'White Lines' Review: Álex Pina's show is an exercise in discomfort and no amount of sex and drugs soften that
It’s an almost-ten-hour-long journey that while engrosses you, also makes your skin crawl. Not with gory visuals. No, there is some of that, but nothing overwhelming
Spoilers for ‘White Lines’
Picture this: It’s the middle of nowhere. Just rice farms for miles and miles in rural Spain. In the middle of this is a man chained to a giant stack of loudspeakers. Three men, wearing noise-canceling headphones gently headbang as the shackled man is tortured with increasing decibels of his own music. Till his eardrums burst with a sickening thud, and blood gushes out, and the scene goes unnervingly silent.
Picture this, as well: An attractive and rich middle-aged woman, while talking to a powerful priest, questions his belief in God while masturbating him inside his pants, with a haughtily bored expression on her face.
Álex Pina’s new crime drama on Netflix, ‘White Lines’, doesn’t try to shock. It tries to create discomfort. It’s not always torture porn. It’s human behavior too. There’s a scene where old friends gather together after two decades to try and move past an event, a figure, from their old lives. The dinner party that was supposed to be an intense affair, however, turns into a festival of uncomfortable revelations and shameful emotions.
The ten-episode first season of the show follows Zoe Walker (Laura Haddock), as she tries to uncover the mystery behind the two-decade-old death of her brother Axel (Tom Rhys Harries), a supposedly free-spirited DJ from Manchester who moves to Ibiza in Spain. The show shifts between the present and the past, often juxtaposing thematically connected events, to make sense of things.
Discomfort is part of Axel’s narrative. In the first half of the show, Axel is portrayed as this talented artist from a working-class family with dreams of finding freedom through his music. He is devilishly handsome, charming and a doting elder brother. He’s a rebel. He’s everything a distorted loving memory would remember him as. But as the show progresses, we realize that’s only half the picture.
He’s a masochist. He’s a hedonist. He’s manipulative. He’s arrogant. He’s an addict. He’s all things bad you can imagine. And this revelation doesn’t build up to a climax. It’s unloaded on viewers in swift takes. The whiplash of this new information is as uncomfortable as it gets.
There’s visible discomfort in other parts of the show as well, the more non-Axel aspects. Take the Calafat family for example. They control the nightlife and the drug trade in Ibiza. They are, for all intents and purposes, royalty there. But inside their Spanish revival mansion, there is a mother who is manipulative and controlling (Belén López), a son who has an obvious Oedipal complex (Juan Diego Botto), a daughter who despises the aforementioned two (Marta Milans), and a patriarch whose hatred for his son only rivals the reversal of that equation (Pedro Casablanc). Even when they are civilized with each other, the inherited trauma the children share combined with passive and active aggression from the parents, is more disconcerting to watch than Donald Trump’s press briefings.
But the more uncomfortable thing to witness is the protagonist herself. Zoe suffers from depression. She’s lived her entire life with her self-worth chipping away, one morsel at a time. She’s unsure of her decisions, and she’s unsure of her wants and needs. It’s not the self-doubt that’s the problem though. It’s how her immediate family treats it. Her husband and her father, out of love and care, strip her off all agency, gaslighting her on every step. It’s as if they want her to depend on them, even at the cost of her not being who she could have been.
‘White Lines’ is a crime drama. But it’s so much more than that. It’s an almost-ten-hour-long journey that while engrosses you, also makes your skin crawl. Not with gory visuals. No. There is some of that, but nothing overwhelming. The show does that with what it perceives as nothing but the feelings and emotions and thoughts that inhabit the innermost sanctum of our minds. And no amount of sun-soaked beaches, gratuitous nudity, and parties soften that blow.
‘White Lines’ is available for viewing on Netflix.