Hanna: Season One

Hanna
"You're unique. That's why we want to look after you."
"'Unique' just means 'alone.'"

In the late winter of 2019, a young Polish lumberjack named Arvo was cutting trees in Romania's Bukovina Forest when he encountered a teenage girl, dressed in grimy clothes, who seemed surprised to find him there and unsure of how to hold a conversation. She never told him her name, but she said she lived in the forest with her father. When she reappeared the next day, less wary and more curious, he took her for a ride on his ATV. He was hoping that the evening would turn into an extended make-out session, but they were interrupted by a squad of military police. The girl darted off into the forest, and Arvo was questioned extensively by stern-faced Americans, who seemed to be very interested in finding this strange young girl.

**Some spoilers ahead**

Hanna is an Amazon Prime series created by David Farr, an expansion of the story told in his script for the 2011 action movie of the same name. The title character, played by Esme Creed-Miles, is truly unique. She is faster and stronger than the average petite sixteen year old girl, with quicker reflexes and keener senses, and much better situational awareness than even trained combat professionals. A formidable combatant herself, she can sneak up on you from behind and break you in half with her bare hands before you even realize she's there, or send you to meet your maker from fifty yards away shooting a Browning Hi-Power one-handed. And if her physical abilities alone did not set her apart, her life story surely would.

Hanna was born in 2003 at UTRAX, a secret high-security orphanage in Darabani, Romania run by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. When she was just a few months old, CIA operative Erik Keller (Joel Kinneman) stole her from UTRAX and reunited her with her birth mother Johanna (Joanna Kulig). A team of soldiers directed by Marissa Wiegler (Mirelle Einos), Erik's superior and the person in charge of the UTRAX facility, chased after them.  Johanna was killed, but Erik evaded capture and disappeared into the Bukovina Forest with baby Hanna.

Fast forward fifteen years: Erik and now-teenaged Hanna are living off the grid in the forest. Erik has been training her obsessively in combat and fieldcraft skills, espionage tradecraft, and multiple languages, and has her memorize geographic facts and (slightly outdated) pop culture trivia. In all this time, she has never spoken to anyone but Erik, and Erik does not allow her to go farther than shouting distance from the cave where they live or have contact with anyone else.
Erik: "Human beings are . . ."
Hanna: "Dangerous and not to be trusted."
Erik: "If you see one?"
Hanna: "Come and find you."
Erik: "If there's no time?"
Hanna: "Hide. If I can't hide, attack."
After a curious and slightly rebellious Hanna ventures beyond the established boundaries and meets Arvo the lumberjack, Marissa Wiegler sends in a platoon of airmobile infantry with orders to kill Erik and capture Hanna.  Erik escapes, but Hanna is scooped up and taken to a CIA facility in Morocco.

Hanna puts her training to use in busting out of the CIA facility in a sequence that out-Wicks John Wick by a country mile. We learn in the process that her enhanced physical abilities are the result of diabolical avant-garde experiments performed at UTRAX.

Sophie meets Hanna
In the middle of the desert, she comes across a flighty British teenager named Sophie (Rhianne Barreto). Sophie and her moderately dysfunctional family are in the middle of National Lampoon's North African Camping Trip From Hell, and she stomped off in a fit of pique after one of their many arguments, only to get lost. After Hanna saves her from almost certain dehydration and heatstroke, the family gives Hanna a lift through Spain to France. This leads to some delightful scenes of Hanna learning conversational etiquette on the fly and scrambling to maintain her memorized cover story when Sophie's mother makes small talk, and to Hanna's first experiences with makeup, dubstep, and underage drinking.

In the meantime, Marissa is in full bureaucratic self-preservation mode, trying to eliminate Erik and make Hanna disappear before her superiors get too interested in the loose end she left hanging all those years before. Hanna slips away from the off-book muscle Marissa sends after her and sets out for a prearranged rendezvous with Erik in Berlin. Erik is teaming up with some old army buddies from his days in the Kosovo peacekeeping mission with the objective of killing Marissa.

