Netflix’s first ever Saudi Arabian original series, Whispers, is a circular psychological thriller with a refreshing focus on women.
This review of Whispers (Netflix) is spoiler-free.
Whispers has a point to prove – several, as a matter of fact – as the first-ever Saudi Arabian Netflix original series. It has to tell an interesting story; as an eight-part psychological thriller approaching death and its fallout from several different perspectives, it has that covered. But it also has to represent Saudi Arabia, since eyes on this global release, which will be available in 190 countries and 30 different languages, are looking right at a little-represented and largely misunderstood nation. It’s there, I think, that Saudi Arabian writer and director Hana Alomair does some of her best work, by depicting contemporary creative female characters that reliably buck some of the more regressive stereotypes often associated with Saudi culture. If Whispers attracts a large audience, which it might, then it’ll be shining a positive light on the Kingdom and its media landscape.
But about that story. It’s about the death of family patriarch Hassan in an accident right before the launch of his company’s new app, and each episode chronicles the events leading up to and unfolding from it from the perspective of different family members and friends. It’s a circular structure that relies on revisiting the same events and seeing a slightly different interpretation of them each time; Whispers, as a title, evokes that sense of a story becoming gradually distorted by each retelling.
It isn’t just the events, though, but the characters that’re under scrutiny, with personal circumstances and perspectives filtering the reality. The show’s about truth just as much as it’s about how there is no truth, not really, just varied interpretations born of unique psyches, fears, beliefs, and values. While the balance between forward momentum and reinterpretation isn’t always held perfectly, Whispers nevertheless does a good job of building a broader picture by rotating the same pieces into ever-so-slightly different compositions.
While Whispers is self-contained, there’s potential in the format and the characters, if not necessarily the narrative itself, to be fleshed out in a follow-up that can retain the same essential themes and structure but perhaps rely on a different catalyst. More importantly, though, this positive, contemporary vision of Saudi people and culture is valuable. I’d like to see more of it, and I imagine many others would too.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.