Netflix's 'Emily in Paris' Explores Darkness Behind The City Of Lights
The realistic look at an ex-pat's Paris life has surprised critics, shocked viewers, and earned an Emmy nomination.
Netflix’s series “Emily in Paris” tells the story of a young marketing executive who lands her dream job in Paris. What appears at first glance to be a cliché-riddled story by the creator of “Sex in the City” instead takes a dark turn as Emily’s romantic notions of Paris confront the harsh reality of life in this nation’s capital. Not surprisingly, the series has earned a richly-deserved Emmy nomination.
For those just catching up, here is an episode-by-episode summary of EIP’s stellar first season:
Pilot: Emily, topped by one of the 30 bérets she purchased in advance, arrives in Paris brimming with optimism and ready to embrace the French joie de vivre. She hops into a taxi at Charles De Gaulle Airport excited for her first glimpse of France’s landscape but is puzzled to see fields of scrub brush followed by a series of industrial sites and the tall cinderblock towers as they near the city. None of this looks like those Instagrams of the Louvre! She makes a mental note of the Ikea they pass as the taxi slows in a traffic jam. As the 45-minute ride stretches to 2.5 hours, Emily falls into an uncomfortable, sweaty sleep.
Episode 1: Emily has her appointment at the Prefecture to apply for her titre de sejour, the critical residency card. She takes a number at the entrance and then waits nervously for 3 hours as she attempts to rehearse her answers in French. Finally, her number is called, and she walks to the assigned desk where she hands her dossier to the woman sitting there. Emily begins babbling about her documents and the woman stares coldly back at her and says, “Bonjour.” Confused, Emily sits silently for a few seconds, and the woman repeats, “Bonjour.” Finally, Emily responds with a meek, “Bonjour?” and then the woman begins rifling through her documents. Immediately, the middle-aged bureaucrat starts shaking her head and mumbling, oh la las under her breath. She then admonishes Emily because the documents are not in the right order and, worse, she filled out the application with a blue pen and not a black one. She hands the dossier back to Emily and tells her she will have to redo it all correctly and come back another time. Emily’s bottom lip quivers.
Episode 2: Emily begins hunting for an apartment but is shocked at the rents. As she begins to make inquiries, landlords inform her that the rent can’t be more than one-third of her take-home pay after taxes. She looks at her job contract and her shoulders slump as tries to calculate the huge take-home pay differences between France and the U.S. After initially looking for apartments in the posh 7th arrondissement, Emily extends her search further and further until finally settling for one in the remote 19th arrondissement, a studio on the 7th floor in a drab concrete building with no elevator or air conditioning. As is standard in France, the apartment doesn’t come with any appliances, so Emily will need to buy a refrigerator, dishwasher, and washing machine. As is also typical, the previous tenant took all the light fixtures, so the apartment is a mess of lightbulbs dangling from the end of wires. Emily drops her bag and stares out her only window overlooking the ring road below now clogged with cars. She listens at night as local residents bang pots and pans outside their windows in an effort to drive away the crack dealers.
Episode 3: First day of work! Emily is determined to make a new start! She walks to the nearest Metro stop and down the stairs, only to discover that this station doesn’t sell any tickets. Confused, she climbs back up to the street and walks 10 minutes to the next station where she finds a machine that sells tickets (hooray!). She enters through the gates and then follows a confusing array of signs for 15 minutes before finding the right track. She Googles the route again and discovers that it’s about 45 minutes to her office across the city, with one change. With her eyes wide, she shows the phone to someone standing next to her and asks, “Can that be right?” The person nods, shrugs, and says cryptically: “Métro, boulot, dodo.” Emily arrives at the Châtelet-Les Halles stop to change trains, but 30 minutes later is still wandering up and down the stairs trying to find the right track. Emily reaches into her pocket for her iPhone to call work, but it’s gone! Oh no, pickpockets on the Metro! She tries to follow the different colored footprints painted on the ground to help travelers find their way, but after going up and down 4 or 5 flights of stairs several times, she instead stumbles into a giant mall where she sits on the ground and begins to weep.
Episode 4: Having finally escaped the dungeons of the Metro, Emily decides she will walk to work. Without Google Maps to guide her, she manages to find the banks of the Seine River! Finally, the Seine, the romance of Paris! Emily heads west and passes the Louvre Museum, whose exterior is covered with scaffolding for a renovation project. Ads for an Apple iPhone are plastered over the scaffolding, hiding the outside of the building. Looking toward the river, Emily is transfixed by a work crew fishing electric scooters and bikes out of the water. She then notices a grey sludge drifting on the brown, murky water, a mix of cement and sewage dumped into the Seine earlier this week by a factory. Distracted, Emily fails to notice one of the city’s ubiquitous piles of dog poop. She slips on the poop and lands face first in a pile of cigarette butts. The impact sends her favorite red béret flying from her head and into the Seine. Just as she’s trying to get up, a tourist riding an electric scooter on the sidewalk rushes by and crushes her hand. A police officer who saw the whole thing comes running over and, pointing to her béret, hands Emily a ticket for littering.
Episode 5: Work, finally! Emily arrives at her office, 5 hours late for her first day. The secretary at the reception desk looks her up and down with understated judgment, arching an eyebrow, and then pages her boss. Shaking, Emily recounts her ordeal in traversing the city. Her boss listens and then explains it is all Emily’s fault for not knowing how all of this worked in advance. After cleaning herself off in the bathroom, several new coworkers invite her to lunch, and Emily senses a turning point as visions of a chic Paris café roll into her head. She is taken aback when the pack of coworkers instead leads her into a McDonald’s. She had no idea France is one of the fastest-growing markets for McDo, as it’s called, and that hamburgers are insanely popular. “It’s cool, no?” says one of her coworkers. “No,” thinks Emily, as she resentfully orders Le Menu Happy Meal.
Episode 6: It’s Saturday! Emily has survived her first week in Paris and decides to shake off her mounting sense of gloom by exploring her dream city on foot. Alas, it is raining…again! It has rained for the past 4 days. Nobody had told her that Paris has about as many days of rain as Seattle. She grits her teeth as a whipping wind bends her umbrella upwards and then out of her hands. Soaked, she stops at a shop to buy another, but the winds quickly pull it away again. She recalls Luke Wilson’s character in “Midnight in Paris” saying: “Can you picture how drop-dead gorgeous this city is in the rain?” Emily makes a mental note to one day find Wilson and punch him in the throat. Trying to get back to the Metro, Emily turns a corner and runs directly into Yellow Vest protestors who are facing off against the police. Several tear gas canisters explode and Emily’s eyes are burning and her throat is on fire. She takes refuge in the only nearby store that hasn’t barricaded its doors: A Burger King.
Episode 7: Curfew! The second wave of coronavirus has exploded in France and Paris has been hit especially hard. President Macron has ordered everyone to return to their homes by 9 p.m. The handful of people Emily had met in Paris have all fled to the countryside. Emily’s internet hasn’t been turned on because the telecom company had told her it would take three weeks for a technician to come. Stuck at home, with no appliances, Emily sits brooding on the floor and begins to reflect upon her life choices.