I find my hands tied in writing this review to not give spoilers as the ending of season three of the Spanish series Élite, and by this I mean, the last one episode, single-handedly makes an otherwise impressive series leave a sickening aftertaste. After praising Elite for almost three seasons in its ability to not fall into the trap of becoming another sparkly teen-drama, it is then deeply disappointing to see it utterly sugar coat its ending.
My spoilers stop there; you will unfortunately have to see what I’m talking about when you get to it. However, we can indeed still talk about the last season and the series as a whole. And I think most viewers would agree that Élite is a flawed but fine series. High quality, deep in subject matter and, at times, truly horrifying in its depiction of the merciless cruelty people are capable of, the series has many of the elements required to make a gripping show.
Like most series that exploit the rich-teens-in-a-private-school scenario, no stock character is missing. Name a high school cliché, you got them. However, the series’ ultimate strength is that, despite these stereotypes, the viewer is never pushed into sympathising with a particular character; the nuance of morality is what makes the show so surprising. Every one of them is human; messy, disgusting, selfish, vulnerable, all simply trying their best and more often than not, failing miserably.
The teenagers, of course played by gorgeous twenty-something year old actors just like series such as 90210, try to navigate the hierarchical power system of high school. As they make sense of a compromised justice system where money often prevails over truth, they must also grapple with sexual politics and a web of relationships where you never know who will stab you in the back.
Sounds cliché? Maybe. But Élite does succeed in honest character building. All conventionally good looking people on the surface, the characters reveal detailed and genuinely relatable personalities within. Racial, sexual, religious and class diversity is present, but instead of throwing them into the mix for the sake of today’s inclusivity-pressure like so many series do, Élite’s minority characters’ purpose is not solely political representation of their minority identities. The show presents them in a sensitive and authentic way, without ever falling into the trap of victimising or limiting them. While season three does not introduce any new characters, it strengthens the bold personalities we already know.
Aside from Élite’s remodelling of cliche characters, its second strength lies in its storytelling. The murder-mystery-thriller plot is not necessarily ground-breaking, but the way it is told prevents the story from becoming predictable. Scenes in the past, present and future are strategically interwoven without confusing the viewer. The show juxtaposes perspectives; just as the viewer starts to form a judgement on somebody, an alternative viewpoint contradicts them. Along with this carefully engineered storyline, the steamy soundtrack is a perfect fit for the overall sexually explicit cinematography. And as one of those series that must be watched with the original sound, the Spanish language and original acting adds just another dimension of authenticity.
Positives established, here is the flaw-list. Too often the life-like vibe is compromised by cringey and unrealistically dramatic scenes. For example when private-school uniforms are altered to match the characters’ personality, and look hypersexualized. Everything is just too beautiful, even when it really shouldn’t be. And occasionally the acting performances are distorted to fit the soap-opera quality of the series, undermining the nuances and depth the characters otherwise communicate.
Overall, Élite season three steadily kept up the teen-but-mature quality of the first two seasons. It is by no means life changing or revolutionary, but it is a decent and intriguing critique of society. Still a soapy, but a nuanced one. Which is why they’ve got to be kidding for letting it end in this unworthy way! Rant over.
Image: Netflix via Wikipedia