REVIEW: The Plague (S1 E5&6/6)

SPOILERS

In the week that saw Spanish actor Willy Toldeo arrested and detained for questioning after “ridiculing the Virgin Mary and God” on social media, you might be tempted to pontificate on the history of religion in society when mixed with the law – especially in the context of how the remainder of The Plague played out this weekend with an exploration of exactly that (albeit with some far more gruesome penalties attached). Times may change but the fact remains when church and state combine it’s never usually for the betterment of the common man – as Mateo, Luis and Teresa find out to their bitter detriment in the shocking conclusion to this excellent historical crime drama.

For Mateo, truth and justice are inseparable concepts – and his pursuit of both as such is his ultimate weakness. The final episodes send Mateo and young Valerio on a wild hunt for the final pieces of the puzzle to reach Ledesma, and it was exhilarating stuff – secret passageways and door switches, body exhumations and assassin attacks – all to lead us to the eventual (and perhaps unsurprising) conclusion that his former Protestant conspirator Pedro Lanzas (Antonio Dechent, seemingly contractually obliged to star in every Spanish drama at some point) was indeed the phantom figure they sought. A truly thrilling chase through narrow subterranean tunnels on a blind white horse (don’t ask) leads Ledesma to be trapped and rather than face his fate at the hands of the Inquisition, he kills himself by headbutting a high beam. Ouch.

With the villain of the piece removed, Mateo wins his freedom with a pardon from the Grand Inquisitor Celso de Guevara himself – but something does not sit well with the former inquisitor – not least De Guvera’s feeble presentation of a rather nonthreatening corpse as the remains of Nubla, the ‘black beast’ that supposedly required ten men to fell him, or his excitement to see Mateo and his charge depart immediately for the Americas. Shaking off his doubts, Mateo and Valerio crack the code in Ledesma’s ‘bear bible’ that reveals all his Protestant co-conspirators names – not only all the murder victims but those still living – including one Luis de Zúñiga.

Ah Luis. Twinkle-eyed Luis and his obsessive quest for fame and fortune – his downfall was always going to be the most spectacular. After switching places on the council with the now very deceased Morata, he plots a home invasion on the council leader to engender the fear that riots and a people’s revolt are not far behind. Winning the council’s backing to release the large stockpiles of wheat he owns to the general public to quell any dissent, he secretly trades this to have the embargo lifted on the port for two days to enact his final plan.

But it’s all for naught – armed with the names of Ledesma’s conspirators, the Inquisition swoops in and arrests Luis, Azuaga’s son, Captain Utrera and others. Their plot was to ship forged silver bars to Flanders to fund the Protestant Dutch’s efforts to take over Spain. In some truly cinematic scenes, Grand Inquisitor Celso de Guevara presents them as heretics to the people of Seville, and in doing so reveals his own zeal for power is close to becoming unhinged – you can see the palpable discomfort among the gathered aristocrats as he talks of purity and banning shipped goods deemed ‘ungodly’, and they might think “who’s next?”.

Condemned to death by being burned at the stake, Luis and his co-conspirators are first paraded through the streets in gruesome scenes reminiscent of Cersei’s infamous “walk of shame” in Game of Thrones. But even that notoriously gory show would have balked at the overly long and explicitly graphic scenes that followed, as we watched the doomed char and burn in excruciatingly prolonged agony. In a heart-breaking conclusion, Luis manages to free himself of his bindings and climb to the top of the pole in desperation, his cries of horror matched by the bawling laughter of the gathered crowds. A man steps forward to offer his urine as a dousing agent in jest before Luis corpse crumbles to the floor – a pagan heretic not even worth pissing on. It was a truly brutal scene and a grim reminder of the savagery of the Inquisition’s power at that time.

Amidst the crowds, Mateo watches in tears as his friend dies. But as he leaves he spots the man who has shadowed him all season – one who bears a distinctive birthmark on his face. He gives chase with Valerio and it is revealed the man was hired by Luis to protect him and Carmen, as they were both being pursued by other assassins. But why? The sleuthing pair return to Carmen’s shack and under some pressure she reveals she told the Grand Inquisitor something that she kept from Mateo – that the remaining Protestants were plotting something very big – a national coup.

