For reasons that are not quite discernible, Amazon Prime Video put a lot of weight behind the new series Hanna. The show was promoted during the Super Bowl and the first episode made available for the following 24 hours. As soon as the series began streaming last Friday, its promotion was inescapable on social media. Amazon has loads of money to toss around on projects and promotion, but why was this drama given so much attention?
Hanna is very entertaining, lavishly made and ridiculously uneven. It stands as an example of the wobbly quality of so many expensively made series on streaming services. It is not, mind you, devoid of value. It’s the kind of high-end trashy TV storytelling that often contains surprising depths.
So, let’s try to discern its importance for Amazon. Principally, one suspects, it’s about the lure of its title character, an unknowable but kickass teenage girl. Hanna (Esme Creed-Miles) is an avenger – tougher than all the rest, and at the same time is a wide-eyed innocent, looking with wonderment through unblinking eyes at the contemporary world so familiar to all of us, old or young. There’s a touch of Orphan Black simmering in the series, plus a touch of La femme Nikita and a dash of Alias seeps into it. But unlike those other fictions, the central charter of Hanna is emphatically a teenage girl. What you’ve got is innocent-but-badass teenage girl as empowerment icon.
Adapted from the cult-favourite movie of the same title – which I haven’t seen, like most viewers of this series – it reunites Joel Kinnaman and Mireille Enos, who had such powerful chemistry in the AMC version of The Killing. On that, they were partners, and here they are sworn enemies. Kinnaman plays Erik Heller, a CIA agent of some type who, in the early going, rescues a baby from a dubious-looking hospital and runs away with her. First, the woman who might be the baby’s mother is shot. Next, Erik is raising the baby, Hanna, in the remote woods somewhere in Eastern Europe. He raises and trains her to survive danger and to kill. The reason, he tells her, is that a certain woman killed her mother and is, inevitably, going to come looking for her. That’s the rogue and ruthless CIA agent Marissa Wiegler (Enos).
One thing leads to another in the woods. And the thing that leads to everything is Hanna meeting a boy her own age and, thus, all manner of feelings and curiosities are released. Next thing, she’s hunted and captured but escapes, and then she and her dad, separately and together, play a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with Wiegler.
What separates the story from an all-action thriller about a teen assassin is Hanna’s encounter with the typically rebellious, endlessly peeved teenager Sophie (Rhianne Barreto), who is on holidays with her family and bored out of her mind. The scenes in which Hanna learns awkwardly to be a normal teen, with Sophie’s support, are both hilarious and touching.
The thing is, those scenes might as well be in a different series. This is where Hanna wobbles terribly as a narrative. There’s a sophisticated, rueful quality to the coming-of-age material and then, soon after, the action sequences are all cliché and stereotypical. A vast amount of money was spent on making the show and that’s obvious in one visually stunning scene after another. Not enough effort was put into streamlining the narrative into a potent whole of storytelling.
Yet, that’s not what matters about Hanna. Amazon Prime Video is promoting it like mad because Hanna, the character, is less a fictional person to compel viewers than she is a transcendent image that is meant to be empowering. (There’s an interesting coincidence going on right now, by the way: Creed-Miles, who plays Hannah, is the daughter of Samantha Morton, who is currently playing Alpha, the most ferocious female avenger on The Walking Dead.) As such, Hanna has huge potential as an audience-draw. What it doesn’t have yet is coherence and that may come because Amazon sees Hanna both as character and as commodity. That’s very discernible.