The Spanish language show, created by prolific Chilean writer José Ignacio Valenzuela, is a passable revenge thriller with barely enough to set it apart from the rest. The show’s premise is simple: Alex Guzmán (the quiet, furious Manolo Cardona) is released from prison after having been wrongfully incarcerated for 18 years, having taken the fall for the suspicious death of his sister, Sara. Now, he’s hell-bent on uncovering the actual murderer and serving them a healthy dose of justice, no matter the cost.
Yeah, it’s not a very original premise. And the show doesn’t do much with it either. However, Netflix knows that there’s nothing more compelling than murder, especially when you throw in an extravagantly rich and powerful family. In this case, it’s the Lazcano crime family, headed by César Lazcano (an appropriately menacing Ginés García Millán). Sara, at the time of her death, is dating Rodolfo Lazcano, and the two of them, along with her brother Alex and other members of the Lazcano family, are partying away on a boat. As Alex dives deep into their darker secrets, the show proceeds to point fingers towards one suspect after the other, serving up enough red herrings for a feast.
To be fair, there’s enough drama and intrigue on offer to keep you watching if this sounds like your type of thing. But when compared to other, recent works, which operate in a similar territory of murky, powerful families and covered up murders, like Succession or Knives Out, it falls painfully short of the mark. Whereas these other works can usually mine something deeper out of their narratives, Who Killed Sara? feels like a cobbling together of many, half-fascinating tropes that don’t do much more than serve a surface-level intrigue.
There is a case to be made for the value of a murder-mystery pumped with melodrama, which fuses telenovella trappings with a contemporary, pretty Netflix series. Yet again, it’s other shows which play with this idea that bring out the deficiencies in this one– if they weren’t apparent otherwise. I may not be a huge fan of the uber popular La Casa De Papel (awkwardly titled Money Heist in English), but what I still find remarkable about the show is its deft balance of fast plotting, well-channelled melodrama, and distinctive characters. Unfortunately, Who Killed Sara? has none of these qualities.
At the very least, once it gets going, it does keep up the pace, which helps get through most of it. But the length of the show isn’t the real issue. It’s the characters. As it is with shows, the sheer investment of time we put into them, makes us care a little about the characters anyway. Just a little bit of effort, though, to make sure that there’s actual reason, or emotion, compelling us to care, would have gone a long way. For some reason, this continues a trend of Netflix shows finding it harder and harder to write interesting, charismatic people. Alex is a boring, generically vengeful, cishet white dude. It should be clear that this is not a fault of the actor playing him, and neither does this mean that you can’t write great, revenge stories about white people. There’s just such a little sense of who he is, and even worse, we barely get any idea of the impact of the years he’s wrongfully spent in prison.
This leads into another issue. When La Casa De Papel requires some suspension of disbelief, it is never intrusive. On Who Killed Sara?, one must actively resist thinking about the mechanics of the show. I find ‘plotholes’ to be a very reductive way of looking at film or television, but when we have such little sense of a character’s past, their weaknesses, and their suffering (which, specifically, seems to be important to the premise of the show), then it no longer becomes just about a boring character, it’s just a badly written story.