Spain has been one of the most fertile areas of international series development for Netflix. Not only have the shows coming from there been some of the better ones on the service, but some of them — Elite, High Seas, Money Heist — have become international hits. Hache is definitely in the first category and is primed to be in the second. Read on for more…
HACHE: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: “Barcelona, 1960.” A group of sailors are availing themselves of the services of a local hooker. Another woman looks in a wallet she just stole, then walks back out onto the street.
The Gist: Helena (Adriana Ugarte) stole the wallet because she thinks her most recent client didn’t pay her enough. He starts chasing her through the streets, and she takes refuge in the Albatross Club. As she fights it out with her client, the owner of the club, Malpica (Javier Rey) comes to her aid. The Albatross is a club where Barcelona’s elite come to have their fantasies fulfilled, and that doesn’t just mean that they get a nice cocktail and get to go dancing with beautiful women.
When a problem occurs in another one of Malpica’s businesses, he leaves Helena with Celeste (Ingrid Rubio), who manages the club and gets Helena dressed and ready to do Malpica’s bidding. It seems that a boat containing whatever Malpica’s gang was smuggling was shot at and they lost some items; a doll washed up on shore, supposedly containing whatever Malpica was smuggling.
When he comes back, Helena is ready for him. They have violent sex; he wants her to fight back just as she did to the client she was running from. After their encounter, she helps him take a regular dose of morphine; a leg injury he sustained in the military has left him in extreme pain. When Helena leaves, he asks her for her name. “Helena, with a hache (H),” she says. Malpica decides to call her “Hache.”
A murdered dockworker turns up, shot in the neck and surrounded by dolls similar to what Malpica was using to smuggle. Inspector Alejandro Vinuesa (Eduardo Noriega), just transferred to Barcelona from Madrid, wants this investigated along with two similar killings but is stonewalled by Commissioner Clemente Larrubia, (Álex Casanovas), who says “No one cares about most of the corpses that wash up here.” However, the commissioner’s secretary Silvia (Marina Velasco) gives him access to those files.
Helena is doing sex work for a variety of reasons. She wants to get a lawyer to help her boyfriend, the father of her daughter, to avoid a life sentence; he’s in jail after a violent strike he led caused the death of a security guard. Her mother, who takes care of her daughter, has come down with TB and needs medication. And, of course, they all need food and the rent is late. Helena feels that this is the best and fastest way to make money, and when she receives a large amount from Malpica for that first night, she’s determined to go back. But Celeste tells her she isn’t one of Malpica’s “girls” unless she’s branded with his “M”.
She sneaks into his office and is there when Malpica kills a man who questions his loyalty, especially when he realizes that Malpica is asking him to help smuggle heroin. In order to buy her silence, he orders her to move in with him and become one of his “girls”. She cleverly escapes but is taken back to Malpica via one of his right-hand men.
Our Take: Created by Verónica Fernández, Hache is a show that doesn’t try to do too much at one time. We’ve got Helena’s side of the story and the players involved, Malpica’s side of the story and the players involved there, and clear motivations for why each is doing what they’re doing. Combined with fine acting and tight pacing from director Jorge Torregrossa, you have the makings of a series that is one of the more engaging ones Netflix has produced this year.
The show is determined to present Helena as a strong woman who is doing what she’s doing not because she’s a victim but that she’s taking charge of her situation. Ugarte is a force to be reckoned with in the first episode, exuding a powerful and sexy manner that shows that Helena will never be anything but in charge. She right away establishes Elena as something other than your garden-variety hooker in ’60s Barcelona, and her determination to go back to Malpica — not just for his money but the intrigue he brings to her life — is evident in Ugarte’s performance.
Rey also does a fine job as Malpica, with just the right combination of pain and power coursing through his veins, as well as providing his character with just the right limp to convey his barely-hidden pain. For now, Noriega’s Inspector Vinuesa is the typical “cop who doesn’t know what this town is about” role, things will change as he gets the job to lead the city’s first drug brigade.
Sex and Skin: Like we mentioned, we see Malpica and Helena have violent sex, and we see the bruises on Helena’s body after she disrobes.
Parting Shot: Malpica painfully brands Helena with his signature “M” brand.
Sleeper Star: Ingrid Rubio’s character Celeste will play a role as Helena rises through the ranks of Malpica’s organization. It feels that there will either be jealousy or solidarity, or maybe even both.
Most Pilot-y Line: Listen, we know that the lawyer Helena seeks out to help her boyfriend is slimy, but does he really let Helena pay him with a blowjob? That feels a step too far. And they end up getting interrupted anyway.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Two fine lead performances and a well-paced first episode make Hache a very promising show.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, VanityFair.com, Playboy.com, FastCompany.com, RollingStone.com, Billboard and elsewhere.