The creator of "Money Heist" and Netflix have another hit on their hands as three prostitutes fight for their freedom on the island of Tenerife. And we're only halfway through the story.
- 💃🏻 Álex Pina creates another compelling Spanish-language series.
- 💃🏻 Three strong female characters (and actors) lead the way.
- 💃🏻 The evil retains enough humanity to keep it interesting.
- 💦 A car wash-shower scene? Really?
If we know one thing about an Álex Pina series by now, it's this: You're going to get a story with some bad-ass women that's moving a million miles an hour. We've learned that with Money Heist (La Casa de Papel in its native Spain.) We've learned that with White Lines. And we're learning it yet again with Sky Rojo, available now on Netflix.
The series is made up of eight half-hour episodes that are more of an electric shock than likely anything else you've watched on the streaming service in quite a while. There's not a second of screen time wasted — even if nobody is fighting, fleeing, or fucking.
And those three things often blur together, too, given that Sky Rojo — loosely translated to Red Leatherette — is the story of three prostitutes on the run from their pimp on the Spanish island of Tenerife. As has been the case with Pina's other series, Sky Rojo tempers the forward momentum with flashbacks that give the back story of how we got to where things are now.
And it's one hell of a ride.
"We've killed another one. We're fucking jinxed."
That's the reaction after the fleeing trio of Coral (Verónica Sánchez), Wendy (Lali Espósito) and Gina (Yany Prado) brain a security guard who found them laying low in a home store after they killed their pimp, and the house madam. That's three bodies in the first two episodes. And if they keep things up at that rate, it's hard to figure how they'd ever actually get far enough to have any semblance of freedom.
It's not that Romeo — played by Asier Etxeandia, and is there any better name for a pimp? — didn't have it coming. He's not running a brothel out of some misguided sense of chivalry, of course. For him, it's about the money and power. And for him, one leads to the other. That's what leads Yany to crack him over the head. She was lured to the island under the guise of a waitressing job, only to discover she'd be working as a prostitute. That's human trafficking in any sense of the word — and it gets worse. She was sold into service by her mother, and Romeo has been sending a cut of the earnings back to Cuba the whole time for Gina's family.
Gina thinks she's paid off her debt, but Romeo has other ideas. And that's what gets him killed. Except it takes all three girls to actually do the deed. But even then, it turns out that Romeo survived. So he gives Coral a call and lets her know what he has in store for the women once his henchmen — brothers Moises and Christian (Miguel Ángel Silvestre and Enric Auquer) — catch up with them. Romeo's stuck in a hospital bed with a cracked skull, no feeling on his left side, his head immobilized in a cage. And he's going to make sure they feel something even worse. (It involves a jigsaw and a baby blanket for the remaining torso, and I'll just leave it at that.)
Gina wasn't tricked into sex work, though. A former biologist, she came willingly. It started as a part-time stripping gig before graduating to work in the club. Her problems are many, of course, starting with a pretty bad drug habit, which doesn't get any better once they're on the run. But it's more than just addiction. She sees it as something almost poetic, which blinds her to the desperation of the addiction. But she's really using to escape. She used her sex worker life to escape her husband, and the drugs to escape the sex work.
"There's a certain calmness in sinking, in letting yourself go sweetly," she says in a flashback in Episode 4. "In that fluffy feeling that narcotics give you, which allows you to live in horror and feel like you're floating." She's in a hospital as Moises — who serves as Coral's driver and occasional lover — searches for his mother, who's fallen and broken a hip. Coral spies a woman with a fentanyl drip and graciously relieves her of it, sticking the IV needle in her own arm instead. Meanwhile, Christian — who has a drug problem of his own — takes out his fear and frustration on the caretaker who was supposed to be watching his mother when she got hurt. Christian is impulsive and violent, to say the least.
This flashback, by the way, is bookended by Coral getting high and nearly drowning herself in a pool. Fortunately she snaps out of it just in time to find the brothers arrive. So she's high and maybe ready to die, just not by their hand.
Wendy's story is different. She's a lesbian from the slums of Buenos Aries who had to get out, and would do anything to get out. Even work as a prostitute. That's what led her to Romeo, and she sent all the money back home to her girlfriend in Argentina. But in Wendy's first flashback we see the relationship fall apart, and the club becoming a prison, where love and hope have no place. "And you realize fucking isn't the worst part," she says. "The worst part is having to laugh."
Then there's Romeo. He sits out a good bit of the series. Not that he's ever really gone. He's the crux of everyone's problems. And the crux of Romeo's problems? That's no secret. In fact, it's the title of the penultimate episode — "Thinking With Your Dick." Women are there for one thing, and one thing only. And the conquering phallus is Romeo's guiding, well, light. Or at least it was before half his body quit working.
Romeo has rules for this business. But he also breaks them. And he's not the only one. And one of obvious rules is that you don't catch feelings for your working girls. (That's probably the first thing they teach you at pimp school right?)
Romeo broke that rule. Moises broke that rule, too. Coral is caught in between.
Meanwhile, the girls think they have a plan that will solve all their problems. And that sets up a showdown you might have seen coming in the Part 1 finale of Sky Rojo.
Or maybe not. We've known from the get-go that there are eight more episodes on the way eventually.
Because while you can escape from the dark, there's no guarantee that the freedom will last forever.
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