Explainers

Netflix’s Dollar, Explained

August 10, 2019
14 min read

Have you ever won a lottery? If not, then at least you have wished about it. What would you do if you knew exactly which ticket was going to get you the prize? How far would you go to secure it? Netflix’s Lebanon-based series ‘Dollar follows a similar premise. After a bank decides to give a million dollars to whoever has a particular one-dollar bill, a man and a woman embark on a series of misadventures to get it before anyone comes to know about it. With two polar opposite characters as protagonists, the show weaves an entertaining tale that keeps both the protagonists and the audience on their toes. If you haven’t yet seen it, head over to Netflix. SPOILERS AHEAD

Summary of the Plot

There is a new bank opening in Beirut and the CEO wants his team to come up with an idea that can help them reach out to common people. Tarek works for an advertising company and is providing services to the bank where Zeina works as the office manager. He comes up with the idea of circulating a one-dollar bill into the public and revealing the serial number of it on Christmas Eve. The one who has the bill will win a huge prize from the bank. The CEO fixes that prize to be a million dollars. Tarek decides to get a head start on the chase and get the prize for himself. In the meantime, Zeina discovers the plan and embarks on a pursuit of her own. They decide to join forces to make the task easier and agree on splitting the money. But that one dollar is more elusive than they think.

The Real Motives of Tarek and Zeina

It is often quoted that money is not everything, but for the protagonists of this show, it is more than most things. It is definitely worth all the trouble they encounter along the way. And honestly, for a million dollars, who wouldn’t want to take such risks. When we first meet Tarek and Zeina, their lives are pretty normal. Tarek has recently separated from his wife but hasn’t been able to get a divorce yet. He clearly doesn’t want to stay in the marriage, and the efforts to get out of it are draining the life out of him. He works in an advertising company and the creativity that he displays with the idea of “your dollar is worth a million”, we can assume that he is good at what he does.

However, a rocky personal life has induced problems in his professional life as well. His wife isn’t making anything easier for him either. In the first episode, his landlord asks him for the rent. Tarek hasn’t paid a pound in the last couple of months. When the man shares his concern with another neighbour, he mentions that Tarek had never run out of money before, which could be because he had been supported by a rich wife. But problems surfaced when her lavish lifestyle became too much for him. From their conversations, we can also deduce that her family never welcomed their relationship.

Tarek tells Zeina that they have been separated for a while, but every time she watches a romantic movie, she comes back to haunt him. This helps bring the whole picture into perspective. What could have happened is this. Gihan was born in a rich family and never lacked anything. She is clearly a spoilt brat and is also a romantic. She has seen a lot of romcoms and is especially influenced by the ones where two people fall in love despite their financial, religious or any other difference in background.

Tarek is bright and artistic and she falls in love with him mostly because their story emulates the ones that she has often seen in the movies. The cherry on the top is that her parents don’t approve of them, which further encourages her to be with Tarek. After some time, she becomes tired of Tarek’s efforts to start his own business or even to have a job. She tries to sync him with her lifestyle, but he soon grows out of it and decides that it would be best for them to go separate ways. Gihan, at first, lets him go, believing that he would eventually come back when he fails. But that doesn’t happen.

This tells us a lot about Tarek’s motivation for that million-dollar lottery. We see that the idea isn’t pre-meditated. He comes up with it on the spot. He even shares it in secret because he wants it to be a fair game. In fact, he doesn’t even mention a million dollars. It is the boss who builds upon it and even suggests that they should give the money to one of their own. But Tarek counters it by saying that this type of behaviour won’t help in building trust with the customers. Happy with his service, the boss decides to reward him and tells Zeina to make a cheque in his name. It is after Tarek sees the amount of his reward when he realises that he could have so much more than that. The money would not only give him a financial standing to start his own business but would help in settling the divorce with her.

Zeina’s story is a lot like Tarek’s. She is used to a lavish lifestyle, but she doesn’t come from a rich family. She has a good job, but she is also supported by her boyfriend, who got her the apartment she is living in right now. He wants to marry her but she wants him to become independent. She wants him to have something of his own, to come out of the shadow of his father. But he is not ready to let go and this has caused tensions between them.

When Zeina comes to know about her boss’s new scheme, she only wonders about how the dollar was in her possession. It is after she discovers that he took a cab to the office that a plan begins to form up in her mind. She now has the trail to the dollar. She also has an advantage because of the knowledge of the serial number, which makes it easier to identify. It also gives her the notion that the lottery is hers because that one dollar is hers. Beyond that, her motivations are quite as simple as anyone else’s. She wants to travel the world, buy a big house and spend the money however she likes.

The Silver Linings

The greed of two people becomes the central drive of the story. How far can anyone go for a million dollars? How long will they continue with their search of that elusive piece of paper? Tarek and Zeina’s quest to get their hands on the dollar lands them in a new situation every day. Every time they think they are close to it, something happens and the dollar slips out of their reach. Every time they think that their quest has come to an end, something happens and they are thrown right back into the chase. Every chapter of this journey introduces them to the people and the situations that they otherwise wouldn’t have encountered in their normal lives. For example, what are the chances that they would have ended up belly dancing in front of a criminal or that they would have helped a girl from Syria to realise her dream of becoming a famous singer? Their experiences act as eye-openers for them and they view the world in a manner that had never before been presented to them.

Despite the circumstances not turning out in their favour, good things happen with the people whose lives are touched by Tarek and Zeina. They help the coffee-shop owner to resolve the issues with the family of his wife. Then they come across a group of divorced women who have strongly adopted the philosophy of being on their own. Their ambitions stretch all the way to the government, and to increase their numbers, they encourage other women to give up on their marriages, no matter how small their problems actually are. Tarek saves one woman out of this when she faints due to the stress of her husband’s threat to really leave her.

