'Locked Up' aka 'Vis-a-Vis: El Oasis' Review: A predictable ride for fans of 'Money Heist' and 'Breaking Bad'
The final run of Zulema and Macarena's story comes to a dramatic end in the fifth season cum spin off as feminist undertones shine across drug cartels in a western frame
This article contains spoilers
One of Alex Pina's signature style is perhaps having a brilliant show canceled on one network, only to rise to exponential popularity when relaunched from another forum. Such was the magic of his 'Money Heist' - the Dali-mask sporting tale of rebellion and respite, and such is the case with 'Vis-a-Vis' that launched its fifth season slash spin-off 'El Oasis' on Netflix hours ago. But that's not the only thing connecting the two shows.
'Vis-a-vis' has been a lot like another Netflix's record-breaker - 'Orange Is the New Black' (OINTB). After the prison drama was wrapped following its six very popular seasons, viewers might have flocked to Pina's show for comfort. The dirty mismanagement and dark secrets of a miserably run correctional facility through the point of view of a female protagonist was a resemblance too uncanny to overlook. And while the story attempts to go off with a bang with its grand extended spin-off finale, it gets extremely similar to 'Money Heist', in terms of both niche subplots often falling back on the explanatory crutch of 'love'. The only thing setting them apart is the involvement of drug lords and cartel wars.
It's like 'Breaking Bad' meets 'Money Heist' in the original house of 'OINTB'. More the first two in the spin-off particularly, because essences of their prison life only fleet in through momentary flashbacks of traumatic incidents. The final run of Zulema (Najwa Nimri) and Macarena's (Maggie Sivantos) story comes to a dramatic end with feminist undertones amidst a Western setting. Zulema and Macarena have been robbing banks and scoring really well in their trailer park home along a sublime lake. They call it a 'marriage of convenience' but eventually Macarena gets fed up with this life. Zulema convinces her one last gig before they go their separate ways and that's when it all falls apart. Just like Tokyo's (Ursula Corbero) life had when struck with cupid's arrow on Pina's other show.
The two round up a few of their old time buddies from lock up, each as murderous as the next one. It's almost the set up of season 2 of 'Money Heist', where El Professor (Alvaro Morte) beckons for the others amidst the new lives the robbers have built for themselves in different corners of the world. Funnily enough, Nimri's character is the one who hurts our team of rebels the most in 'Money Heist'; here she is the mastermind behind all crimes. The title 'El Oasis' comes from a little hotel Zulena, Macarena, and the rest of the gang is going to lodge at once their heist is successful. And speaking of the heist, this is where your 'Breaking Bad' essence whiffs in with Zulema and co. attempting to rob a $20 million tiara from the local druglord Ramala at his daughter's wedding.
The chilling lack of fear in the underworld's undertakings is matched by the Western frame surrounding it all. Zulema and Macarena are like cowboys in heat, ready to pop off without a care about anything else. Hardened by their lives in prison, even though the duo claims that past is long buried, the desperation at the lack of an escape route is something both Civastos and Nimri channel expertly. And right when we start rooting for these women, the same way Pina makes us do for his Dali-worshippers in the other show, things fall apart with as the lingering, villainous presence of Sandoval comes back to haunt them one last time, in the form of his equally demonic, voyeuristic mother who owns the hotel. The story then starts getting really intertwined, with this mother, Ama, plotting against Macarena whom she holds responsible for Sandoval's death. Macarena, when threatened by the cops, give Zulema up and thus begins the breach in their relationship - the volcano isn't dormant anymore.
Active and bubbling with rage from everywhere, Pina also tries to distract his audience with equally gripping storylines happening with the other lodgers at El Oasis. There's a perverted father watching his daughter in the shower, but the child's mother even refuses to believe her at first. In another room, here's a bunch of high school kids bullying a closeted boy to the point of where he drowns himself in the common pool at the hotel. It's a lot and gets more disturbing than when Ama was confronted by Macarena for raising and encouraging a serial rapist. Her younger son Cepa, although differently-abled, is sweet and the exact opposite of his elder brother - often a comforting solace for the horrors of the late doctor.
In the end, it is once again the cinematography and symbols that Pina's works rely on, that proves to be a welcome relief in an otherwise predictable ride. The camerawork, steady and interesting, frames the monstrous druglord between a pair of horns, and turns slurping a red summer drink into a memento of first blood. Vivid shootouts are accompanied by enticing music, almost the way a pinch of salt makes the perfect fudge brownie. Pina relies on a lot of his signature tropes to craft a fitting send-off to the undefeatable Zulema, who dies in the end but on her own terms. Her story is that of letting it fall apart for love; her relationship, partnership, and camaraderie with Macarena both as vulnerable, as volatile - like true passion.
Alba Flores returns sparingly, once in a touching flashback from her prison days with Zulema, and again, to dance next to her grave as Zulema can be seen making her promise in the flashback. It will never be alright to see Nimri and Flores be best friends after watching one shoot the other in 'Money Heist', but it's not too prickly either. The only problem is that we all know how it ends, and sadly, there isn't much to shock or wow us after all.
'Locked Up', aka 'Vis-a-Vis: El Oasis' is available for streaming from July 31 only on Netflix.