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‘Someone Has to Die’ Review: Unique Spanish tragedy shines as it follows a gay man in Franco's regime

From a gay man unable to reconcile his environment to a gay man unwilling to fit into an authoritarian regime’s folds, actors do a phenomenal job
Cecilia Suárez and Isaac Hernández (Netflix)
Cecilia Suárez and Isaac Hernández (Netflix)

Spoilers for ‘Alguien tiene que morir’ or ‘Someone Has to Die’

Manolo Caro’s new Spanish-language Netflix series ‘Alguien tiene que morir’ or ‘Someone Has to Die’, in its very essence, is a unique tragedy. Set in Francoist Spain — Francisco Franco ruled the nation and it was a period marked by authoritarianism and isolationism — it is the story of a young gay man from an upper-class family who doesn’t win on any front. But it is so much more than that.

Gabino (Alejandro Speitzer) returns from Mexico to his family in Spain after his father Gregorio (Ernesto Alterio) calls for him. A deputy director of a special prison for gay, lesbian, and transgender people, Gregorio is not just an authoritative conservative, but overall, a despicable man who does not even respect his wife Mina’s (Cecilia Suárez) lack of consent to sex. But Gregorio is only a product of how he was raised. For anyone in any doubt, the family matriarch, Gregorio’s mother Amparo (Carmen Maura), is the real villain in the story.

Gabino returns but he’s accompanied by a friend, a ballet dancer from Mexico, called Lazaro (Isaac Hernández). And here’s where things get complicated. Gabino is hopelessly in love with Lazaro, a straight man. What makes matters worse is that the woman Gabino is supposed to marry, Cayetana (Ester Expósito), finds Lazaro attractive. To make things further hellish is the fact that Alonso (Carlos Cuevas), Cayetana’s brother, is also gay but a closeted man deep into the Franco regime’s anti-gay ideology. And what makes it positively a nightmare is that Gabino’s mother Mina, the only person sensitive enough to understand Gabino’s plight, falls in love with Lazaro.

It is then a tale of endless tragedies, one cascading over the other, all jumbled up in what was possibly the most regressive age in all of Spain's history. Homosexuality was illegal under the dictatorship of Franco. Strict laws were heavily enforced and several gay men and women were arrested and imprisoned. In fact, gay, lesbian, and transgender folks were reportedly sent to special prisons called “galerías de invertidos” or “galleries of deviants”, where they were subjected to inhumane conditions.

So, what makes the three-part limited series stand out — aside from the spectacular story of course? For starters, it is the characters and the actors who played the parts. Cuevas, Speitzer, Expósito, Alterio and Suárez provide outstanding performances. From a gay man unable to reconcile his environment and upbringing with his true feelings to a gay man unwilling to fit into an authoritarian regime’s folds to a woman scorned (and hell hath no fury like her) by both the man she likes and the man she’s supposed to marry, to a father who would rather see his “deviant” son die than embarrass his social status and his government, to a mother who does not understand what she can do to battle her attraction in the face of an unhappy marriage, every role is horrifyingly convincing and heartbreaking.

The only parts where the show falters in one, in Hernández’s performance — even though he is an exceptional ballet dancer — and in the visual speechless soliloquies given to characters that defy the show’s beautiful aesthetics. ‘Alguien tiene que morir’ or ‘Someone Has to Die’ is a show to watch for many reasons. It is a socio-political history lesson. It is a story of identities and angst. And it is a story of endless heartbreaks. But most of all, it is just one of those shows that get you invested almost instantly, transporting you to 1950s Spain, unable to understand why Gabino must suffer such a tragic fate.

‘Alguien tiene que morir’ or ‘Someone Has to Die’ is available for viewing on Netflix.