Armed with this knowledge Mateo recounts his previously blindfolded steps back to the infamous “chamber of secrets” only to discover it empty as it was a setup – instead he finds Grand Inquisitor Celso de Guevara and the real Nubla, a huge monolith of a man, who promptly stabs him within an inch of his life. As is the tradition at these times, De Guevara explains his plan – it was the Inquisition behind the murders and they used Mateo to flush the remaining co-conspirators out and expose the plot to fund the Dutch. They dump Mateo in the gutter and leave it to God to decide if “he lives or dies”. Luckily, Valerio finds him and whisks him off to Monardes – who after slapping on some “egg and turpentine” saves the beleaguered sleuth.

Knowing he is no match for the might of the Inquisition, Mateo makes sail for the Americas in the search of a new life. Valerio stays behind to become the heir apparent to his father’s factory, after Teresa is stonewalled by the odious sexism of the Guild Council that she cannot run it herself. Eugenia completes modelling for the painting – Teresa’s first under her own name and a rallying cry against the violence of men – and returns to her old life of prostitution. White flags appear over dwellings across Seville to signify the plague is abating – people take to the streets in drunken revelry. But as Monardes warns : “It’s a cycle. The plague will never be gone. It will remain dormant in our furniture, in our clothes. Patiently awaiting to be awakened by man.”

This show was a richly rewarding experience from beginning to end, both in taking the viewer on a journey into a largely unknown environment but also creating a living, breathing city that felt alive and real. The acting was uniformly superb and whilst the plot wasn’t ground-breaking, the pursuit of it was breathless and a great deal of fun. It was also enjoyable to watch a crime drama free of the trappings of modern forensic science and the large part that technology now plays in any investigation; although rather bound by coincidence it was a joy to watch Mateo and Valerio use their intelligence alone for the deductions. With a second series already in pre-production it will be interesting to see where they take the show, but it will be a welcome return none the less.

Andy D

FOR OUR REVIEW OF EPISODES 1 & 2 CLICK HERE

FOR OUR REVIEW OF EPISODES 3 & 4 CLICK HERE

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18 Comments Add yours

  1. Barbara McNulty says:

    Thank you so much for these resumes. I found all the beards and tunnels had a tendency to confuse. Amazing sets however and a change from monochrome Scandis.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Andy D says:

      A refreshing change for sure! Obviously beards were the fashion back then, some wore them better than others!

      Like

  2. Elizabeth Macpherson says:

    Thank you Andy D for your in depth reviews. It took me a while to watch all the episodes as the literal darkness of filming tired my eyes. I could have watched it on a better screen, but thought the goriness would be a tad overpowering (there’s no pleasing some). Phew, was Europe really like that in the sixteenth century?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Andy D says:

      I imagine it was pretty depressing then! It must have been a nightmare to film this without too much lighting, there were many scenes I had to rewind to see who was chasing or stabbing who!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Trakker says:

    Thank you ANDY D. I’m still bit confused: why did Ledesma want to kill fellow Protestants? Who were the assassins after Monteo and why were they trying to kill him? A fantastic series !

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Andy D says:

      It wasn’t Ledesma. The Grand Inquisitor used Nubla to murder his friends to flush him out. They used Ledesma as the potential murderer so Mateo would help investigate. The assassins after Mateo and Carmen were employed by Ledesma to prevent them discovering the plot to overthrow the government. I’m guessing Luis knew of this and protected Mateo even though it was a risk as they were friends. Admittedly a lot of this wasn’t well explained!

      Like

  4. Kate King says:

    I was so distressed by Luis’s disintegration and terror, I was unable to
    watch his final agonies, and was awake for a fair part of the night
    thinking about the horrors that man is capable of inflicting on man.
    We might be shot of the Inquisition, but as Monardes might say it’s
    with us everywhere all the time, just in a different guise. I thought
    the whole series was fantastically well acted and presented, and the
    characters convincingly multi-faceted.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Andy D says:

      I think there will be a few complaints. They had a very vague warning at the start. It was unnecessary to keep the scene running that long and have that level of detail involved. It definitely reinforced the brutality of the Inquisition but the audience would have understood that regardless with a shorter scene. Above all I think Paco Leon (who played Luis) did such a tremendous job in those scenes it absolutely impacted my emotional response to it. So I’m not surprised you had an adverse reaction – I’m sure plenty of viewers did!

