But at the same time, Winger and Handler (following the template laid out in Julie Orringer’s novel The Flight Portfolio, from which this is a loose adaptation) struggle to balance that tone with the innate seriousness of the proceedings, and its seven short episodes occasionally spread themselves too thin. In addition to Fry and Gold’s broader efforts, we must also zero in on their personal struggles—Fry’s secret love affair with fellow volunteer Thomas (Amit Rahav), Gold’s negotiations with blinkered American Consul Graham Patterson (Corey Stoll, delightfully droll), and so on. On top of that, many freedom fighters are taking more direct, violent action to contrast with the ERC’s more humanitarian efforts, including African immigrants (like Ralph Amoussou’s bellboy Paul Kandjo) looking to defend themselves from another, the more potent flavor of subjugation. Add to that Patterson’s own politicking with French police lieutenants and the push and pull between passive and active resistance among a host of other characters, and “Transatlantic” finds itself with little room to flesh all these threads out as complexly as it should.
Such hastily-juggled storylines and tones make the whole thing feel incomplete, especially considering the deliberately meandering pace the seven episodes go for. Sure, it’s fun to watch Mary Jayne bedazzle unsuspecting marks with her classical good looks and her disarming little pooch Dagobert, or Walter Mehring drunkenly improvise a satirical song ragging on Hitler while jumping from hotel bed to hotel bed. But these moments often undercut the broader air of menace that hangs over the characters, especially when it begins costing lives. One episode centers almost entirely around a droll, surrealistic birthday party for painter Max Ernst, which is diverting enough before you realize these people should be fearing for their lives.
Then again, that’s the bittersweet appeal of “Transatlantic,” a show about people desperately clinging to some sense of normalcy in a world slowly trying to eliminate them. Villa Air-Bel becomes a liminal space between imprisonment and freedom, the rare place these abject artists, Jews, and homosexuals can truly be themselves. They rage against the dying of the light, partying their hearts out because, at some point, jackboots will come marching down their street. With the threat of Nazi extermination so close behind you, do you focus all your energies on survival? Or do you try to make what could be your remaining days as full of love and life as possible? “I thought that we would live here forever,” Fry sighs to Thomas of the villa late in the series. Thomas’ response? “For a moment, so did I.”