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Elite - Season 1 - Review: "Latest Spanish Sensation"

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When this show was first announced I’ll admit I got major war flashbacks.

The last Spanish language school drama I watched was El Internado. The plot got far too complicated the longer the show went on, and the episodes were so stupidly long that nearly 2 years after I was first told about the show? I’m still struggling to find the time to watch the last 10+ episodes. Stupidly long episode lengths is a problem that a lot of Spanish language shows have. Where in the UK and the US it’s standard for episodes to be between 42-60 minutes long, one episode of a Spanish show can last nearly 2 hours. Thankfully Netflix tend to know what an acceptable episode length is, and are capable of giving their original programming shortened seasons with Elite coming in at 8 episodes. Just like with another Spanish language original Cable Girls, 8 episodes is the perfect number. There’s no room for filler, the plot moves at a pace, each character is fleshed out enough that we can get an understanding of them even if we don’t necessarily agree with their choices and there’s bundles of character progression.

There’s only one true negative I have about the show that I’ll get out the way. At first when we meet Marina she seems like a half decent person, with an extremely overbearing and controlling brother, and at odds with the world of luxury that she’s grown up in. She likes Samuel because he’s different to everyone else and probably the only person that’s real with her. But from the second the first episode revealed Marina to be dead? This show essentially became a whodunit murder mystery, and with whodunits? You have to rip the character apart to show that they’re actually a completely terrible person, without a moral or hope of redemption in sight. And because the viewer has to be kept in suspense right until the killer is actually revealed, Marina had to in one way or another screw over all the characters, so we can all laugh and joke about her being a terrible person and who wouldn’t want to kill her. As the season progressed it make things a little predictable, though that didn’t make her death any less horrible to witness.

Elite is the story of three teenagers Nadia, Samuel and Christian who move to one of Spain’s most prestigious schools. Current students there are brother and sister Guzman and Marina (whose parents are extremely wealthy even if his father’s dealings aren’t exactly legal) Carla (whose mum owns a winery) Polo (whose mothers are wealthy lesbians) Lu (whose parents are diplomats) and Ander (whose mother in the Principal of the school). On first impressions Guzman seems like an extremely annoying jock who you’re begging to be knocked down a few pegs, Lu is the stereotypical mean girl who goes perfectly with Guzman since they’re both awful people, Carla is very much the alpha in her relationship with polo who seems to be extremely timid and doing whatever he can to keep his girlfriend even at the risk of humiliation and Ander is basically the only one out of these rich snobs who seems half decent.

On the relative side of things, Omar is Nadia’s brother and goes to a different school to everyone else and deals drugs on the side and of course we have Nano. He is probably the most stereotypical character, fresh out of prison, owing money to people who protected him inside, believing the whole world owes him for the life of peasantry that has besieged him and a major douchebag to his brother.

From the end of the first episode Elite has 7 episodes to show us just what exactly Marina did that was so terrible someone would want her dead, and why we should basically be rooting for her to die because she is terrible. What the show also does is take all the characters around her on a journey so when the last episode hits us? No-one is the same as they were when we first met them. To pull all that off in only 8 episodes whilst also planting the crumbs for the eventual murder to be revealed? Pretty good storytelling.

Lu and Nadia immediately clash as they’re both pretty strong academics, but Nadia looks down on Lu and the other rich kids just as hard as they look down on our trio for being poor. Breaking school rules Lu and Guzman decide to have sex in the shower and Nadia quite literally catches them in the act. Neither Guzman nor Lu are happy about that, as they know Nadia can use that dirt to basically have them at her mercy & potentially get them in massive trouble with the school. So rather than just apologizing to her for their earlier behaviour and trying to become friendly with her, Lu decides that Guzman has to seduce and sleep with Nadia. That way Nadia is really just as bad as them, and they have dirt on her to prove that she’s not as righteous as she likes to proclaim. I should probably point out that Nadia is a Muslim who walks into the school wearing her veil which Lu soon puts a stop to, with Ander’s mum informing Nadia she’ll be expelled if she wears it again. Lu in the early episodes is also extremely racist and prejudiced, which is something she has in common with Guzman even if he isn’t quite on her level. Guzman being a guy who likes a challenge and the prospect of doing anything he wants with Lu, isn’t going to say no to the opportunity of taking someone’s virginity.

If you’ve watched one teen drama then you’ve watched them all, and you know that Guzman is obviously going to fall for Nadia for real. She’s not going to be receptive to his advances, we’re going to get told a billion times they’re from two different worlds and will never actually work out, all the whilst that sexual tension is still bubbling between them. Bonus points for Lu actually getting jealous that her plan is unravelling, telling Nadia the truth in the hopes of putting a stop to it, taking every opportunity to reassert her dominance over Guzman, eventually managing to seduce him again and taking great joy in informing Nadia. It’s not at all a storyline that’s new, but I liked the way the writers went about it.

