What would it take for you to rethink everything about your life? To look back over everything you’d accomplished so far and throw it all away and try for something new? For six Russian members of a construction firm’s legal department, all it takes to upend their lives is a news report about a plane crash.
The twist is, the six were supposed to have been on that plane. They got their flight mixed up, went to the wrong Moscow airport, and while they were waiting to see if they could get new tickets, a news report told them they cheated death. Their relief is short-lived: if they had died that day, what would they have achieved with their lives?
Once they’ve started down that path, it doesn’t take long for their view on life to shift. What’s the point of having cheated death if they’re simply going to go on doing the same-old same-old as completely forgettable office workers? Think of it like a Final Destination movie, only instead of now being haunted by the grim reaper, they’re haunted by the lives they haven’t lived, the dreams they let die.
Good for them; it’s never too late to make a fresh start. Unfortunately for their fresh start, there’s also the matter of a dead policeman. In fact, the dead policeman – shot while fleeing an abandoned building – is how this series starts, just to make it perfectly clear that there’s going to be a long and bumpy road across the next eight episodes before anyone gets to feel good about themselves.
What sets Six Empty Seats apart from the typical “let’s start over” drama is that the six characters decide to shake things up by throwing caution to the wind. For them a new start is all about tearing things down and realising that what really matters is change itself. As one character says, “let chaos into your life, and maybe you can finally… be free”. Which isn’t great news for those who’ve been relying on them.
The first survivor to embrace chaos is Ira (Oksana Akinshina), who we meet as she’s telling her story into a dictaphone. Initially the life she’s describing seems, if not perfect, then perfectly average: she’s 31, married, has a daughter and a decent (if nothing special) living as a lawyer. Then she snaps: “God, who am I?” she asks.
It doesn’t take long to see why she’d want to shake her life up. A seemingly perfect birthday dinner for her husband complete with mutual proclamations of undying love is interrupted by a phone call: “Hi, my name is Masha, I’m your husband’s intern, and I’ve been sleeping with him for six months”. In case you didn’t think it could get any worse, Ira’s defeated reply – “I know” – seals the deal.
Dodging death from a plane crash was just the push she needed; over the rest of the first episode we see just how far she’s willing to go. Trashing her sham marriage, drinking around the office, saying yes to an affair, taking up smoking again, putting a gun to her head; nothing is off limits.
Over the course of the series each survivor – Dmitriy (Nikita Efremov), Zhabenko (Mikhail Efremov), Katya (Evgeniya Dobrovolskaya), Kotyonok (Yulia Khlynina) and Ilyusha (Pavel Tabakov) – will get their own episode to air their dirty laundry. Some of them prove to be merely haunted by past mistakes, while others have taken a much darker path.
Zhabenko is the office drunk who sexually harasses every woman in his path and opens his confession with “Hello there… arseholes”; others are in thrall to domineering parents, lusting after co-workers, driven by rages they can barely control or haunted by drunken accidents. A well-adjusted group they’re not, and their decisions post-crash usually just end up pouring more fuel on an already smouldering fire.
If you’re thinking six main characters talking about their pasts doesn’t add up to an eight episode series, that’s where the dead policeman comes in. At the end of the first episode it’s revealed that all six survivors – some of them now beaten up, all splattered with blood – are huddled around a fire in an abandoned building. Is one of them now a killer? Are they all responsible? Ira passes the dictaphone she’s been using along to another character, who starts the next episode telling his story.
Eventually they’re going to run out of past to talk about. All that’s left to face is the future – and that’s starting to look a lot like a trap.
Six Empty Seats is now streaming at SBS On Demand.
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It's 2021 Emmy Awards season and we're back with another bonus episode, interviewing some of The Handmaid's Tale's incredible nominees. Today we invite Mckenna Grace into the Zoom room, or you may know her best as Mrs Esther Keyes. At 15, McKenna is the youngest nominee for Outstanding Guest Actress In A Drama Series. Mckenna talks of the sense of responsibility she feels to do justice to Esther's story; how she shot the salvaging scene in episode 401 'Pigs'; what the future holds for Esther and Janine; and her biggest fear during the season 4 COVID-19 shutdown: a growth spurt. We also talk about her upcoming star turn in the much-postponed 'Ghostbusters: Afterlife'. You can rewatch the box set of The Handmaid's Tale season 4 at SBS On Demand. Stay in touch on Twitter at #EyesOnGilead (Find us at: @anythingbutfifi / @NatalieHambly / @HaideeIreland / @Sana_Qadar)