Dressed in expensive fashion, the first characters we meet in the new Netflix mini-series “Someone Has to Die” are Cayetana (Ester Expósito, “Elite”) and her brother Alonso (Carlos Cuevas, “Merlí. Sapere Aude”), who pass time shooting pigeons at their family range. Cayetana tells her brother that someone named Gabino has finally returned to marry her. He freezes. Before we can decide whether it’s out of anger or worry, Alonso takes aim, screams and shoots. 

Frantic violins guide us through a wealthy home. Regal, yet sinister. It’s a place where appearances are kept, traditions are prioritized and unadjusted newcomers are not welcome. So it’s no surprise that when Gabino (Alejandro Speitzer, “Enemigo Íntimo”) returns with Lázaro (Isaac Hernández), an attractive Mexican ballet dancer, their friendship becomes a magnet for accusations of homosexuality.

“Someone Has to Die” is the follow up effort of Manolo Caro, who debuted his critically acclaimed dramedy series “The House of Flowers” in 2018. With this new three-episode mini-series, Caro has ditched the humor and amped up the drama for a period piece about wealthy conservatism during Spain’s Franco regime. 

Ten years before his return, Gabino was sent to live in Mexico. His arrival in Spain marks the first time anyone has seen him since he was a child. Within the context of the series, the two countries represent very different ways of life. Spain is a world where manners and practicality pump through its veins like venom. There are strict expectations of how one should behave, and if anyone dares try to wrinkle its “perfect” image, every pillar of its structure is designed to eradicate them. Mexico represents the opposite. It’s a free world with less money, less rules and more personal expression. To Spain, its very existence is a plague to be spat on and forced into submission. 

Gabino’s time there has given him pride and clarity: two traits that prove particularly dangerous. He’s not insecure about his sexuality or his right to express it. He’s able to see his family’s manipulation for what it is, and his refusal to submit to it means that it’s only a matter of time before the systems of Spain weed him out.

To make matters far worse, Gabino’s father, Gregorio (Ernesto Alterio, “Unknown Origins”), also happens to be in the least convenient profession possible: managing a facility that imprisons, overworks and tortures homosexuals. 

This dynamic of being a homosexual in a world that is hell-bent on destroying anything different is where most of the show’s tension comes from. It’s a structure that is so simple and so effective that it stands to point out how limited stories there are about the plight of LGBTQ+ members. Whether in Spain, America or anywhere else in the world, there is so much more progress that needs to be made in the fight for gender and sexuality justice. 

There are two sides to Gabino’s family, and their contrast is not unlike the one between Spain and Mexico. Gregorio is a product of his mother. Cold-blooded, and deeply instilled with the virtue that business and beliefs come before love. Gregorio’s wife, Mina (Cecilia Suárez, “The House of Flowers”) is more in line with Mexico. She’s passionate, understanding and prioritizes her love for her child over all else. To Gabino, Mina is the only human being in their rich Spanish society that accepts him for who he is. In this way, she is the sole beacon of hope for his happiness.

There is so much about this show that works well. It’s carefully constructed, sufficiently engaging and unafraid to make artistic choices when it wants to deliver an emotion. The score, as mentioned before, is fantastic. Recurring haunting, anxiety-ridden strings paint such a vivid portrait of affluent tension. In fact, there’s no aspect of the show at all that comes off as particularly weak. 

However, “Someone Has to Die” lacks a certain vigor which keeps it from being one of the more memorable projects to debut this year. The culprit may be its format. With only three, approximately hour-long episodes, the finale feels rushed. The first two episodes were wonderfully paced, but by its ending I wished that Caro had taken it further. So many interesting seeds were planted for each character that never got the pay off they deserved. Because of the lack of time, the series became more plot-focused than character-based, and it lost out on a lot of opportunities for hard-hitting moments as a result.

Though it may not have reached its full potential, “Someone Has to Die” does a compelling job at exploring an important piece of LGBTQ+ history.

Daily Arts Writer Ben Servetah can be reached at bserve@umich.edu.

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