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.
FOR OUR REVIEW OF EPISODES 1 & 2 CLICK HERE
FOR OUR REVIEW OF EPISODES 3 & 4 CLICK HERE