In her stunning and unsettling Prime Video limited series “Expats,” creator-writer-director LuLu Wang turns her lens on three American women living in Hong Kong whose lives are transformed into something so warped and raw that they are no longer able to cover the imperfections. As in her acclaimed 2019 feature film, “The Farewell,” Wang explores grief and pain in “Expats,” which is based on the novel “The Expatriates” by Janice Y.K. Lee. However, this series, the director’s first major project since she won the Indie Spirit Award for “The Farewell,” has none of that film’s delightful melancholy. Where “The Farewell” lent humor to its central character’s approach to life, “Expats” poignantly, sorrowfully examines the circumstances under which a person deserves compassion and forgiveness.

The story is told in a haunting slow burn over the course of a year. The first two episodes allow the audience to learn about these women intimately. Margaret (an astounding Nicole Kidman) doesn’t recognize herself. Moving from New York City to Hong Kong’s affluent Mid-Levels area with her husband, Clarke (Brian Tee), and their three children has transformed her into someone she can’t quite connect with. The move has slammed the door on her career as a landscape architect, leaving her longing for something more. She spends her days hovering over her children and trying to rein in the envy she feels toward her live-in helper, Essie (Ruby Ruiz), a middle-aged Filipina who acts as nanny and housekeeper. However, after a terrible accident alters the family forever, Margaret gives up all pretense of put-togetherness, let alone perfection. Instead, she clings to her heartache, which finds outlet in outbursts, long baths and fantasies of escaping her reality.

While Margaret is publicly crumbling, Hilary (Sarayu Blue), her friend and neighbor, works desperately to keep the fragments of her marriage in order. No-nonsense and career-oriented, Hilary and her husband, David (Jack Huston), live a child-free, polished existence, kept perfectly maintained by their helper, Puri (Amelyn Pardenilla). At least, that’s how it appears from the outside (of their floor-to-ceiling windows) looking in. A master of concealment (a skill she’s learned from her mother), Hilary lies to herself and David about how she envisions their future. When tragedy strikes Margaret’s household, the incident unwittingly pulls Hilary headfirst into her friend’s tornado of agony, causing the pieces of her curated life to come apart.

Elsewhere in the Central district of Hong Kong, 24-year-old Mercy (Ji-young Yoo), the series’ narrator, is trying to find her way. Despite an undergraduate degree from Columbia University, Mercy, a Korean American, has moved to China for a fresh start, and to distance herself from her overbearing mother. Armored with an entitled “woe is me” attitude, Mercy saunters through life, using her wealthy friends and catering gigs to stay afloat. Yet when she makes a consequential choice that propels her into Margaret’s and Hilary’s orbits, she realizes she can no longer blame anyone else for her poor decisions. But living with the aftermath is nothing she could have prepared for.

So often, women are expected to hold everything together, and they do. However, in “Expats,” which boasts an all-women writers’ room, Margaret, Hilary and Mercy stop dabbling in illusion. Instead, they unburden themselves, allowing all of the ugly, unsavory aspects of their circumstances to spill forth. Kidman’s performance as Margaret is particularly gripping. She is rightfully shattered by a major blow to her family, and she refuses to shame herself into acting like she’s not. As heartbreaking as her torment is to witness, it’s also refreshing to see a once enviable woman refusing to pretend that she is OK.

Wang also explores class and privilege in “Expats.” She showcases little-seen sections of Hong Kong, from the night markets to the luxe hotels. All the while, the 2014 pro-democracy uprisings are the backdrop to this tale. The 96-minute fifth episode, “Central,” focuses on Puri, Essie and Mercy, who shuffle between two worlds. While Hilary’s and Margaret’s lives come undone in their luxury condo building, their Filipina servants move through the gilded space and the world below, where political unrest is brewing. And secrets shared among them could easily destroy the families they work for.

Though social status can offer protection, it can also run dry — especially for a woman. It’s a cruelty all three main characters discover simultaneously, but in very different ways. For Mercy, there’s a lesson in learning that some mistakes are irreparable. Hilary must release the lies she’s told herself to embrace a new beginning. Finally, Margaret must move forward or risk losing herself and her family forever.

“Expats” is a deeply nuanced and dark narrative about the things women sweep under the rug, and what happens when they become too weary to cover them up. The series centers on deep, visceral anguish, what it means to really know someone and why a woman choosing herself over everyone else may be the only thing to save her in the end.

The first two episodes of “Expats” premiere Jan. 26 on Prime Video with new episodes dropping weekly on Fridays.