Marissa, of course, is still chasing Hanna and Erik, but she needs to watch her own back because the CIA has sent a rival agent, the ruthless Jerome Sawyer (Khalid Abdelia), to "clean up" after Marissa. As that conflict unfolds, Marissa finds herself compelled to become Hanna's protector in order to atone for "dark things" she did in the past; in particular, killing the remaining babies at UTRAX by lethal injection on orders from above.

Erik and Hanna enjoying some father-daughter time.
What follows is a well-plotted three-dimensional espionage chess match, with plenty of twists and turns, in which Hanna tries to figure out who she can trust and, more importantly, who she really is and where she belongs in the world. In the course of all this, Erik discovers that the CIA has rebooted UTRAX, and is engineering and psychologically conditioning a new cohort of genetically-enhanced children. Erik resolves to take down UTRAX 2.0, even at the cost of his own life, after he finds Hanna a safe hiding place--but Hanna is not in the mood for hiding.

It's rare that the success or failure of a film or series can be said to rest entirely on one person, but Hanna is just such a case. The premise is intriguing, the production values are first class, the action sequences are thrilling without going over the top, the quieter dramatic sequences are beautifully directed--but all that would be for naught if your willing suspension of disbelief foundered on the character of Hanna. At the start of the story, she has only ever lived in a cave in the wilderness, and only ever interacted with one other human being. Everything she sees or does outside of the forest is a completely new experience for her. Making a character like that believable is a tall order, but Esme Creed-Miles absolutely nails it.

Episode List:

1.1 "Forest"
1.2 "Friend"
1.3 "City"
1.4 "Father"
1.5 "Town"
1.6 "Mother"
1.7 "Road"
1.8 "Utrax"

Quotes:

Sophie: "Okay, you have to tell me what's going on. Have you been human trafficked?... Oh. Did you run away from home?... Was it a boy?"
Hanna: "Maybe."
Sophie: "My God! I knew it! Um... that's really cool. I won't tell anyone. It'll be our secret."

Hanna: "He smells of fear. Like a fox that knows it's dying."

Erik: "I'm trying to give you a normal life."
Hanna: "But I'm not normal, am I?"

Sawyer: "It's not a question of sin. I obey orders."
Marissa: "Holy mantra of military command."
Sawyer: "Obedience is not a mantra, it's a duty. One you failed."
Marissa: "I put dead babies in a furnace for you."
Sawyer: "But you couldn't kill the girl, could you?"

Also lurking in the forest:

Some of Esme Creed-Miles' best acting comes in the scenes where Hanna gets glimpses of normal life: staying in an apartment with one of Erik's army buddies and his wife and two children, going to an underage binge-drinking party with Sophie. She's simultaneously curious and wary, but mostly sad because she feels so out of place.

There are a lot of little details in the script that also help sell the character. Hanna refers to the helicopters as "machines" because she's never seen one before and doesn't know what they're called. She seems to have no concept of money or how it works. She doesn't know what a text message is, probably because Erik doesn't know either – he dropped off the grid in 2003, when smartphones with messaging capability were still something of a novelty. She describes Morocco as "somewhere hot, lots of sand" because the word "desert" isn't in her vocabulary. Because she doesn't yet understand the concept of filmed entertainment, she's terrified by a schlocky zombie movie that Sophie's friends are watching and laughing at. There's an especially amusing moment when she tries to get Cocoa Puffs out of the dispenser in a hotel breakfast bar without knowing how cereal dispensers work.

Hanna has hair-trigger combat reflexes. Just ask the kid who threw popcorn at her and ended up with a bloody nose.

Marissa's home situation is strained because her live-in boyfriend's young son doesn't like her, and the boyfriend resents the secrecy that her job demands.

The sad little acoustic tune that anchors the soundtrack is "Anti-Lullaby" by Karen O.

Fans of The Killing will enjoy seeing Joel Kinneman and Mirelle Einos together again.

Conclusion:

Hanna initially looked interesting to me because of its "grounded science fiction" premise, but it was Esme Creed-Miles' magnificent acting that really sold me on the series. Four out of four secret high-security orphanages.

2 comments:

TJ said...

Fantastic review Baby M!

I just binged this series a couple of weeks ago (and season 2!). I really really liked it.

Anonymous said...

Agreed, season 2 is great also. lots more world building going on...