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Money Heist: Series Review

Tokyo: “The most important moments are the ones that make you realize there’s no turning back. You’ve crossed a line, and you’re stuck on the other side now.”

Several weeks ago my husband stayed up the entire night, because he was bingeing on a series in Spanish. I soon understood why.

Money Heist, about a pair of heists of audacious sums of money, is a Spanish show (and is very proud of its Spanish roots). The first heist takes place in the Royal Mint, which is where money gets printed. In the first heist the robbers are printing lots of new money, and this takes both expertise and time, and justifies having so many episodes (originally I was confused because the heist was still continuing at the first episode's end, which is not how these shows usually work). The second heist also has a reason to be holed up, this time in the Bank of Spain.

Both heists are essentially sieges, with the police surrounding the fortress-like buildings in which the thieves are holed up with the hostages. Our band of thieves wear red jumpsuits and usually hide their facial features with Salvador Dali masks. They compel the hostages to wear the same outfits, creating a terrible dilemma for the police, because how can the police storm the building to rescue hostages if they cannot tell the perpetrators from the victims? This leads to situations with plenty of tension, negotiations and drama and as many folds as elegant origami. The leader, called the “Professor,” remains on the outside for the majority of the two heists, so that they can know what is going on outside. He also has to deal with many crises. They are working, not just to steal, but to win over the public, as this strengthens their position vis-à-vis the police.

The heists have been carefully planned, with the professor training the crew for months in advance. In order to minimize risk to the entire plot, the band of thieves has agreed to certain rules. They’re not supposed to form personal attachments with each other, and to prevent personal information from being shared, they call each other by the names of cities. So we have characters called Toyko, Berlin, and Denver, among others.

Despite the attempt to maintain anonymity, relationships form. Between the thieves (and some knew each other before they signed on); between the thieves and the police, and between the thieves and some of the hostages. The lines blur; and although we start out by labeling the characters with "thief" or "hostage," we quickly start to feel that, for the most part, these are just people. I was left with wanting nearly everyone to do well, which is a lot better than those shows when I can’t sympathize with any of the characters.

Moreover, the morality of the actions begins to blur as well. In a way, printing money is not “stealing” from anyone in particular, because it’s just new money. Does it belong to anyone? Why should society – or rather, those in charge of society – get to dictate who is rich and who is poor?

During the first heist, some characters die, but unlike in so many science fiction shows, they cannot come back to life. However, the makers of Money Heist wanted to continue to employ its stars, so many episodes contain various flashbacks. Often the Professor will be lecturing on a particular problem – such as what to do if captured – and this allows us to see the others learning about strategies and tactics during flashbacks. This is excellent because we get a mix of action and quiet time, also known as practice and theory.

The show was intended to be a limited series of 15 episodes (parts one and two), and aired in May 2017. However, Netflix bought the streaming rights, and remixed the original 15 to make 22 episodes, then added three more parts, so there are a total of 41 episodes. Netflix added a second heist, this time in the Bank of Spain, where our robbers work to steal 90 tons of gold. Again, they had a prolonged stay in the building, because in order to steal the gold, they had to melt it first, and melting 90 tons of gold takes time. Are the episodes in the second set as good as those in the first set? I would say, almost. I think it went on a little too long and that there were too many gun battles. However, others may not have this reaction. After all, it’s a cops and robbers show! There have to be shoot-outs!

Because I don’t know Spanish, I watched this in English, which meant dubbing. I also used English subtitles. I have watched many dubbed shows, and the dubbing for Money Heist was not great. The timing was frequently off and the dubbing and the captioning did not match, sometimes enough to make me wonder exactly what was said in the Spanish version. I assume the real meaning was somewhere in the middle.

Title musings. Money Heist is the title of the series in English, and certainly this conveys the central action of the series. However, the title in Spanish is “La casa de papel,” which is more accurately translated as “the house of paper.” This title works so well on so many levels. The first heist takes place at the Royal Mint, which is where they print paper money (they don’t go into how coins get printed). So in that respect it is the house of paper. And the opening credits always show a model of the Royal Mint, made out of paper, which gives this a literal interpretation.

But the phrase, house of paper, goes beyond this. It calls into question the solidity of economies, where the numbers in bank accounts, pieces of paper, account for trust but is in many respects an illusion. The story, itself, is a house of paper, with many twists and folds. One of my favorite titles, ever!

Bits and pieces

The “uniform” of the thieves includes a red jumpsuit (and the hostages are also compelled to wear them). Not only does this make them all stand out, but red is one of Spain’s colors.

The other part of the uniform is the mask they all wear: Salvador Dali, who, according to Wikipedia, “was a Spanish surrealist artist renowned for his technical skill, precise draftsmanship, and the striking and bizarre images in his work.” It all suits the themes and goals of Money Heist.

The Professor has a hobby: origami, folding little red pieces of paper. Another metaphor for the series, as the precise folds and twists turn something flat and square into unexpected three-dimensional figures.

Another character with many square, flat slips of paper is the mother of the inspector. She is in the early stages of Alzheimer's and she uses the post-its to remind her failing brain of what she might have forgotten.

The thieves play the police a lot, but sometimes they get played as well.

Most of the actors are far more attractive than what you expect from real thieves.

One of the general strategies is to make sure they have the support of the public. This is done by having a code of honor and by exposing the corruption of the government. In several respects, the thieves consider themselves to be the resistance.

There’s a theory – Modern Monetary Theory – which posits that it doesn’t matter how much money a government prints (or creates by use of bonds and bills and loans).

I found it strange that they gave Alison Parker, the daughter of the British ambassador, an American accent in the English dubbing.

Many places, including Amazon, are happy to sell anyone and everyone a red jumpsuit and a Salvador Dali mask.

Quotes

The Professor: Sometimes, a truce is the most important part of a war.

Tokyo: A lot of people believe we only find one true love in our lives. But, what they don’t realize is you can have several lives.

Nairobi: To love, you need courage.

Tokyo: There’s always happier days to remember. And the more fucked up things are, the happier those days seem to be.

Rio: Every day, I’d wake up wondering if it was my last.

Professor: Either we both win or we both lose. Colonel, it’s time for you to face it; this is checkmate.

Overall rating

This show was compelling. I’m knocking half a star off for the inferior dubbing and half a star off for parts of the sequel, but then adding a half star back on for the title and the many layers and folds to the story. Three and a half out of four Salvador Dali masks.

Victoria Grossack loves math, birds, Greek mythology, Jane Austen and great storytelling in many forms.

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