paced, but it’s hard to figure out what’s going on, particularly the important details of the baby snatching sequence, if you don’t already know what’s going to happen. Taking a little more time to establish the characters and the setting in the opening would solve those issues and would make the forest scenes more suspenseful and meaningful.
Overall, I like the premise and the cast. The series was filmed on location across Europe, so the scenery should be enjoyable. Episodes one and two have a female director, Sarah Adina Smith, which is always a good sign.
Amazon plans to drop the rest of the season in March.
In Romania, in 2003, Erik Heller
who’s wearing Ryker’s sleeve, drives a car to a hospital and experimental lab facility which is guarded and fenced, with signs posted saying Danger-Keep Out- Authorized Personnel Only. Possibly it’s a secret government facility, possibly it’s corporate. On his way there, he stops and tosses the keys into some woods. It’s not clear if this is his car or a stolen car.
At the gate, he shows an ID. It’s most likely his, since he puts it right next to his face and the guard shines his light on both. Once inside the hospital, he sits in the lobby waiting area, very stiffly, and watches the clock for more than an hour, until 3:00, when the shift changes. An announcement over the intercom sends the shift that’s ending into a decontamination shower, which makes it absolutely clear that this is not a normal hospital.
As they walk by the waiting area, Erik blends in with some of the staff on their way to the showers. While they’re showering, he steals coveralls and another ID from a man about his size and coloring. Then he makes his way through security and into another part of the hospital. In this part of the facility, dogs can be heard barking and whining as they’re experimented on.
Erik goes past the animal experiments and finds the human nursery, which is filled with at least 20 infants. He finds the one he’s looking for, unhooks her from the IV tubing attached to her arm, and puts her in a cart that he’s grabbed in the hall. He tries to keep her calm by telling her that he’s taking her to her mommy.
The owner of the ID and coveralls discovers they’re missing. Erik races down the hall with the baby and out a back door, emerging in the trash disposal area, where an open incinerator is burning. He uses cable cutters to clip a hole in the fence, but it’s slow going. As he finishes, security guards enter the area, searching for the intruder. He pretends that he’s throwing trash in the incinerator, but when the baby makes a noise, he has to fight the guards.
One of the guards ends up in the incinerator, which was clearly not what Erik intended. In the moment, he had no choice, but, right afterward, he looks wild-eyed over having murdered someone. We aren’t told whether he just wanted to avoid murder on this mission or has never killed anyone before.
He gets the baby from her hiding spot, goes through the fence, and runs for the car, which his wife Johanna has waiting. Johanna runs to meet him and takes the baby. They get in the car and drive away, chased by guards and guard dogs from the hospital, who shoot at them. The guards are on foot, so Erik, Johanna and the baby get away.
The next morning finds them safely at the Motel Liniste. Johanna sings to the baby, while Erik is shirtless. We know that nothing is too wrong with the world, because, as is traditional, 5 minutes into the show, Joel Kinnaman is half-naked.
Just as Johanna gets up to get ready to leave, the evil government agents arrive. The Hellers throw some clothes on, pop the baby in a car seat, and jump out a window. They quickly find an unlocked car, and Erik hot wires the ignition while Johanna buckles the baby seat in. I can vouch for the fact that these are two equally difficult tasks.
They take off, with evil government agents shooting at them. We get our first look at Marissa Wiegler, who is or will become Erik’s nemesis. She has very short, no nonsense hair and a serious expression as she tells an underling that the Hellers will try to reach Bukovina Forest. She wants him to call base, now.
The Hellers have a decent head start on the evil government agents, but the agents are so evil that they bring in a helicopter, which shoots at the car from above. Erik turns into some woods, which gives some cover, even though there are no leaves on the trees. He reaches a field, and tells Johanna that they have to cross the field, then they’ll be safe, because after that, the forest stretches for hundreds of miles.
She doesn’t think this is a great idea, but he goes for it, at top speed. The helicopter is waiting, and shoots out one of their tires. It might also shoot Johanna in the head. Erik loses control of the car and it spins into a tree, with Johanna’s seat taking the brunt of the damage. She’s dead and her head is bloody. It could simply be from hitting her head during the accident, but there’s a splatter pattern on the ceiling that says gunshot to me. Either way, Wiegler is responsible for her death.
