Aside from all the other business of the day, I’ve been trying to dig into the foreign-language fare provided by the Channel 4-affiliated online streaming service, Walter Presents. I’ve already watched the French three-parter, Match Day (see my review here), and now I’ve moved onto Argentina and the 13-part series, Pure Evil (or Malicia in Spanish). Yes, we have our Scandi fix on BBC4, but it’s fun to watch series from other countries, too – their presentation and plotting alters slightly, but also the way they portray crime and consequence. Pure Evil was no different.
As ever with streaming sites, series are available in their entirety, which means viewers can watch what they want, when they want. If you haven’t seen all of Pure Evil do not go any further – I’ll be discussing the whole series, key plot points and all.
The series starts in stunning fashion: a heavy-set, completely bald man wearing an overcoat staggers from his car clutching a wad of cash, and walks purposefully through woodland until he comes to a clearing. There a hooded man is holding a teenage girl, shaking and down on her knees, as hostage. He’s holding a gun to her head. The bald man is begging him to let her go, pleading. The teenage girl is the bald man’s daughter.
Instead of mercy, the hooded man shoots Laura Parodi in the head and runs off into the woods, leaving Daniel Parodi (Gabriel Goity) wailing and cradling his bloodied daughter in his arms.
As beginnings go it’s quite a shocker. Who was the shooter? Why did he shoot? And, crucially, why was he holding Daniel Parodi’s daughter hostage? All sane, rational questions to a seemingly insane, irrational act.
We join Daniel Parodi six years later. Naturally, his daughter’s murder still informs every single breath of his life and it becomes clear that he’s spent the time since Laura’s death not only trying to come to terms with it but also seeking revenge. It’s not just him though. He’s assembled a small team of investigators who work on the crime in the back of a book shop. There’s Ernesto (Mario Alarcon), a sage, veteran ex-cop, and Diego (Julian Tello), a nerdish computer expert. Together they make for an interesting, inter-generational team – Ernesto acting as front-of-house in the bookshop, while all three assemble and attempt to digest evidence in the back.
What they’ve uncovered so far is the work of a highly sophisticated criminal gang, who specialise in people trafficking and prostitution and whose members wear the same Swastika-like tattoo hidden on their person. They also seem to be targeting Parodi personally – each act of murder and kidnapping jab at him and torture him, and slowly but surely this angry, snappy but hugely charismatic man soon starts to be eaten away by what he perceives to be a battle royale between him and whoever is at the head of the gang.
After each crime the gang leave cryptic messages scrawled on walls that reference Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges. And Sherlock Holmes. And some biblical stuff. This is where kindly Ernesto, who sounds like he’s smoked thousands of Viceroys in his time, proves his worth – his knowledge of classical literature is invaluable as they true to crack the crimes and get closer to the gang. But they never do. Parodi always feels that the closer he gets the farther away the gang becomes.
As the series evolves, the Parodi’s team grows, mostly with people who ‘the gang’ have used in some way. There’s Malena (Juana Viale), a law clerk, whose papers were switched by the ‘the gang’ to ensure the release of Laura Parodi’s killer from prison, and psychotherapist Marcos Setton (Hector Diaz) one of whose patients was fed paranoia-inducing drugs by ‘the gang’ and jumped to his death from Marcos’s office window.
There’s also Diana Qaranta (Ana Celentano), a public prosecutor, who Daniel is close to. They see each other every day because they’re working on the same case – Qaranta in an official capacity, Parodi in a less-than-official capacity – but also meet regularly at their local swimming pool to talk about life, flirt a little and, well, swim. Their relationship is a sweet one, and one of mellow frisson. You want them to succeed, but when one of ‘the gang’ brutally rapes Diana, things naturally change – both for her and Daniel. Both start to unravel, but are focused on the same goal for different reasons. They want to bring down ‘the gang’ but for Qaranta it’s because she’s desperate to find her violator (who, it was revealed, carries the HIV virus and is a serial rapist), while for Parodi he’s desperate to find the people who killed his daughter.
What of these ruthless bad guys? It’s revealed towards the end of the series that young Diego is a gang member (and he manages to kill two of Daniel’s team off), but it ‘the gang’ feel like a faceless, strange organisation, involving themselves as they do with high-level people trafficking as well a elaborate, literary-based war against Parodi. We see a steely, attractive female cat-suited assassin (Paula Kohan) who feels like a bit one-dimensional and who pops up every now and then. Towards the end of the series she’s revealed to be, if not the boss of ‘the gang’ but very high up in the infrastructure, and one of two children who faked her criminal father’s death. But why?
It’s never quite revealed until literally the final scene, when the boss of the gang says to his assassin daughter: “Parodi left his mark on me, and I’ll leave it on him.”
One of the obvious questions throughout this series is that if this gang is all-powerful – prostituting and trafficking young women all over the world – then if they want rid of Parodi they can walk into the book shop and take him out with supreme ease. No, this scarred man wants to humiliate Parodi, erode his soul and drive him to madness. That when tension comes into play – whenever a gang member comes near the shop or The Daughter chars with Parodi, we’re on a knife-edge because we know they can kill him at any time. Instead, they chose to toy with him.
So it’s a personal vendetta against Parodi, but we’re never quite sure why. In fact we’re not quite sure why about a lot of things. How do Qaranta and Parodi know each other? What was Parodi’s role in the police force? How did Ernesto and Diego and Parodi end up working together? Why a book shop? Why didn’t Parodi react to Marcos’s suspicions about Diego? Why didn’t Parodi take a closer look at Ernesto’s bedroom for his notebook? Who was the mysterious Otto, who, at that moment in the series was the main man of ‘the gang’, and why did he want to fulfil a prophecy of basically killing himself? The whys just kept on coming…
I’m all for cutting back on exposition, but Pure Evil had pretty much none, so I was left with an uneasy feeling of trying to figure things out as well as following the story. The series only let us know the very bare minimum of character back story and information. I could have done with a lot more.
But even though it was a bit of mess, Pure Evil was hugely watchable and enjoyable. You couldn’t take your eyes off the tormented, angry, heaving-drinking Daniel Parodi, mainly because Gabriel Goity’s performance is sensational – he channels Tony Soprano and Tony Scali in places – and the general characterisation of his team is rich and believable. There are Ernesto’s rapid descent into the terrifying world of dementia, Marcos and Malena’s relationship, Diego’s repressed sexuality and its aggressive manifestation as interesting side stories, all nicely inter-woven into the narrative.
And then there’s Parodi and Qaranta’s relationship – a sensitive, adult portrayal of feelings that befits two, grown-up intelligent, but flawed people. In fact Pure Evil is all about relationships – relationships between sometimes broken, always disparate people.
In terms of location, Pure Evil is the crime drama equivalent of a sitcom. Even though you don’t get to see a lot of Buenos Aires (a shame in some ways), like we see a lot of Oxford in Morse and a lot of Malmo in The Bridge, the dramas feels more condensed in single locations. We also have the tranquility of the swimming pool, which adds another layer of symbolism to the piece.
The fact that’s it’s 13 half-hour episodes meant that Pure Evil flew by. Sometimes confusingly, but always, always convincingly and arrestingly. It was so nearly a great series, but with its sudden ending and unfinished plot lines, it makes we want to believe that a second series will be on the way. I’ll be watching when (and if) it comes around.