Less really is more, isn’t it?
La Casa de Papel came out of nowhere a couple of years ago, one of the trailblazers that paved the way for growing number of non-English-language offerings on Netflix. Under the deeply uninspiring English title of Money Heist, it told, in two series starting in 2017, a quite superb story of a truly bonkers plot to rob the Spanish Royal Mint. Two series did their job, and the story was told, beautifully. My brother Neil told me it was the best thing he’d seen on telly, and I gave it a look. I made the huge mistake of watching the dubbed version, and thought it was, well, weak. No, he told me—subtitles or nothing. One episode and I knew he was right.
But of course, nothing as successful as that first story of Money Heist would be allowed to pass into history quietly; a sequel was inevitable. And it was, frankly, a monstrous disappointment. The first story was, ultimately, about el atraco, the heist, but what really drove it was the extraordinary dynamic between the characters. The claustrophobic tension as robbers in red jumpsuits printed countless billions of Euro in the Royal Mint of Spain was what drove this remarkable show. No, it wasn’t perfect—the side-story about Allison Parker, daughter of the British ambassador, was a cul-de-sac briefly ignored and then quickly forgotten about. And Raquel, once her pencil came out of her hair, was turned just a tad too easily. But such was the brilliance of the show that it was easy to forgive, to overlook, such minor flaws. This was television storytelling as near-perfect as you’ll ever see.
And that’s where Álex Pina really should have let things like. But Money Heist was too successful to lay to rest, and so a massive plot contrivance involving Rio’s capture, and The Professor putting the band back together to force Europe to surrender Rio, ending his torture. And what a different show it was. Suddenly the focus was on the heist, not the characters. Just as well, perhaps—we had a clutch of new city-named characters, and the deep, rich, textured interplay between the crew was largely replaced by a comic-book sensibility as the team tried to rob the Bank of Spain.
Even this wasn’t enough to milk the cash cow that Money Heist has become. And so we have a two-part final series. Simon and I talked about the first half of this series when it came out earlier this year, and we shared misgivings that it had gone so far it could never recover.
So now we have the final—and, although I could easily regret predicting this now—five episodes. And while show runner Pina has definitely not managed to recover the sheer depth and rawness of that first pair of series, he’s pulled back a lot from the smashy, bangy, crashy excesses that characterised the second story and bogged down the first set of this year’s episodes. Gone, mercifully, are the ludicrous gun-battles, the endless shootouts, the tiresome comic violence. Some—not all, by any means, but some—of the sheer tension of the earlier series is back. The Professor is back to being The Professor—he’s not quite in control, but he’s in charge, Álvaro Morte managing to convey a magnificently complex character who knows what he’s doing, while illegal and highly dangerous, is ultimately something he absolutely needs to do. He’s supported, once again, by a superb cast; it’s hard to pick out stars, but Jaime Lorente (Denver) must be toward the top of any list, his passion and fire so much more than simply Latin clichė. Fernando Cayo (Colonel Tamayo) manages to alternate between the thrill of victory and the crushing devastation of defeat more profoundly than lessor actors could. And Najwa Nimri, whose Inspector Alicia Sierra flips a tad less credibly, perhaps, than Raquel did a couple of series ago, is agreeable mad and dangerous.
But it’s still unclear what to make of Berlin (Pedro Alonso). The time being dedicated to his backstory in this year’s earlier episodes wasn’t entirely clear; the last couple of episodes of this run help us to understand the significance, but they also muddy the waters just a tad—we’d been led to believe that this heist was an attempt to flush Rio out of torture and captivity, but now it appears that it was really done because it was what Berlin had always wanted. At least, that’s what I made of it all—the narrative, as it has been since the start of this second heist, is sufficiently messy that one might be forgiven for missing details.
In the same way, the denouement, when it came in the final episode, was, well, contrived. There’s a very fine line between clever and smart-arsed, and Money Heist in its first incarnation managed to find the right side of that line. But the number of plot contrivances required for this story to resolve itself were, in the end, just a little much—I’ve invested enough in the show that I was willing, just, to go with it, but I’m really not sure everyone will agree with me.
At the end of the second series, as the first heist wrapped up, I was satisfied. No loose ends needed wrapping up; a story had been told, and told bloody well. And that, of course, didn’t stop Netflix for wanting more. So there’s every chance that there will be more trips to the well—I just have a horrible feeling that the well might now be dry.
It’s been an amazing ride getting this far. It’s time now to be done.