There are lots of shows about narcos or about law enforcement people who chase narcos. But Santo tries to imagine a “big boss” narco that is so good that his empire is spread from Spain to Brazil, and no one has ever seen his face. How will the police pursue him?
SANTO: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: A child is playing with a toy in the back of his father’s car. Suddenly some motorcycles pull up, shoot the father in the head, take the child, and set the car on fire.
The Gist: This attack took place in Madrid. There, Miguel Millán (Raúl Arévalo), a detective for the federal police, is investigating the murder and the child’s disappearance. What he and his partner Susi Jackson (Greta Fernández) find out that this is but one of the ritualistic ways that a Brazilian drug lord name Santo has people killed.
We see another way in Salvador, Brazil; the dismembered body of a 7-year-old child is found in the ocean; his skull has been pried open and his brain removed. Ernesto Cardona (Bruno Gagliasso) of Brazil’s federal police tells the boy’s aunt about the condition of his body. He volunteers to go undercover in Santo’s organization, and we see that he’s fallen for the boy’s aunt. We don’t see much of Cardona being in his deep cover, as it seems that he’s compromised almost right away. But when he goes back to his girlfriend, she’s upset that he left without a trace for many months.
Back in Madrid, Millán finds out that his high-placed prison informant, who actually had the cop on his payroll, has been killed, and Susi wonders, given the cell phone records she found, what kind of relationship Millán had with this particular drug lord.
In Salvador, Cardona and his task force manage to trace a phone call to Santo made by his mistress, Bárbara Azevedo (Victória Guerra). His boss tells him that it’s a trap, but he goes to the location anyway, to see who’s setting it. He manages to save Bárbara, but as she recovers, he wants to know more about Santo. When he finds out that Santo has relocated to Madrid, he decides to go undercover again, and bring Bárbara for help, he’s especially invested when he revisits his girlfriend and finds a horrific scene.
In Madrid, Millán and Susi chase down the person who bought the motorcycles that were used in the murder of the dealer and the abduction of his son. Retrieval of a cell phone leads to a location. There are some gruesome surprises there, but one surprise even Millán couldn’t have expected.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Narcos, but from the cops’ perspective.
Our Take: The first episode of Santo, created by Carlos López, felt more like a series of scenes than a story. Some things were going on in Madrid, and other things were going on in Salvador. Cardona went undercover, then suddenly he wasn’t. He meets the murdered boy’s aunt, then suddenly she’s lying next to him naked, then even more suddenly she’s brutally murdered.
Things are only somewhat less disjointed in Madrid, where we find out that Millán is working for a jailed drug lord, he has a daughter who wants to live with him full time, and his partner seems to take his semi-corruption personally.
This disjointedness doesn’t make sense until the very last scene, literally the one before the closing credits. Then you realize that the events in Brazil and Spain aren’t happening concurrently, and that a lot of information is being withheld so we can see those revelations later. It makes what we saw in the previous 45 minutes make more sense, but doesn’t necessarily make us want to see more.
It doesn’t feel like López has established his two main characters well. Cardona seems to be a dedicated cop who will stop at nothing to find out who Santo is, while Millán has his own not-as-ethical methods to getting to the same result. There’s evidence that Cardona has his own ethical breaches, like his relationship with the aunt of the dismembered boy. It feels like there’s a lot missing, and it just doesn’t hang together until we realize that the timelines don’t coincide.
So now will the rest of the series actually feel cohesive as the timelines are filled in? Will we find out more about Cardona’s time in Santo’s organization, for instance? Will we see how Millán’s unorthodox methods hurt or help him? As the two cops end up working together to find Santo, those details will be important to see how their relationship works.
Sex and Skin: As we mentioned, there’s some nudity, and the beginnings of some action, but that’s about it.
Parting Shot: After crawling through tight spaces in the factory where his task force is, he finds a bearded man. As he pulls the weakened man out, he keeps saying, “Bárbara…. Bárbara….”
Sleeper Star: Greta Fernández’s character Susi seems to be there to be more than just a scoffing partner for Millán. It’ll be interesting to see what her character contributes going forward.
Most Pilot-y Line: When Bárbara is questioned by Cardona and company, she says she was with Santo for two years, but “I never saw his face.” Did he kiss her with a hood on?
Our Call: SKIP IT. Santo has an intriguing premise, but its first episode is so disjointed that it has a hard time establishing its characters and a cohesive storyline.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.