WKND Series Review: The Mess You Leave Behind
El Desorden Que Dejas, translated into The Mess You Leave Behind, is the Primavera Literature Award-winning book that has been adapted by Netflix into a limited web series, created with the help of author Carlos Montero. In one line, it’s a tale of what happens when we keep life-altering secrets — unwittingly or otherwise — in the dark. Raquel and husband Germán move to a (fictional) small town, the latter’s hometown where his mother and brother still live, when she gets a job at a local school to teach literature to a class of seniors. It’s also the couple’s way to get a new lease of life: their marriage has been wobbly of late (reasons don’t tumble out till much later) and they believe a change of scene could help.
Once Raquel gets to work, she realises she has her hands full. Her predecessor, Viruca, reportedly, allegedly, killed herself a few months ago, and Raquel finds herself getting drawn into a murky world of “possibilities” that led to her taking such a drastic step. Additionally, her class of students shock her with their rabid ferocity which, most times, border on pure evil. In a Variety.com interview to Emiliano Granada, Montero has said, “We are always dealing with bullying between students, and yet many teachers can tell you about feeling attacked by students and being afraid of even going to class. That is terrifying when someone tells it in the first person. So, I wanted to talk about that, the arrival of a young teacher in a place where she is received with hostility, without knowing why. That leads her to investigate what is happening.”
The series moves between two worlds, one lived by Viruca in the recent past and one lived in the present by Raquel, and soon, hints of murder, not suicide, emerge — with Raquel getting obsessed with the trail, often believing herself to be inhabiting a realm of déjà vu.
As the drama deftly intersects with home truths, mostly skeletons, locked up in dusty cupboards, the way ‘students’ — most of them not yet 18 — are presented is disturbing at one level, intriguing at the other. There’s no downplaying of attributes or watering down of consequences with concessions given for age: these ‘kids’ are adults in every which way, at times even more adult than certified ones.
The best bits? As with all European noir thrillers, there are no pulling of punches: it’s hard-hitting while being ensconced in pretty frames. The small-town setting revs up the drama, stokes the mystery. It’s like a townhall congregation of characters and almost everyone has a part to play in the larger scheme of things. The worst bits? Somewhere towards the end, the thriller stops being psychological, as certain ‘hard facts’ come into the open. You almost wish the pathology didn’t come in the way of mental welter.