Santo review: Netflix repeats itself with another drug trafficking drama

Corruption. Violence. Nudity. Shootings. Drugs. Holy one of Netflix’s newest series, offers all of this through a drama that alternates personal conflicts and the spectacularity of some action scenes. QBA Ernesto Cardona, played by Bruno Gagliasso, and Detective Millán, played by Raúl Arévalo, star in a story set between Madrid and Brazil with the search for a drug trafficker as a common point.

At Holy many of the legends and real facts associated with drug trafficking seem to be grouped together. From individuals who change their faces to the networks they weave in the police forces or the results suffered by those who enter these worlds and then try to leave. The six-episode series does not function, in that sense, as a Narcosbut it makes quite a few nods to real events.

It is worth clarifying one aspect in connection with the comparison Narcos takes references to compose a fictionalized story with a notorious documentary background. This framework is not so evident in HolyIs this a problem for the series? Not unless the viewer is going into this story with that intention. Without needing that framework, its characters manage to compose a plot of interesting tensions.

Netflix and the risk of stigmas

Productions about drug trafficking are becoming a sort of subgenre within drama and action. The foundational phenomenon may have been Narcosat least on Netflix. From this work, that universe full of blood and drugs reached a mass audience, it became a sort of pop reference. So, from a commercial and content perspective, why not insist in that direction?

Holy may come from that interest. A captive audience in relation to stories in which drama, explicit violence and drug trafficking are in constant dialogue. The risk that is run in the attempt is to saturate that space, to offer proposals that do not have a differential value beyond entertainment, and stigmatize the spaces in which they are developed. It is no coincidence that one of the locations is Brazil, another Latin American country marked by inequality, drug trafficking and blood on the streets.

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Based in that country, the series Holy also explores the religious profile of Brazilian culture and the favela landscape. Its villain, Santo, heads a drug gang with tribal interests. His steps are not only for revenge, leadership in areas or due to the management of a crisis; they also advance on a narrative that escapes the plane in which the drug is found. Meanwhile, Detective Millán plays with fire.

Holy

Three characters are marked by the same figure in this series, Santo, a drug trafficker who is spoken about as a being beyond good and evil, to the point of positioning himself as a religious figure. Meanwhile, two policemen, from their own sidewalks, try to dismantle his system, running the risk of getting lost in that search. Five interesting chapters, oriented to continue expanding a narrative universe within Netflix, that of history that have drugs and weapons as paths to different stories.

Holy and the two sides of the coin

Ernesto Cardona enters a case with the intention of solving it, even though it may cost him his life. In that attempt, failures or conflicts of interest leave him exposed before the cartel. The Netflix series makes an effort to build the character from that place, although it can be confusing between the time jumps and pulses present in the story. Cardona finds himself in a context in which he can trust no one. Going back and forth between moments, Holy tells how he entered that world and, also, his interest in spirits.

If the series wishes to serve as a sort of cultural or anthropological essay, it may work. During the sections where the story is set in Brazil, everything it describes looks plausible, backed by good photography and convincing performances. In contrast, when narrated from Madrid, Detective Millán leaves more doubts. Straddling two worlds, the legal and the criminal, his life gradually disintegrates. Both characters are haunted by their past and the shadow of a figure spoken about as a God: “Don’t you feel it?”, is one of the most repeated dialogues by Barbara, played by Victória Guerra.

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The slope of time jumps

At times, Barbara’s role seems to be to femme fatale. While the story of the other two axes of the tale is told in time and detail, hers (and Susi’s, in the skin of
Greta Fernández) is one that should have been given more screen time. The actress not only convinces, but seduces the viewer, while trying to discern what is going on with her, why this faith, why this relationship with something forbidden. Until, as in other cases, it is revealed that a past event plunged her into the bowels of that universe with a God of her own.

Saint is a series that, between drug trafficking, sexuality, and religion, tends to disperse. Perhaps due to an editing issue and the abuse of time jumps. This last resource, at times, clouds the story he wants to tell: how, moved by different interests and traumas, one and the other are part of a power struggle that goes beyond them. Maybe because of the previous alterations the denouement is confusing, weakening the story it wants to tell, perhaps for wanting to cover too many aspects in that journey, including nods to the terror that allows to discover that, behind the facade of the drug, there is a sect. The series can be seen in full on Netflix from this September 16, 2022.