Erik realizes that she’s dead, and takes a brief moment with her, but he knows the helicopter will be there before long.
As Wiegler watches the car from the air, it’s bursts into flames. Everything inside the car will have been killed. The helicopter lands, and she takes a closer look. Meanwhile, Erik runs through the forest with the baby.
Fifteen years later, the baby, Hanna, is a young woman who is out deer hunting. She shoots a doe, then kneels to gut it. As she’s working, a man appears behind her. When she realizes that he’s there, she charges at him and they fight. After a minute of hand to hand, they are lying on the ground and she has him in a choke hold.
She lets him go, and after he has a moment to recover, he tells her that it was good, but he could have killed her before she even realized he was behind her. She wouldn’t have gotten a second chance. The man is Erik. He is now bearded and wearing layers of clothes, since it’s winter.
They live in a cave, where almost everything they use is handmade from wood or the animals they hunt. That evening, over dinner, Erik quizzes Hanna in what seems to be a nightly ritual. First, he asks if she’s hurt and they go over what went wrong with the fight training. It took her three seconds to realize he was there. She promises to do better next time. He has her repeat it in German and French. Then he asks her to name three great American movies (Godfather, Jaws, Casablanca) and three Beatles songs (Love Me Do, Let It Be and Help).
Then they go over the rules: Humans beings are dangerous and not to be trusted. If she sees one she’s to come and find him. If she can’t find Erik, she should hide, and if she can’t hide, she should attack.
Later, in bed, Hanna carves something on the ceiling with a pocket knife. Then she discovers that she’s gotten her period. Given the way she reacts to the blood, it seems like it’s the first time. All we’re shown is her calmly exploring the situation, no discussion with her dad or dealing with clean up or catching the blood. I’m not sure what the point of the scene was, other than to let us know that she’s physically mature, so she can start dating. It brought up more questions than it answered. (ETA: See commentary section, below.)
One day, as she sits on a rock ledge over a gorge, as if she’s Rapunzel in her tower, carving wood, an airplane flies overhead. Hanna jumps up and runs with it, following it until she reaches a stand of trees with red lines painted on them. They are the boundary of her territory. SInce she and Erik came to the forest, she’s never been past the line. She doesn’t pass it this time, either, but it’s obvious that the boundary is starting to feel like a cage that she wants to escape.
Everyday, Erik and Hanna spend hours training. He trains her in hand to hand fighting, shooting, and physical conditioning. As she runs up and down the mountain, he adds rocks to her backpack and tells her to keep going. Eventually, she’s a sharpshooter, at peak levels of strength and endurance, who can punch a tree down.
But she’s still tempted by the red markings on the trees. Erik explains that the people who killed her mother are still out there, and want to kill them. She infers that he intends for them to never leave the forest, and he agrees. Hanna wants to know what he’s training her for then. He explains that he might not always be there to protect her, so she needs to know how to protect herself. But he doesn’t want her to worry, because hopefully that’s a long way away.
Hanna goes back to the red lines again, and makes her footprints in the snow look like she approached the trees, then walked away. Erik is chopping wood. She climbs one of the trees, then uses branches and her strength to move from tree to tree until she’s a significant distance into the forbidden zone. When she reaches an area without snow, which won’t show her footprints, she drops to the ground and runs off to explore.
She finds a stream, then hears the sound of a chain saw slicing logs. She approaches the boy, Arvo, who’s cutting up the wood. He stops and speaks to her, first in Polish, then English. She doesn’t answer him much. He shares his snickers bar with her.
She finally talks to him when he takes out his phone to call his father. She grabs the phone from him, then hurts his arm. She tells him not to call his father. He gets in his 4-wheeler and leaves. As he’s going, she asks him not to tell anyone about her.