We learnt that the reason Guzman is so hard core against people he deems to be below him, is because he’s actually come from that world and knows the end result. He’s actually adopted, his biological parents did drugs and ended up dead, when Marina previously went wild she ended up sleeping with a guy who gave her HIV, Guzman dealt with that issue by almost beating him to death, he’s absolutely devastated when he catches his father doing coke, is the only one willing to do everything he can to get his father released from jail when the domino’s start falling down, grasses on Ander’s drug taking because he’s worried about his friend ending up dead, and when Marina pushes them all to their limit once again and Guzman takes his eye off the ball she does actually end up dead. Guzman finishes the first season still being extremely prejudiced against those less well-off than him, but that’s understandable considering he currently thinks a felon who got his sister pregnant killed her. In an effort to make sure Nadia can still attend school because he knows she’s extremely smart and deserves it, he sacrifices the love that he’s gained for her and promises her father that he’ll stay away from her. After his grief takes hold of him and he condemns Samuel for Marina being dead and gets some home truths thrown at him, Guzman is ready to kill himself and is talked down by Lu. The two of them have an extremely twisted relationship, but there’s no denying they do actually have a connection between them.

If the show does get renewed I know there’s already a lot of speculation over whether Guzman will be with Nadia or stick with Lu. Quite honestly given how devastated he was over his sister’s death, I think Guzman needs friends more than a girlfriend. Despite the fact he had a lot of character progression, I also think Nadia can do better than someone like him. Sure he did slowly but surely grow up, the two of them had a connection and realizing she was high he backed away, turned the phone off and didn’t hook up with her. Fact of the matter though is his original interest in her did come out of malice, he shouldn’t have expected to be congratulated for not having sex with an intoxicated girl to humiliate her and I just don’t see them long term being compatible. Where Lu is concerned making peace with Nadia was probably extremely difficult for her. She admitted that she’s extremely competitive even when the prize isn’t worth it, just for the sake of being competitive, and was genuinely trying to be happy for Nadia & Guzman as much as it pained her. She’s still the stereotypical mean girl who did a lot of messed up things, but even the mean girl deserves better than someone like Guzman. He doesn’t love her, never has and probably never will, he just likes falling back on her. As much as Lu has a lot of bravado, she’s just as insecure as those around her that she judges. If we had to make do with half a season of a literal threesome, then I’d like a season of Guzman/Nadia/Lu being friends.

Speaking of that threesome, Carla/Polo/Christian was a disaster from the off. I appreciate Spanish dramas always trying to put a different spin on things, and sure it was better than watching Polo & Christian compete for each others affections. With Guzman & Lu it was at least clear from the off that they had a dynamic with each other that they couldn’t really let go of. Carla & Polo on the other hand had no such thread tying them together. 8 episodes later I can’t work out why they ever thought being together in the first place was a good idea, and just telling us that they’re Carla & Polo who always go together isn’t enough. Christian from the off was the funny bad boy who saw Carla as a challenge. She from the off reciprocated that challenge, and it was blatantly obvious that Polo wasn’t actually comfortable with the threesome but was too much of a wet blanket to resist.

Maybe the realization that Polo likes boys just as much as he likes girls is what that storyline was leading up to. Maybe after spending so many episodes building up justifiable reasons why others would want to kill Marina, they wanted to go left field and that’s why Polo ended up being the one to do it. We learnt briefly in the beginning episodes that his parents view him as a forever disappointment, nothing he does is ever good enough for anyone and he’s easily swayed. None of that makes him a sympathetic character though. He essentially blackmailed Christian into a romp with him, then tried to turn the tables by labelling Christian a whore when he threatened to tell Carla, and was somehow left surprised that she reacted badly to his cheating and broke up with him. There was nothing really in Carla’s character either, since she seemingly had the perfect world, essentially stuck with Christian until someone better came along, uses everyone around her and is taken aback when they do the same. Christian standing up to Carla probably turned her on because that’s such an alien concept to her, but as much as Christian may proclaim to be different, he still allowed himself to be wrapped around Carla’s finger and covered up Polo murdering Marina and stood back whilst Nano got blamed.

