Money Heist is a master class in cliffhangers
First of all, if I had been watching this series season by season – or part by part as they call it – from Part 1 in 2017 to Part 4 in 2020, I would have been mightily upset at the end of Part 3. About as upset I am now after yet another insanely tense final scene.
La Casa De Papel aka Money Heist (but translated as House Of Paper) is utterly brilliant in terms of creating stomach-churning seasonal cliffhangers, which is the most powerful weapon in writers’ arsenals, now we consume entire seasons in one sitting. This is a master class.
Another thing writers can’t sneak past us savvy viewers so easily anymore are shocking character deaths. A main player dead in episode 2? Pfft, please. We know they’re essential to the storyline (essential and non-essential is something we South Africans know a lot about right now).
What’s that, they say? Here, hold my carajillo. Money Heist is a Spanish crime series, and – fun fact – a typical morning beverage in Spain is coffee with a shot of hard tack (usually brandy), aka carajillo. A very civilised country.
Anyway. Don’t get too attached to your favourites because there’s a 50/50 chance they aren’t going to make it.
As a newcomer to the series, let me fill you in if you haven’t watched it either. There are 38 episodes altogether so if you have some time on your hands at the moment (yes, I made a funny #lockdown joke), dive on in. Originally, the first two parts were broadcast together, then Netflix got its hands on it, and split it up differently. Thus Parts 1 and 2 deal with a complicated and sophisticated heist at the Royal Mint of Spain, in Madrid.
The mastermind, who controls everything from a remote location, is known as the Professor (Álvaro Morte), who gathers unto himself a team of loyal followers, who, in the manner of Reservoir Dogs, assume fake names. There is Tokyo (Úrsula Corberó), who also narrates the series; Berlin (Pedro Alonso); Nairobi (Alba Flores), Rio (Miguel Herrán); Denver (Jaime Lorente); Moscow (Paco Tous); Helsinki (Darko Perić), and his cousin Oslo (Roberto Garcia Ruiz).
Moscow is Denver’s father, and Rio is Tokyo’s boyfriend, despite this being against the Professor’s rules. There are other personal relationships that are revealed over time, and spill over into Parts 3 and 4.
For example, Mónica (Esther Acebo), who is the secretary and pregnant mistress of Arturo Román (Enrique Arce), director of the Mint, develops Stockholm Syndrome and later takes that city – Stockholm – as her alias. (Arturo is an idiot, you’ll see. Especially in Part 4.)
One of the beauties of Money Heist is the complex planning of the robberies; it is truly art, and the construction of the series, supported with flashbacks, is equally finely crafted.
I did have to wonder, though – how do some of the characters fall head over heels in love in mere days (to the point of switching sides from law enforcement to criminal, which is quite extreme)?
And how did the gang get access to so many candles inside the Mint? (The gang has beautiful country villas where they attend the Professor’s classes and there are also an inordinate number of candles in these villas, handy for all that love-making they indulge in late at night.)
Oh, you thought the robbers were the bad guys? Not at all. You’ll be rooting for them in no time.
That there are Parts 3 and 4 will indicate they got away with the money from Parts 1 and 2. But then, after two years in paradise with millions of Euros at their disposal, Rio makes a reckless mistake, the kind a young man makes when he is hopelessly in love. He is captured and whisked off to be tortured. Tokyo is determined to save him, as is the Professor who is, of course, the father figure.
To do this, they decide the only way to get the necessary attention is to come out of retirement and plan another heist. This time, it’s the Bank of Spain.
Truthfully, I was fairly ambivalent during the first two parts; I could have walked away from it and never have lost a moment’s sleep over the outcome.
But I was in it for the long haul, and by Part 3 I was deeply invested in the characters, along with a certain revelation I’d completely missed (probably because of a nap, or wine, or both – but I’ve since learned it was in fact a surprise).
There are more flashback layers by this time, some new characters, intricate relationships, a soundtrack that has levelled up significantly, and a spectacular villain or two. Oh, you thought the robbers were the bad guys? Not at all. You’ll be rooting for them in no time.
The series is dubbed into English from Spanish so it can be a bit disconcerting in the beginning; I recommend not focusing on the lips, but a little to the left or right, and upwards. Translations are interesting in terms of style, rhythm, word choices and so on. If this same story had been made by Hollywood it would be very different. I am glad it wasn’t.