All this time, we are under the impression that the protagonists are helping these people just to serve their own purpose. They would have stayed far from them hadn’t they been chasing after that one dollar. But the initial impression begins to change when we find them helping people just because they can, not because they have to. They try to get the dollar out of the magician and get his van because of that. But they are also moved by their story and gift a bicycle to Naya.

Similarly, when the old man from the money exchange shop is hit by a car, they could have left him to die. They could have just taken the keys, could have had the dollar and been on their way. Tarek did want to do this, but Zeina’s conscience isn’t so far gone. She refuses to let a man die just because it allows them to have what they want. After this incident, Rahim begins to melt and we frequently see Zeina’s kind and vulnerable side. Yes, she thinks about killing the professor when he offers them half a million dollar each, but I don’t think she would have gone through with it.

While in the beginning, their encounters are with lovely people with simple stories, it soon takes a more dangerous and somewhat darker turn. The people that they meet now are going through some serious troubles. For people like the coffee-shop owner and the magician, they could come up with easy solutions, but later they also come across the cases where they can’t help the other person in any way. This is why we also see a spike in comedy, something needed to balance out the grave tone of the story.

The Ending: What Does It Mean for Tarek and Zeina?

After chasing the dollar for so long, meeting so many people along the way and getting themselves out of impossible situations, Tarek and Zeina are finally able to locate it. Passed on from a little girl who wants to save it in her piggy bank to the crime lord who uses it to snort coke, the bill takes its pursuers on an exciting chase. It finally lands in the purse of a girl named Aram. She had run away from her home in Syria because her family was too conservative to allow her to become a singer. With the help of a friend, she finds her way to Beirut but is abandoned by her.

The Cleaver acts as a good Samaritan and helps her, but it turns out that he was just acting. Before he can force himself on her, Tarek and Zeina show up and save the girl. They help her get to the audition the next day. In a final twist for them, she gives away her coat to another girl, and the dollar goes away with her. On recognizing Aram’s coat, Zeina and Tarek try to make her give them the dollar bill, but she throws it away and it gets stuck under the wheel of a car. Once again, it seems like Tarek and Zeina have landed themselves in a dangerous situation when they see that the owners of the car have guns and a grenade. To their good luck, it turns out that they are actors and after a small altercation, they drive away leaving Tarek and Zeina ecstatic for finally having the one thing they wanted all along.

On Christmas night, their dreams are shattered when it is revealed that the dollar bill that they have is not the one that the CEO of the bank chose for the prize. Tarek and Zeina had been on a wild goose chase, while the real prize was being passed along on anther trail. Not only do they not have the money now, but they have also lost their jobs, and Zeina has also been thrown out of her apartment by her ex. Heart-broken, they part ways at the airport, believing that it is the last time they will see each other. In the next scene, we see the winner of the lottery receiving his million dollars. He is a very rich man and pretty old too. Tarek goes to his place posing as an insurance agent. There he finds Zeina posing as his nurse. They smile at each other and the story ends.

What does this mean for them? To begin with, we discover that Tarek and Zeina would never have had those million dollars. In fact, no common person would have. When Tarek shares the idea with the CEO, he tells him that he would keep the bill and give the money to “one of his own people”.

In the end, we see a rich man receiving the prize money. Could it be that the CEO actually did what he thought initially? In the last episode, he does wonder where the dollar bill would be. “In whose hands?” But to see it in the hands of a millionaire doesn’t seem right. In the first episode, doesn’t he mention that it has been a long time since he had that dollar bill in his pocket? How could Mr Malek have that in his hands then? Either the CEO gave it to him, or the dollar bill found its way to one of the employees of Mr Malek, who then asked them to give it to him in exchange for a smaller sum. Whatever the case, we do expect foul play here. But maybe we are being biased about that. Maybe we want to be biased, and here is why.

Just when it seems like Tarek and Zeina have come to terms with their loss and are moving on with their lives, they jump right back into the game. They put a lot of time and effort into chasing the lottery and even lose their jobs over it. Moreover, they had been playing the game for so long that accepting defeat isn’t something they can do now. For them, those million dollars belong to them and if they have to con their way out of Mr Malek for that, they are ready to do so. Because we know what they are up to, and because we want them to succeed, we want Mr Malek’s lottery winning luck to be a hoax. If he cheated, then it is fair if the same thing comes around on him.

Dollar Season 2: What to Expect?

Over the course of fifteen episodes, ‘Dollar’ builds an exciting narrative, keeping the audience interested by throwing the protagonists in one interesting situation after another. Their chase does seem long, but never boring. The end is fitting and as far as the series is concerned, it is good enough for the audience to leave Tarek and Zeina at this point. Even if a second season is not commissioned, there are no loose ends to tie up. But, if Netflix does decide on continuing with the story, Tarek and Zeina’s new adventure will certainly be a level up from the previous one. At this point, we can only speculate.

Last time, there was nothing illegal about what they were doing. But now that they have decided to con someone, they have entered the criminal league. The stakes will be higher and they will have to be sharper about their approach. We have already seen a connection form between them, and in the second season, we could see it turn into a proper romance. Also, their greed will see a considerable spike and their target would be a lot more than a million dollars now. We will also get to meet Mr Malek’s friends and family and we can expect some, if not all, of them to be after his money, which makes them natural enemies for the duo. Moving around in rich circles could mean the return of both of their exes, which would further bring more complications.

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