‘Dark Desire’ Review: Netflix's new Mexican series is a male fantasy of a lovelorn woman wrapped in a thriller
Spoilers for ‘Dark Desire’ or ‘Oscuro Deseo’
Alma Solares (Maite Perroni) is a prestigious lawyer and college professor. She’s married to Leonardo Solares (Jorge Poza), a powerful judge in Mexico. Their marriage, after 20 years, is not a happy one. Alma suspects her husband of having an affair with his assistant Edith (Paulina Matos). And beyond that, she’s generally dissatisfied with the lack of adventure in their marriage.
One of the first scenes we see Alma is where she has a conundrum -- to take or not to take her vibrator on her trip to see her friend. She decided to take it along with her. And right there, ‘Dark Desire’ or ‘Oscuro Deseo’, Netflix’s new Mexican thriller/drama series sets the tone for what it is. It’s an erotic tale. But like most erotic thrillers out there, there is a gaping problem right from the start: the ever-present male gaze.
The show is a bunch of male fantasies and tropes packed into one dark-gray-tinted story -- the femme fatale, the middle-aged lovelorn woman craving adventure, the paranoid-jealous wife, the young, attractive woman fantasizing over an older, powerful man and in the name of inclusivity, the male idea of what a young lesbian relationship looks like.
The show’s title itself gives much away in that regard. These are quote-unquote dark desires; desires one buries and keeps within all the time. And once the proverbial Pandora’s Box opens, all hell breaks loose. In the show, this happens with Alma’s visit to her freshly-divorced friend; a friend who openly encourages her to explore her options. A friend who takes her to a party with the sole intention of getting her to loosen up and one who actively encourages her to find a guy she can f***.
Predictably enough, that’s exactly what happens. At the party, Alma meets Dario Guerra, a 23-year-old man who flirts with her. Dario is classically attractive. He’s young, handsome, charming and assertive. Soon, one thing leads to another, and despite her better judgment, Alma takes him home, where they have a predictable wild night.
In the cold light of the day, however, she regrets it. She is, after all, a married woman who has a grownup daughter (Zoe, played by Regina Pavón). She is a respected figure in law. And she is married to a famous and powerful man. But she can’t let go of what happened. To make matters worse, she soon realizes that Dario is not just a random fling in a different city. He’s her student and that complicates matters further.
So, what is Alma to do? She wants to be with Dario but she also doesn’t want to break her family apart. And while she deals with this conundrum, we see the second plot of the show -- homicide or the intentional killing of women just because they are women. And this femicide is hardly unrelated. For it is her newly-divorced friend who becomes an unwitting victim of this hate crime. This opens up the story to the thriller aspect of it. A serial killer plot that only adds to the overt dramatization in the story.
‘Dark Desire’ or ‘Oscuro Deseo’ is not a soap or a telenovela. It’s aesthetically dark, gritty and bold. And, it has a good pace. But at the end of the day, it is still a frivolous attempt at presenting an insidious-looking story that makes little sense of its characters’ motivations (the context often looks forced).
Everyone has high-stakes secrets, everyone is two-faced and everyone is way too obsessed with carnal pleasures, be it Alma, Zoe, Leonardo, or even Leonardo’s brother Esteban (Erik Hayser). And while all of this sets an aura of mystery and thrill, it’s easy to see through the hollowness of the show in a matter of minutes.
That being said, if you are a fan of steamy thrillers, ‘Dark Desire’ or ‘Oscuro Deseo’ is likely to fit well into your palette. It is, after all, well-made in all other aspects, except the story. It’s run-of-the-mill in many regards but that’s not always a bad thing. Especially if you can get past the obvious male fantasies of the show.
‘Dark Desire’ or ‘Oscuro Deseo’ is available for watching on Netflix.