Saturday, February 27, 2021

Television Reviews: 30 Coins

30 Coins (Season One)
directed by Alex de la Iglesias
This is a Spanish language supernatural thriller that finished its first season on HBO Europe. It's subtitled for American audiences. I don't know if there will be a second season or not. The completed first season smartly tied up loose ends but also left viewers plenty of "Wait what is going to happen to so-n-so?" cliffhangers.
The last episode was marketed as a "series finale". At first I thought it was more of a season finale but after thinking about it some more and remembering how disappointing the 2nd and 3rd installations of The Matrix were in comparison to the original film, I would be content if this turned out to be a one off sort of deal. There were only eight episodes. There was very little narrative fat in this series. 
The show has something to attract everyone. There are attractive women and men who are both occasionally seen without much clothing. There are a few soap opera storylines which seem designed specifically to bring in women viewers. Those viewers who are keen on alternative or secret histories, who think that there are conspiracies carried out at society's highest levels, or who eagerly read Dan Brown books will find much to enjoy in 30 Coins. 
There's not a tremendous amount of bloodshed in most of the series but what there is is emotionally engaging. It's not just popcorn mayhem designed to meet a quota of severed limbs. Lastly, the film has some very deliberate nods to H.P. Lovecraft-both his worldview and his fictional creations. 
The series' title refers to the fabled 30 pieces of silver paid to Judas for betraying Jesus Christ. Along with other relics like fragments of the True Cross, or the spear that pierced Jesus, these 30 coins are believed to have great power, in this world and perhaps others. 
People, some of whom have some very particular plans for this world, are looking to gather up all of these coins. In the right, or rather, wrong hands, even one of these coins can give the holder great power. Napoleon was said to have had three while Hitler was believed to have had five. 
So there's no telling what someone who possesses all thirty will be able to do. One thing is certain, such a person could usher in a new world order. Events that may presage the end of the world start to happen in the small backwater Spanish town of Pedraza. 30 Coins has a small main cast which includes:
Father Vergara (Eduard Fernandez): A chain smoking pragmatic quiet priest who is a heavyweight boxer, ex-con, and exorcist (though he doesn't like to talk about that), Vergara has been exiled to Pedraza after an exorcism in which he was involved went wrong. Or maybe he was exiled because the exorcism went right. In any event Vergara has decided or had it decided for him that the best thing to do is to lay low, keep his mouth shut, and not admit the existence of supernatural Evil to most people. Vergara's experiences have convinced him that little good will come from telling people what sorts of things really go bump in the night. People's brains and souls aren't ready for that knowledge.
Elena (Megan Montaner): A young va-va-voom widow, Elena is the town's veterinarian. Elena 
is also the object of alternating pity and scorn from the women of the town who gossip and laugh about how horny Elena must be but who also take steps to ensure that none of their husbands are around Elena for too long.  The headstrong Elena doesn't bite her tongue in front of people. Some people like this. Some people do not.
Paco (Miguel Silvestre): The town's young mayor and married co-owner of a meat packing plant, the handsome Paco would be having a midlife crisis if he were a decade older. As it is Paco is of the opinion that he's wasting his time and his life in jobs and places that he doesn't need to be.  He doesn't enjoy his work or think that he's really making a difference. Although he's kind and struggles to verbalize his feelings, Paco puts a lot of the blame for this on his wife Merche. It could be that Paco is just a checkbox marked done on Merche's task list. Paco also struggles to hide his growing attraction to Elena. None of Paco's issues, spoken or not, escape Merche's notice.
(Macarena Gomez): Paco's wife and co-owner of the meat packing plant as well as a hotel owner and would be real estate mogul(?), Merche is the couple's more ambitious half. Merche is clearly older than Elena and maybe a few years older than Paco as well. 
Like many people with leadership qualities, the sharp tongued Merche sometimes thinks that if she doesn't do it, it won't get done. Paco doesn't like to admit that this might be true more often than not. Merche is tightly wound and doesn't suffer fools lightly.
Still, Merche is NOT a stereotypical shrew. Merche is still attractive; she is often obviously pained and hurt by Paco's goo-goo eyes for Elena. From what Merche can see, she's been a good wife to Paco. If Paco could verbalize what is wrong Merche would probably do her best to change it. Merche can be simultaneously sympathetic and nasty. Appearances are very important to Merche.
Elena is called to assist in the delivery of a calf. Paco is there as well. The town is sufficiently small that this event is apparently worthy of the mayor's attendance. But it's not a calf that Elena delivers. It's a human boy. When Paco and Elena talk to Father Vergara to get his views on whether this was an omen/supernatural event he dismisses the idea, telling them that someone must have switched out the calf when they weren't looking. Paco doesn't think that he should tell anyone what happened, fearing that the town will look bad.
However the town crazy man Antonio kidnaps the baby and attempts to kill the child before trying to kill himself. Elena and Father Vergara find an old coin on Antonio. 
Father Vergara insists the coin is nothing important. They return the baby to the adoptive mother. Soon afterwards however when Elena visits the mother she sees that the baby is walking and is almost as tall as the mother. What the **** is this? Elena asks Paco for help investigating these strange happenings. Father Vergara wonders how much he should tell people. When Father Vergara asked Elena for the coin she refused to give it to him, repeating his own words dismissing the coin as nothing important. 
Merche wonders why doesn't Elena go get her own man to help her investigate paranormal activities in the middle of the night and stop hanging around Merche's. Merche worries that Elena wants Paco for other nighttime activities. Merche believes that if Elena offers her honor, Paco will definitely honor her offer.
This kicks off a story that slowly ramps up the X-Files vibe and paranormal activities. Later episodes bring in such locations as Rome, Jerusalem, Paris, and Aleppo to show how important the odd goings on in Pedraza are. 
We also see more of Father Vergara's hidden past. 30 Coins has a heavy emphasis on what was left out of the Gospels and how these might change our understanding of God's message. Some of the bad guys are very well aware that they are bad guys but others honestly believe that they are doing God's work. 
This series intelligently examines the problem of evil and an omnibenevolent and omniscient God. We are also invited to understand how the absence of love in our life can invite other emotions and lusts to fill the void if we are not careful. All of the main characters are well written and well acted. The special effects are different than what I'm used to seeing in the normal Hollywood productions. Some of the quiet sections of this series are more disturbing than you might think. Check this out. At the very least you may improve your Spanish.
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