I think the Nano/Marina/Samuel ‘triangle’ can be summed up in three words; Samuel. Deserved. Better. This guy is far too pure for this world. From the moment Marina first showed an interest in him he was basically gone. At first it seemed like the attraction was mutual but the second Marina laid eyes on Nano, it was clear where she was going and Nano knew it to. At the beginning I admired him for calling Marina out on stringing his brother along when she was into him, but he blew that out the water when he still hooked up with her, then lied to Samuel when he asked point blank if he was the father of her baby. They both treated Samuel terribly and took advantage of his good nature. Granted if you’re having to ask a girl why she’s avoiding you and doesn’t have the courage to just break up with you, that is writing on the wall that the relationship isn’t what you want it to be. But even if he couldn’t be with Marina, he wanted better for her than being with his brother who was not going to be her Prince charming. Sure in the end Marina was realizing the error of her ways and deciding against leaving with Nano, but that doesn’t change the fact she was a horrible person.

Having sex with your boyfriend whilst looking at a picture of his brother on the wall? Gross. Subjecting Samuel to public humiliation just so she could get back at her parents? Gross. Ignoring everyone’s advice and continuing to do drugs, and then outing Omar as a drug dealer to save her own skin? Gross. Blackmailing her teacher to get leniency? Gross. Deciding to help Nano steal from Carla’s family because they apparently deserved it more than her? Not gross but still not OK.

The only time I really felt for Marina was when she was unintentionally outed as having HIV, because no-one should ever be forced into that position. Not telling Nano she was HIV positive though but telling Samuel in the hopes of scaring him off was again gross, and she basically broke every relationship in her life that she had. It was only at the end when she was faced with everyone that hated her and all the wrongs that she’d done, that Marina began to show signs of remorse but even then I struggle to believe she genuinely felt bad. Her death scene and stumbling into Nano’s arms afterwards was sad, but again she brought it on herself. Given she knew Nano had upped the stakes with the blackmail, and Carla was onto her, insinuating to Carla that she still had the watch wasn’t the wisest move. As much as Polo is a weak character, he didn’t go into it with the intention of killing Marina. He just wanted the watch in an ill-conceived attempt to win Carla back. Marina had to once again push buttons by telling Polo stone cold truths about his life, and it’s no surprise Polo reacted. In episode 7 we saw how increasingly possessive of Carla he was despite the break-up, goading Christian in the shower and then beating him up. He was fast approaching his breaking point and Marina was that final push. As much as it’s not right that Nano basically takes the blame and gets put back inside for something he didn’t do, I don’t feel bad for him. Since he arrived back home he’s brought trouble to his families doorstep, his reaction to Samuel being attacked was to ask for more money and he didn’t seem repentant over the fact he had broken his brother’s heart.

Last but not least we had Omar/Ander who were absolute cuties. Omar started out as a stereotypical drug dealer, but then slowly and surely as the season went on we discovered he is gay and deals drugs because he’s trying to make enough money so he can leave home. Ander is a person who has far too many expectations placed on his shoulders by his father, was coming into his sexuality and using drugs as an escape from the pressure that he feels. They’re both cute and completely unproblematic. Getting outed as a drug dealer really wasn’t fair on Omar who was genuinely making an effort to better his life. His parents are extremely old fashioned in their views and I appreciate that. With Omar and Nadia both discovering themselves and progressing, it would’ve been extremely easy to have their father be against this in the beginning and then slowly change his tune.

That didn’t happen though and I’m glad it didn’t because it wouldn’t have been realistic. Their father saw Guzman as being a terrible influence on Nadia and someone who had the audacity to talk down to him in his own shop, and from that point onwards nothing Guzman said was going to make her father see him differently. Omar and Ander both desperately wanted each other to be truthful with their parents so that they could be together, and whilst Ander parents were receptive to him being gay and encouraged it, Omar faced a very different reality. It doesn’t escape the irony that Omar & Nadia were trying to will each other on to be brave and stand up to their father, yet when the moment came, both of them understood why Omar couldn’t admit that he was gay. I’ve absolutely no doubt his father would’ve killed him right there and then if he had, considering he dragged Nadia out of an exam because he didn’t like the way Ander mother spoke to him. I do hope that Omar can somehow escape an arranged marriage, and he can have some kind of future with Ander but that’s very much a long way off at this point. Marina’s death allowed Ander to finally stand up to his father and admit he wasn’t interested in the tennis tournament, so at least some good came from that.

Elite has now been renewed for a second season, and hopefully it will live up to its excellent debut. The cinematography was gorgeous, music choices always superb and excellent acting all round from every single cast member. Writing wasn’t that great in places and considering they had no murder weapon + Marina hadn’t actually sent the text to Nano? There’s no way he would’ve actually been arrested for her murder. I do hope the show is renewed because there’s so many different places the story could go in the 2nd season.

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