Shantaram recap: An impostor doctor smiles while slumming it

An impostor doctor smiles while slumming it in Shantaram [Apple TV+ recap]

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Shantaram recap: Sometimes, a bad boy with a goofy grin is all you need.★★★☆☆
Shantaram recap: Sometimes, a good-natured bad boy with a goofy grin is all you need.
Photo: Apple TV+

TV+ ReviewOn this week’s installment of the Apple TV+ limited series Shantaram, Lin must take stock of where he is, what good fortune means and whether it’s his to truly celebrate.

The people of Bombay are getting used to the impostor doctor, but at every turn, Lin faces potential threats to his freedom and his place among his newfound community of outsiders. It’s a typically engaging outing of the Charlie Hunnam drama.

Shantaram recap: ‘The Sin in the Crime’

Season 1, episode 5: In this week’s episode, titled “The Sin in the Crime,” the recovery of Lisa Carter (played by Elektra Kilbey) continues very slowly. Modena (Elham Ehsas) keeps needing to make a scene to get people to treat her with more respect after so many years as a very public sex worker and drug addict/dealer.

When she runs into Lin (Charlie Hunnam) and thanks him for his rescue operation a few episodes back, he almost doesn’t recognize her. She’s just that much more full of life.

Neither Modena, nor his fellow pusher Maurizio (Luke Pasqualino), are all that happy to see Lin return, however. They’d prefer he keep to the slums, because everybody represents competition in the city. Maurizio doesn’t like Lin’s altruism; he knows it does make him a better person than a crook like himself. Modena doesn’t like that Lin spent a night with a drugged-up Lisa before she got clean. If Lin pushes either of them too far, they might push back.

An impostor doctor finds his place in the community

After a night of partying in the city, Lin wakes up back in the slum with a hangover to a crowd of his neighbors, led by Prabhu (Shubham Saraf), giving him his share of the community rations. It’s their way of finally welcoming him. Even more benevolent is when Abdullah (Fayssal Bazzi) shows up to thank Lin for saving his life with the gift of a brand-new motorcycle.

Lin doesn’t want to take it, but he notices Ravi (Matthew Joseph) looking at it and accepts it to impress the kid, whose forgiveness Lin still craves. There’s trouble a-brewing though. Naturally, right as he’s finding himself, local would-be journalist Kavita (Sujaya Dasgupta) decides now’s the perfect time to do a story on the outsider doctor who works for food in the slums.

It would be a shame if a picture of the fugitive wound up on the front page of some newspaper. Lin finds her taking pictures and steals the film out of her camera, which naturally pisses her off. He doesn’t tell her why he did it.

A growing web of connections

Shantaram recap: Getting in bed with a crime boss like Khader Khan (played by Alexander Siddig) never ends well.
Getting in bed with a crime boss like Khader Khan (played by Alexander Siddig) never ends well.
Photo: Apple TV+

Even worse, word is getting out that Lin is Khader Khan’s (Alexander Siddig) pet doctor. Seems like everybody’s trying to use Lin now. Karla Saaranen (Antonia Desplat) and Khader Khan make a visit to Walid Shah (Mel Odedra) and Minister Pandey (Alvin Maharaj) at a party to warn him against his monopoly — to say basically “stay out of our way or war is coming.”

Khan sees that Karla’s worrying about Lin getting caught in the crossfire of what happens next. As Lin confides in Abdullah, they seem to be close but far away at all times. Shortly after their heart-to-heart, Abdullah and Lin run into Rafiq (Rahel Romahn), the man who tried to kill them last week. Lin tries to make nice but Rafiq rebuffs him. He leaves in a hurry and Abdullah stays, leaving open the possibility of a rematch. Lin doesn’t like that at all.

The people in the slum have started to notice Lin’s ties to Khan, and warn him against doing too much on their behalf while in bed with the mob. He goes to Khan and pays him back for the medicine and help he’s given him, hoping to get out from under the boss with no fuss.

Khan says he’s happy to let Lin live however he wants to, but we all know we haven’t seen the end of this little arrangement. Lin goes to Karla’s place afterward to celebrate his new freedom (and finally confide in her that he’s a wanted criminal). They start kissing but she puts a stop to it, giving a vague reason for not being able to, though clearly wanting to take things further.

A less-than-satisfying romantic subplot

I don’t know why, exactly, but the romantic subplot is the least interesting stuff in Shantaram. Maybe it’s because Antonia Desplat isn’t the most exciting performer of this type of material. Or maybe it’s because together, she and Hunnam seem so deliberately low-energy. (This week when they meet up, they literally get high and lounge around on couches like cats.)

I just don’t really care if Karla and Lin end up together, especially because I don’t find Karla all that interesting as a character. She’s conflicted about stuff (Khan hints at a dark past and she confesses some of that to Lin after he says he’s on the lam) but it just doesn’t really matter. Our only connection to her is that she wants to be with Lin but can’t for … reasons. And that she knows Khan. But neither of those characters’ actual roles in the drama are impacted by their knowledge of the model-pretty woman acting as a go-between for them and other local political interests.

The romantic stuff also can’t help but pale when the showrunners set up that Lin’s job is literally saving the lives of poor people in his adopted home. A damp romance kind of can’t get a head of steam going when we’d rather watch Lin saving lives or navigating the underworld. And the low-energy execution of the former doesn’t help matters.

… but Charlie Hunnam’s goofy grin saves the day

But beyond that, Shantaram does tend to work, because of (and sometimes despite) the goofy energy Hunnam brings to the lead role. He’s just watchable here — I can’t explain it.

Maybe it’s because the role of Lin lacks the self-seriousness and swagger of Hunnam’s best-known roles. Or maybe it’s because there’s something kind of funny about watching a guy who’s supposed to be a hardened criminal turn into a living saint just by smiling his way through tense situations.

It helps that everyone else in the Shantaram cast is good, too. But without a good anchor, the show would have foundered. And while it’s maybe not the best thing on Apple TV+, it hasn’t done that.

★★★☆☆

Watch Shantaram on Apple TV+

New episodes of Shantaram arrive on Apple TV+ every Friday.

Rated: TV-MA

Watch on: Apple TV+

Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.