Friday, September 18, 2009

Advance word: Epitafios II on HBO

A ruthless serial killer. A series of increasingly gruesome murders. Jaded dectectives on the edge. Unrelenting darkness and dread.

David Fincher's "Seven"? "CSI: Miami"? Not quite.

When "Epitafios" debuted on HBO Latino in 2005 as a 13-episode series, it was promoted as the network's biggest push into developing original programming for is HBO Latino off-shoot.

Filmed in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in its entirety, I was drawn by it's lush cinematography, its stellar cast, and the promise of unrelenting suspense.

Ultimately, when I wrote about it, I remarked that, while I thought the series was OK, I was disappointed by glaring continuity lapses, a laughable subplot in which a lead character willingly participates in an underground Russian-roulette betting group, and, worst of all, that the serial killer turned out to be a gay man who cross-dressed at night and posed as a street walker to befriend one of the lead detectives. In other words, as stereotypical and homophobic a character as I had seen in quite a while.

The series was apparently a hit and can be found on DVD. It certainly gets better reviews than mine by people who have left comments left at

Now comes "Epitafios: The End Now Has Two Faces" beginning tonight at 10pm on HBO Latino and Tuesdays at 11pm - with English subtitles - on HBO2.

I have received a promotional DVD with the first two episodes of the season. Here are my first reactions.

The first series was shot in 2003 and the intervening years certainly seem to show on actor Julio Chávez' face. Chávez, one of the best thing about the series, continues to play Detective Renzo Marquez as an eternally dour and short-tempered man who seems to trust no one but Detective Marina Segal, his partner. Segal, played by renown actress Cecilia Roth, is just as dour and haunted a detective and, on her off time, sometimes participates in clandestine meetings where two or more people sit around a table placing bets on their lives. Each takes a turn at putting a gun in their mouth, hoping that there is no bullet in the chamber when they pull the trigger.

"Epitaphs", in the first series, referred to cryptic messages left on make-shift grave stones next to the serial killer's victims. In the new series, they refer to the names of future victims as written on pieces of paper by a man who scratches and digs his way out of a makeshift grave in the first episode. The man, known as XL for the size of the clothes he is wearing when he is found wondering the streets, is the victim of a serial killer who has a thing for recreating gruesome murders from the past and keeping photographic records of each gruesome detail.

Some problems remain with the writing. In episode two, for example, with XL providing key leads to the detectives, Renzo blows his secret weapon by asking media to run images of the man to see if anyone can identify him. This, of course, alerts the serial killer to the fact that his first victim did not die and might potentially be able to identify him to police. Renzo's frequent blow-ups at superiors and his flash-anger, as in the first series, strains the credibility that any police department would hire him as a detective. And then there's the Russian-roulette storyline, which I mention once again because, it's stupid (an in the new series, implausibly, features Detective Segal going against a teenager boy at the betting table).

But, all in all, the pacing of the show seems to be much better than in the original and the main story grabs you from the start. It's as if the producers were able to relax now that the series was picked up for a second season and decided to focus on improving the show.

There are new interesting characters, including Detective Mariano Lagos*, played by Juan Minujín, who uses his developed sense of smell to identify substances others might miss. He ads a welcome touch of levity to the dire proceedings.

And for those of you for whom it may matter, a major gay storyline is revealed at the end of episode 2. It might be that the writers wanted to address charges that the first series was homophobic. Then again, I have a feeling that the storyline will meet a gruesome end sooner than later, if I'm right about some big clues that have been given so far.

The star of the show, though, remains the city of Buenos Aires, lovingly shot from above and on the ground by Directors of Photography Guillermo Zapinno and Miguel Abal. The city looks gorgeous, even as it sometimes is shot to look dark and menacing. If you have some time on your hands, it's definitely worth a look.

*An in-joke? One of the funniest things about the series is that one of the new characters is named Mariano Lagos. I am sure that my friend Mariano Lago, who is a well-known entertainment reporter in Buenos Aires and has a great personal blog at Lake Blog, is having a big laugh over this. Is it a coincidence? Or...

What others are saying:

"As I watched this gruesome, tense and beautifully filmed (in Buenos Aries) series, the same sick feeling of foreboding crept into my stomach that I felt while watching the film "Seven" for the first time. Thankfully, the graphic images did not make me pass out this time" - Show Patrol who gives it 4 out of 4 stars.

"Epitafios: El Final Ahora Tiene Dos Caras" Trailer...


Maegan la Mala said...

I actually liked the first season, as much as the cross dressing prostitute homophobic shit irritated me. I'm trying to piece together the new season so far and guess what will happen.

Anonymous said...

I was so dissappointed with season 2 of the Epitafios series. I felt that this one left the viewer with so many unanswered questions, not to mention the dissappointing ending. Season 1 was superior, you were able to put all the pieces of the puzzle and not get lost, unlike season 2. Once again, you took a beloved character and killed her off, just as you did on season 1. It would not have been as bad had the story line answered all the questions. Season 2 left me, the viewer with dissappointment. Should there be another Epitafios season, it would simply not be the same without Marina.