(Or “Yellow is the New Orange is the New Black” . . !)
Yet another offering from the great Walter Presents, Locked Up, or Vis a Vis, is a Spanish drama series set in a women’s prison. Maggie Civantos plays Macarena (a rich joke area, I know – I was just waiting for someone to try and get her attention by shouting “Hey, Macarena!”) Ferreiro who finds herself incarcreated after unwittingly committing several acts of fraud and finds herself in an environment of unforgiving, dangerous criminals, the most dangerous of all being resident Queen Bee Zulema (Najwa Nimri). As it is quickly revealed that a former prisoner has 9 million euros buried somewhere on the outside, Macarena and her family are thrown into seemingly inescapable danger as they face threat from all sides and they must do all they can to survive.
First of all, I have to say that this is my favourite show that Walter Presents has given us so far. At 16 episodes, it is one of the longer series that is available but every week I watched and every week, it was consistently exciting and thrilling. It successfully delivers a multilayered story, with many things happening both inside and outside of the pivotal prison and quality-wise, it is as good as Breaking Bad, with its wonderful characters, perfect story and relentless, thrilling drama.
I guess that the similarities to Orange is the New Black have to be mentioned. During the first couple of episodes, the similarities are indeed unavoidable; the main character is a similar doe eyed blonde who gradually makes the “sheep to wolf” transition and there are scenes involving strip searches, canteen dramas and solitary confinement that immediately call to mind similar scenes in OITNB. But eventually, it is made clear that these are two completely different shows. While OITNB is a comedy drama, Locked Up is pure drama, though there are some comedic moments thrown in here and there.
A laudable part of the series is the characters; Maggie Civantos is great in the lead role, starting off innocent and naaive but gradually taking more control and fighting back against the danger she faces. After certain events in later episodes, she slowly begins to lose her grip on her sanity and through Civantos’ performance, particularly the way in which she moves her eyes, this is brought to life excellently.
On a similar note, probably the best part of Locked Up is the villains. Unlike OITNB, there aren’t many lovable rogues to be found here, just incredibly dangerous, psychotic criminals who pose a very real danger throughout the series. Among others, there’s the former pimp/drug dealer Anabel who, while initially seeming quite smiley and affable, is actually quite sadistic and cruel. There’s also Zulema’s boyfriend Hanbal (referred to as “The Egyptian”) who is the primary threat to Macarena’s father and brother on the outside, commanding a small, heavily armed group of criminals and stopping at nothing until the money is found. And then there’s the gypsy Saray who has a compelling, conflicting relationship with Zulema and takes an immediate dislike to Macarena after she, apparently, “steals” her girlfriend Estefania.
But there are two villainous characters who stand out above all else. As mentioned before, Zulema is the series’ main antagonist; confident, strong and ruthless, she is a force to be reckoned with. I mean, the first time we see her, she has a scorpion on her stomach – dangerous indeed! But the best thing about her is that she isn’t just a two-dimensional psycho whose sole purpose it is just to be the series villain; instead she is rather complex, occasionally seen getting emotional and uncertain. She also has a certain religious/spiritual side, engaging in a prayer ritual before a bold plan and quoting philosophical, meditative passages.
And of course, there’s the prison doctor Carlos Sandoval: a smarmy, creepy, evil, reptilian who takes a certain . . . shine to Macarena. Later in the series, after Macarena stands up to him, he makes it his mission to subtly cast doubt on her mental state, effectively managing to fool most of the prison staff. Sandoval is a terrifically repulsive villain, the type who you watch, smile broadly and say “Oh, he’s soooo horrible, I love it!” Or maybe it’s just me . . .
As mentioned before, it isn’t all doom and gloom as at certain points, the series takes time to let us get to know some of the characters. This is mostly done in the prison yard “interviews” where inmates talk about things such as love and death to an unseen interviewer. This is certainly a unique touch and it helps to lighten the tone at certain points.
Finally, it’s always great to hear the characters get irritated and speak really quickly in Spanish!
A consistently excellent, thrilling, dark series with a great story and fascinating, three-dimensional characters.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★