Erik is angry that evening, because he couldn’t find Hanna while she was with Arvo. He knows that she left their area. Hanna refuses to answer his questions, and asks why she has to tell him everything, while he tells her nothing. She wants to know who killed her mother. All Erik will tell her is that they’re bad people, but that answer isn’t enough for her anymore. She storms off to her bed. He pulls out a small metal box that holds his keepsakes and looks at a photo of Wiegler.
When Hanna goes back to find Arvo again, he pretends to be upset with her, but he gives her another snickers bar and chats her up. He takes her for a ride on his four-wheeler. They go to a huge satellite dish and climb up onto the bowl of the dish to look at the stars. Hanna points out all of the stars and constellations. Arvo shows her a satellite moving across the sky.
He’s just in the midst of making his move on her, when security guards show up with dogs. The dish had some kind of sensor next to its ladder, which caught them climbing up. They climb down the ladder, and Arvo puts his hands up.
Hanna runs away, as fast as she can. The guards shoot at her, which seems like an overreaction for security guards who’ve caught a couple of kids at a communications satellite, but who knows.
She makes it back to the cave and Erik questions her about Arvo and the security guards. She asks if he thinks the guards will come after them, and he says he doesn’t know.
Later she tells him that Arvo tried to kiss and touch her. Erik says that it’s just the way boys are.
He figures out that she wants to go out into the world, even if it’s dangerous, so he takes out the photo of Wiegler and tells Hanna that this is the woman who killed her mother. If they’re leaving the forest, they have to find her, before she finds them. Hannah understands that this is what Erik has been training her for, and she’s sure she’s ready. He’s not as certain.
Wiegler is now married and living in France, with a child who’s around 7 years old. She’s lost her punk look and has gone for the look of the perfectly groomed suburban working mom. While she’s at the park with her family, one of her minions, Carl Meisner, brings her the latest on the Heller case.
According to the NATO Security Attachment, three nights ago some kids broke in at the Kvansk Satellite Installation in Northern Poland. They arrested 17 year old Arvo Gombrowitz, from Poland, but the girl who was with him ran away and disappeared into the forest. Arvo told them that she was about 16, lived in the forest with her father and wouldn’t tell him her name.
Meisner says that he knows she still has a red flag on Agent Erik Heller. Wiegler tells him that Erik was last seen 15 years ago, 60 miles south of there, when he killed his girlfriend and disappeared with his baby daughter. She gives Meisner a strange, fake smile, then tells Meisner to keep the report on the satellite break in off the grid. She wants to talk to the security crew that found the kids in one hour, using an encrypted line, in her office. After he leaves, she gets another strange look on her face. This time it’s scared and horrified, like something awful is about to start up again.
Hanna wakes up in the middle of the night and sits in the cave entrance, looking at the stars. She hears 3 helicopters approaching and wakes up Erik. It takes another minute before he can hear them. They quickly pack up their most important possessions and escape the cave. The tac team finds the cave soon after.
The forest is swarming with operatives with orders to kill Erik on sight and but to take Hanna alive. Wiegler is watching from her office in France. Erik and Hanna take down one operative, and Erik takes his gun, but Hanna says that she can feel that they’re surrounded by many more. Within moments the soldier’s superior is trying to raise him on the radio.
Knowing that they’re about to be caught, Erik and Hanna decide to split up so they’ll be harder to catch. He goes over their plans with her: If they can’t find each other, Hanna will send a postcard to Peter Olsen at the address he gave her. Then she’ll go to Berlin. 224 Heine Strasse. She’ll go there everyday at noon. If anyone asks where she lives, she’s supposed to say that she lives in Amsterdam, Holland and she goes to the Klaus Kohle Gymnasium. It’s a very good school. She also has a dog named Bruno. And Marissa Wiegler can’t be trusted. She lies.
They hug, then Erik tells her to get moving. He runs in the opposite direction. She picks up the soldier’s radio and runs. A soldier sees Erik and gets him in his sights. He’s given the command to take the kill shot. Hanna realizes what’s about to happen and whispers, “Help me,” into the radio. The soldiers figure out where the radio is and use the signal to find her. She’s huddled under a tree, and tells them that her daddy left her. He told her she was too slow. She’s distracted them from Erik, and he gets away.