      Like

  5. Kate King says:

    I’m just in the process of watching the whole thing again – and something struck me this time. That Luis probably loves Mateo. At every point
    where Mateo needs help, Luis is there, and makes sure that he’s
    okay. Even when Mateo’s unconscious or asleep, Luis is on the spot
    to ensure that things are okay. It’s a subtle portrayal by Paco Leon
    because Luis never gets to express a single thing about his feelings
    or his motivations. His emotions are conveyed in his eyes. Until
    the end…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Andy D says:

      Good spot. There’s an earlier episode where we see Luis sexuality explored in secret, then how he exploits it to blackmail another man on the council. I can’t imagine it was well accepted in that era, so his feelings for Mateo would have to be buried deep – but he goes above and beyond for his friend every time so it’s a good point there’s an unrequited love going on. It’s a shame we won’t see Paco Leon in the second series!

      Like

  6. filiprag says:

    Really enjoyed your summary of The Plague. It was an immersive experience, watching the show and I didn’t follow every detail of the plot. This is probably because I didn’t pay enough attention to people’s names so rarely knew who characters were discussing! Will definitely watch the second season for sure. Be interesting to see what they do with it. Cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Katie says:

    Hello, thanks so much for your recaps of this series. I’ve enjoyed reading them and they’ve helped clarify a lot.
    I’m left with a few questions though – why were the Protestants donating to and protected by the Crown if they were planning to overthrow it? And what power would the cheif Inquistor gain by killing them? Was Ledesma somehow working with the Inquisition?
    Also I can’t help but think of the woman we saw Mateo with at the very start of the first episode! He’s forgotten her completely it seems.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Andy D says:

      I think this part was rushed so it wasn’t very clear – the Protestants were all secretly pretending to be Catholics, as they were all members of the Crown (with positions to match e.g. treasurer of the mint etc), but due to their secret religion wanted to overthrow the Catholic state – and presumably if successful would be even more powerful themselves in Spain. The Inquisition could not touch anybody supported by the Crown, so they had to prove they were heretics first. I think the question of power was just about the fact the Inquisition knew everything about everyone – you could see in Celso’s speech the gathered aristocrats were genuinely afraid of him. I don’t think Ledesma was working for Celso, but Celso used the fear of being associated with Ledesma to gain more power by essentially blackmailing the rich.

      Like

      1. Katie says:

        Hi Andy, wow thanks for your explanation. I can’t believe how much I missed! I really appreciate you explaining all of that, it makes a lot that went on make more sense.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Richard Walker says:

    My wife and I really enjoyed this marvellous series. Top marks for the Spanish in producing such a wonderfully graphic depiction of Seville in the 16th century along with the superb scene sets, cgi and costumery.
    We just about kept up with the twists and turns made so much more difficult for the non Spanish speaking viewers including myself along with the dimly lit catacombs and chambers, it certainly made following the plot quite difficult but soon atmospheric.
    Many thanks to you for the reviews and enlightenments on the story. Absolutely loved it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Andy D says:

      Glad you both enjoyed it! Something a little different for a change. There’s some great videos on YouTube about the use of CGI in the show, a lot of it you wouldn’t believe it is so seamless! Admittedly as you’ll find throughout a lot of the comments here, it was a tough show to keep up with – but definitely rewarded perseverance.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Linda says:

    Hi Andy, thanks so much for your recap, which has helped to explain a lot in this complex drama of plots and twists. However, I am still confused about who is the very first corpse in the opening scene – the one who died from the plague and who the dignitaries bribed others to keep quiet about?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Andy D says:

      I’ve just re-read my original review of that episode and you know I don’t think we ever found out! I assumed at the time it was a council dignitary or nobleman whose death Luis wanted kept quiet, but that’s just speculation on my part!

      Like

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