Money Heist is about passion, actually

Come for the heist drama and plot twists, stay for the European histrionics

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This week, I rediscovered a cheesy EDM remix of Italian anti-fascist folk song ‘Bella ciao’. I’ve listened to it on repeat this week, and I know I’m not alone, as it has 168-million plays on YouTube. (I’m only a few hundred, I promise.) 

To quote another YouTube great: ‘if you know, you know, if you don’t, you don’t!’. But if you fall into the latter category, let me help you out: the song appears repeatedly as a rallying cry for the Spanish criminals of Money Heist, and has found a new life worldwide as a song of resilience.

At the 2018 World Cup, Brazilians football fans used the song to taunt Argentina; Europeans harmonised it from apartments in March 2020; and I am currently listening to that remix while drinking my fourth coffee of the day. If you haven’t heard the song, you soon will, as volume one of Money Heist’s fifth and final part is streaming later today.

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Money Heist Part 5: Vol 1

When asked by The Guardian why he thought Money Heist became a global hit, creator Álex Pina theorised that the secret ingredient isn’t the show’s ceaseless twists or fast pace, but its dramatic flair, often compared to telenovelas.

“To rise up against the system is reckless and idealistic – [it’s] Don Quixote!,” he said. “Yet I think it’s much more Latin than Spanish; more passionate. In that, it differs from the English ‘perfect heist’ genre, which is cooler, more restrained, more scientific.”

He’s right: Danny Ocean would spit out his Nespresso in horror if he was asked to take part in the heists conceived by mastermind The Professor (Álvaro Morte). Taking over the Spanish mint (and later, the Bank of Spain) while wearing boiler-room red suits and Dalí masks is a little too dramatic for the Ocean’s team, who, despite robbing the Met Gala, would never dare look camp right in the eye

It’s this flair that transforms The Professor’s group into symbols of resistance. In Part 5, a crowd of supporters stand behind police barricades outside the bank, cheering in support for the robbers that have taken hostages inside. They even boo when military tanks roll in. When the choice of heroes is between the big banks, the police, and some ingenious, stylish thieves... it’s obvious who will win the public’s heart. 

But taking a step back, the Money Heist team aren’t exactly “rising up against the system” à la Robin Hood like Pina says they are. These characters -- themselves complicated, often questionable -- are beloved for the ambition and scale of their heists. It’s not merely monetary gain that’s the draw, but the conquest itself.

In the first episode of Part 5, we see a flashback to heist member Berlin’s (Pedro Alonso) lunch with his son Rafael, who lives a standard life with a 9-to-5. Berlin wants him to join the gang. “What I don’t want is for you to die before you’ve even lived,” he says. “With me, you’ll find authentic liberation.”

This isn’t a heist of desperation, driven by financial need, as in Dog Day Afternoon or Howie in Uncut Gems (though the show’s new episodes are equally tense). Nor is it one of bravado: Money Heist’s team -- a clan of all sorts, given code names of cities -- has more in common with the titular spring breakers of Spring Breakers or the runaway romancers of Badlands than any of the Ocean’s eleven (or twelve, thirteen, eight).

The Professor’s obsessiveness -- how he can break out a plan for every possible outcome -- doesn’t stem from detached curiosity like so many of TV’s genius antiheroes, either (think Killing Eve’s Villanelle or Hannibal). These are crimes of limerence, as these thieves suspend themselves from reality to follow a crush-like thrill for as long as possible, before it catches up with them. Amoldóvar wishes! 

That passion, which can only be described as ‘incredibly European’, shapes Money Heist, underpinning its frenzied pacing. Shoot-outs and explosions are interspersed with intense monologues on desire and love; twists arrive continuously, and beloved characters switch sides, become heinous, or die. All the while, we jump back and forth in time, led by unreliable narrator Tokyo’s (Úrsula Corberó) musings. Like Pina says, it’s less ‘scientific’ and ‘restrained’ than English or American heist stories: there’s nothing to do but let yourself be subsumed by the dramatics, and go along for the ride. 

And Part 5 of Money Heist drops us right where we left off: The Professor is held at gunpoint by disgraced and incredibly pregnant police officer Sierra. This is not a show with time to spare. Nor should it be, as we’ve been left on a cliffhanger since April 2020, which was approximately 18 years ago. All the while, fans have simmered with theories and speculation of how the team would escape the Bank of Spain, where they’ve barricaded themselves in with hostages. No spoilers, but no-one saw these twists coming: not The Professor, and not the fans.

The first half of Money Heist Part 5 streams tonight on Netflix.

Watch these too:

  • French mystery-heist series Lupin. Omar Sy (The Intouchables, Jurassic World) plays the suave son of a Senegal immigrant who was framed and sentenced to death over a jewellery heist. He’ll stop at nothing to find who’s responsible. Thrilling, addictive, and smart

  • Élite, if you need more Spanish passion. Think of it as a mix between Riverdale and Skins, a steamy, teen drama set at a prestigious private school with multiple murders, queer love triangles and plenty of cast cross-over with Money Heist

  • Sky Rojo, a pulp-y drama from Money Heist creator Álex Pina and Esther Martínez Lobato and also featuring a few familiar faces, too. Three sex workers escape their abusive pimp and must outrun his henchmen: it’s filled with heart, humour, and Spanish flair.

  • Prison Break, the early ‘00s hit starring Wentworth Miller as a man who lands in jail purely to help his brother break out, and has a masterful plan to do so. Hits the same sweet spot of watching The Professor’s schemes pay off.

  • If you’re new to La Casa, Money Heist: The Phenomenon is a short documentary on the show’s journey from a small Spanish series to an international hit with a feverish fanbase.

I can’t stop thinking about:

  • He’s All That, specifically the intentionally bad trap song that Padgett’s (Addison Rae) cringe ex is famous for, ‘Mean Streets Of Pali’. It’s on the soundtrack, and features the line “avocado toast tastes so great”, which I cannot deny speaks to me.

  • Gawker’s happy 49th birthday present to Cameron Diaz, which is a plea for her to unretire from acting. I need this and you need this, but most of all, Shrek 5 needs this.

  • New Zealand auteur Jane Campion, whose first film since 2009 is almost here. It’s called The Power Of The Dog, stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, and Jesse Plemons (I’m Thinking Of Ending Things, also Dunst’s husband, who she met on the set of Fargo), and is about a widow who remarries and moves onto a farm that her husband shares with his sadistic brother. It’s on Netflix on December 1: here’s the teaser trailer

  • With the caveat that I’m not sure what to do with this knowledge other than shout it into the void on repeat: Grimace is a tastebud! Grimace is a tastebud! Grimace is a tastebud!

  • Comedian Patti Harrison returning to podcast Las Culturistas to talk about her (one-sided) “feud” with Ellen, and what it was like to guest on Ellen’s show after making jokes at her expense for several years. (Also, she and Las Cult co-host Matt Rogers both voice characters in animated queer superhero show Q-Force, which is out now.) 

And to finish, this video of Addison Rae demanding an Interstellar sequel:

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Jared Richards is a critic living on Gadigal Land who has written for The Guardian, The Monthly, Junkee and more. He tweets at @jrdjms
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