Wiegler watches helmet cam footage of the interaction. She asks if Camp G is still open. Meisner tells her that it’s unofficially open, She wants Hanna taken there as a terror suspect. But officially, Hanna doesn’t exist. She orders them to monitor the Polish borders for Heller, and to continue the shoot on sight policy.
Hanna is taken to one of the helicopters. Erik sees her leaving and is at a loss. As the helicopter takes off, Hannah sees beyond the forest for the first time. The sun is rising.
Amazon may re-edit the pilot when they release the rest of the season in March, in which case I’ll rework this recap to fit the new version.
Hanna has some kind of enhancements. Her hearing is better, she’s strong, she has amazing endurance. She’s not at a superhero level, but she’s at the peak of human performance or something like that. Is she genetically enhanced, and was her mother genetically enhanced, or was there a serum in the IV Erik had to remove before he took her from the hospital?
If Erik has an ID for the hospital/lab, that means it’s very likely that he worked there. What did he do there? Is that how he met Hanna’s mother? Is Hanna his biological daughter? Is he enhanced as well? Was Johanna?
The three great American films are odd movies for anyone to pick in 2018, but especially a 15 year old girl. I could see a movie buff including one on the list if they were into that genre, but there ought to be something from the 80s or 90s on the list, if Dad’s trying to get her to blend in.
There’s obviously some kind of past between Erik and Wiegler, but what is it? Were they work partners? Lovers? Are they siblings? Did he kill someone she was close to, or vice versa? Did he start out as just another case, but now he’s ‘the one who got away’? She’s so much of a Javert, pretending this isn’t of personal importance to her when it is, that it could be he made everyone question her sense of duty and honor, and she can’t forgive that.
After 15 years of paranoia, shouldn’t Erik and Hanna have packed up and left the cave after she almost got arrested at the satellite, and the kid she’d been with was arrested? He knew Wiegler would never stop looking for him, and she didn’t. So why didn’t they leave? Was he too comfortable and settled in there?
ETA: After giving it more thought, I think Hanna’s first period is supposed to signal the end of her childhood, innocence, and easy compliance with Erik’s decisions. The story is leaning heavily on European fairy tale tropes, especially the types told by the Brothers Grimm, that take place in the scary forest and rely on hunting, blood and striking color contrasts: Rose Red, Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, Big Bad Wolves, huntsmen all over the place, bright red apples, drops of blood, wicked witches and step mothers.
Hanna hunted and shot the deer in an earlier scene, causing it to bleed bright red blood on the snow. That was the foreshadowing that Hanna would soon also be hunted, but next she took down Erik, so, if she concentrates, she can take down the evil queen.
She has Snow White’s coloring, with black hair, very fair skin and red lips, now with the addition of her own red blood. She is the fairy tale princess, and her journey toward adulthood is beginning. For a while, her loving father/ the huntsman won’t be able to protect her from the wicked witch/evil queen/ stepmother. She’ll need to protect herself, and find allies in the urban forest- her version of woodland animals, dwarves, charming princes and other kind strangers. She’ll also need to watch out for the traps set by the evil queen and her henchmen, who can be magicked into appearing to be friends.
Katniss, Cosette, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Red Riding Hood- the common thread is that they all went through a period of isolation, when they were in hiding, with only a few souls for mentoring and company. Eventually they emerged from their isolation stronger and wiser than before, ready to take on adult challenges.
The men who wrote the stories (or wrote them down) generally either didn’t write the rest of the woman’s story, or discounted its importance by merely acknowledging that they either got married or didn’t, had children or didn’t, had a vocation or didn’t. In fairy tales, once those choices are made, we rarely hear about an adult woman’s life and adventures, other than as the weak/dead mother, the evil mother changeling, or as the wife of the protagonist and real star of the story.
What direction will this story take? Will Hanna be a whole person, rather than a coming of age fairy tale trope? She’s had a long period of mentoring and isolation. She’s no longer a child. Will she stick to Erik’s instructions, will she wander off the path and into the urban forest, or will she find a partner/prince to help her?
Images courtesy of Amazon.