From Beverly Hills, 90210 to Gossip Girl, there's nothing teen TV loves more than excessive wealth and the drama that comes with it. Joining the ranks of Marissa Cooper and Blair Waldorf are the students of the exclusive Las Encinas school in Madrid in Netflix's Spanish adolescent melodrama Élite. Privileged youth party up a storm, but along with the usual hooking-up antics, there is a murder plot at the heart of the first season, which plays out like a teen version of Damages or Big Little Lies. Interrogation scenes set in the present detail the crime and reveal the long list of suspects with motives for killing Marina (María Pedraza), while flashbacks portray the many twists and turns that result in this tragedy. By the season finale, the timelines merge, revealing exactly how Marina died, the person behind it, and the subsequent cover-up.
Élite has already been renewed by Netflix for a third outing, which is good news for those who lapped up the mystery and want to fill the Euphoria-shaped hole in their lives. The storylines are familiar, but Élite pushes boundaries in interesting ways that go beyond churning out teen tropes one after another.
The lies that laid the foundation of the first year will come back to haunt the students in Season 2, as nothing stays buried for long in a high school drama. If you can’t remember the identity of the killer, who hooked up with whom, or the multiple blackmail plots, don’t sweat it, here is your pre-Season 2 briefing:
The great disruptors in the elite world of Las Encinas are Samuel (Itzan Escamilla), Nadia (Mina El Hammani), and Christian (Miguel Herrán). After their school roof collapsed, these three students won a scholarship to attend the prestigious Las Encinas. A necessary PR move for the company behind the construction work at the school, which happens to be run by the father of two Las Encinas students: arrogant Guzmán (Miguel Bernardeau) and the free-spirited Marina. Marina welcomes the new students with welcome arms, while her brother vows to make their lives a living hell.
Samuel is the naive younger brother of Nano (Jamie Lorente), who has just been released from prison but is still involved in shady dealings. On her first day, Nadia is subjected to racist comments because she is Muslim. She is called into the principal’s office and told she can’t wear a hijab to school because it's viewed as an accessory, which is just as awful as it sounds. Her brother Omar (Omar Ayuso) — a local drug dealer — is saving money to get away from their strict father. Then there's happy-go-lucky Christian, who doesn’t care that the rich kids mock him, as long as he gets to party with them.
Christian catches the eye of Carla (Ester Expósito), who seduces him at Marina’s big society party in the first episode. This is a bid to spice up her sex life with boyfriend Polo (Álvaro Rico), who she has been dating since they were 12. In this world, there is a lot of talk of “Us vs Them,” in this case the rich versus everyone else. By welcoming Christian into their relationship, Carla not only gets a new sexual plaything, but she also has another guy to do her bidding. Polo starts as an observer but soon becomes a participant in this threesome. Carla doesn’t believe in naming this arrangement, stating that “Labels are for clothes,” however when Polo solicits a blowjob from Christian with the promise of a magazine cover, the whole set-up falls apart. Unfortunately for Christian, if he wants to be welcomed into the exclusive club, he's going to have to keep a far bigger secret.
If you’re looking for a teen TV parallel, then Nano (who looks a lot like Jon Bernthal) is the Trey Atwood to Ryan from The O.C. He's angry and violent, while his younger brother is more sensitive. Samuel immediately falls for Marina, but unfortunately for him, she's drawn to bad boy Nano. Her last relationship was with a former-scholarship student, from whom she contracted HIV (which is why her brother has an irrational grudge against scholarship students). Marina makes plans to run away with Nano using funds from a stolen bounty of watches from Carla’s father. One of the watches it turns out is more valuable than it looks. Samuel is so distraught by his brother’s betrayal that he effectively disowns him. He then does something far worse after the murder.
Nano needs money to pay dangerous guys who protected him while he was in prison, Marina has a scheme to get this cash quickly by stealing Carla’s father’s expensive watch collection. Except one of the watches is hiding a pen drive with all the corruption secrets. The get rich scheme enters dangerous territory, which puts a bigger target on Nano’s back and ostracizes Marina from everyone she knows. Marina’s dad has already been arrested, and the contents of the watch will have disastrous ramifications for both families. They'll do anything to get it back.
Veronica Mars and Riverdale both had central murder plots in their first seasons, but unlike those series Marina is a main character rather than a supporting figure. The murder victim is revealed at the end of the pilot and each subsequent episode results in more suspects and motives for Marina’s violent end. She is pregnant at the time of her death, and in her acceptance speech at the end of school party, she notes there are many people she has let down. One of those people is Samuel, who has (literal) blood on his hands, but after he sees his brother fleeing the scene, he acts as a star witness. However, after he's cooled down he refuses to believe his brother did it, imploring Christian to help him find evidence to prove his innocence. Christian is Nano’s best friend and actually knows who committed the crime, but he's caught in his own drama.
In an attempt to win back Carla, Polo’s grand romantic gesture is to obtain the watch. Unfortunately for him, the only way he can do this is through force and he uses the trophy Marina has just won as a weapon. Carla is, of course, incredibly grateful for this bloody Hail Mary and covers up Polo’s involvement in an instant. Having witnessed Polo’s post-attack meltdown, Christian secures his place in the inner circle, in return for his silence. The murder weapon is sitting at the bottom of the lake, but it won’t be too long before that resurfaces.
Four other things to remember…
Nadia’s brother Omar first meets Ander (Arón Piper) through Christian when he wants to buy some weed, his second encounter is through a dating app hookup. Neither Ander or Omar are out to anyone at the start of the season, but their best friends (and Nadia) are in on the secret by the season's end and respond with compassion. Ander is living with the pressures of becoming a professional tennis player, something he has no desire to do. Drugs are his way of avoiding this commitment, but in finding each other, they both get a respite from their responsibilities. As with the (many) sexual encounters on Élite, it is steamy, raw, and tender.
After Marina is caught with weed at school, she names Omar as her dealer. He is effectively placed under house arrest by his strict father, giving the pair the smallest of windows in which they can see each other.
After Nadia sees Lu (Danna Paolo) and Guzmán going at it in the school shower, she uses this as leverage to stop them from getting Samuel kicked out of school. Enraged by what she perceives to be Nadia’s superiority, Lu comes up with a bet to get her boyfriend to seduce Nadia in order to ruin her reputation. It's a classic She’s All That scenario, because of course Guzmán actually falls for Nadia. Unfortunately, Nadia’s dad doesn’t take this burgeoning friendship well and almost forces his daughter to leave the school. By the end of the season, Lu has wormed her way back into her ex’s affection. She is not one to back off.
Lu will do anything to get what she wants, including blackmailing a teacher into giving her the best grades with the promise of a baby. She has done some digging and knows his wife is desperate to have a child and she has the connections to get him one. The truth comes out, which earns Lu a two-month suspension. When she returns to school, she will be behind everyone else.
As with any TV show featuring the rich, there are an endless stream of decadent events that provide the backdrop for much of the show's drama. Tuxedos and glamorous gowns are a wardrobe staple for these teens, something the working-class characters are not used to. This also provides multiple opportunities for letting off steam with copious amounts of booze and the horniness that comes with such shindigs. Christian is desperate to live this life, so he complies with the demands of his sort-of girlfriend. From the looks of things, Season 2 will carry on this party atmosphere.
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Emma Fraser has wanted to write about TV since she first watched My So-Called Life in the mid-90s, finally getting her wish over a decade later. Follow her on Twitter at @frazbelina.