In Review: The Barrier (S1-Ep 2) – My Sister Sara

"What works so well is that the atmosphere of danger never leaves the screen"
The Barrier

Synopsis: Hugo (Unax Ugalde) has to start the trial for the all important job he needs to help get Marta (Laura Quiros) back from the colony. He can’t do that without the help of Julia (Olivia Molina), as his employment terms mean it’s an offer for a couple. Helping him, by posing as her identical sister (Hugo’s wife) puts her in great risk, as she’s wanted by the authorities. She is due to leave town and has a tough choice to make . . .


The Story

Again, nothing too bold early on, which is a good thing. The episode takes off almost immediately after the events of the first. The tension is there, always. What works so well is that the atmosphere of danger never leaves the screen, as the consequences of being discovered are so brutal. Seeing Julia (Olivia Molina) have to make a difficult choice is hard to watch, as she’s putting herself at extreme risk. The atmosphere is so tightly controlled by the decisions being so hard, with everything at stake. When she does make her choice, and it’s not what Hugo (Unax Ugalde) hoped for, he even understands why. This captures the desperation. Julia’s last minute change of mind is a heartstopping part of the episode and wonderfully dramatic. Her impersonating her sister is also a trope that really puts the tension on a finely balanced knife-edge.

Sol’s capture (Berta Castane) is harrowing and a microcosm of the power that the state have, and are willing to use to get what they want. The lack of regard for life comes through in a chillingly subtle way. A devastating, powerful scene and vital part of the story that show’s just how close Julia is to suffering the same fate. That’s down to Begona (Angela Vega), who embodies the type of villain this show is using. Essentially, a snoop, hoping to increase her own lot.

Towards the end of the episode, Julia is going to meet her boyfriend and escape. His capture and brutal execution again serves to show the danger as real and palpable. The terror is in the willingness to kill without any mercy or regret. Just before things end we get another glimpse of Alma (Eleonora Wexler) at the colony as she makes a discovery about something that Marta’s hiding. More menacing by way of clinical passivity, which gives us a truly scary baddie and one comfortable to see the misery she’s inflicting on children.

Acting and Characters

When Julia and Hugo were showering both remembered the simple joys of such an event and showed how long it’s been since they’ve had that. The reactions were genuine and reminded how simple pleasures are only ever fully valued once they’re removed. The two shared this tender scene with skill and mutual understanding, showing their abilities well.

The scene where Julia meets Sergio (Ivan Chavero) was also amongst the stand out one this week. Though the character isn’t a mother, she showed astute and tender maternal instinct. More than that, the character really does care for the innocent. That’s what sets the good and the bad apart in this series. The heroes from the villains. The easy way she spoke to a young boy about his toy’s showed how children will always find some sense of normality, amongst a society far from it. This depiction was simple, but powerful and great character building.

As a villain Alma (Eleonora Wexler) is starting to show the signs of being a complex and strong leading antagonist. What works is her softly, softly approach, that could clearly come apart ay any point and show her true nature. This was apparent when she took Marta’s (Laura Quiros) necklace. The coldness with which she exercised power was gripping and Wexler did a brilliant job of making sure it was. Similarly Quiros’s depiction of Marta really convincing as she begged to keep her trinket.


CGI & Action

What was most notable was the greyness of the world outside. This works on different levels. The environment has been affected by the events of WWWIII and the aftermath. The lack of colour is a physical example of the dystopia, but also a great way to depict the lack of hope in the story world. This can’t be accidental. It’s well thought out and builds on the events of last week. The other side of this is the world of the privileged and the powerful (the families of the state ministers). The lighting is turned up and the colour abundant. This is how to make a statement, with visual effects that don’t rely on CGI. There’s a poetry to it and some genuinely impressive filmmaking skills on display.

Sol’s interrogation was another example of strong scenes not needing to be done with a huge budget. The camera focused on her face and how she was visibly shaking. This might have been due to the cold (as she was in a walk in fridge by the looks of things) or the terror. Both, likely. This inventiveness is welcomed and offers a back to basics realism that so many other show could learn from.

Overall (including Incidental Music)

Not quite a thrill a minute offering, but one that continues to build and use genuine emotion as a hook. It works and is using pace well, too. This is only the second episode, yet viewers know exactly what might become of those who the authorities capture. Whilst this is going on the background music adds to the already disturbingly dark mood. The result makes for starkly theatrical drama, and tilts the mood towards despair and isolation with the eerie music cutting into you and making the world depicted sound dangerously claustrophobic. We’re further reminded of this by the the repetition of the strong government being an absolute requirement, which  further embeds the themes of this show. Self-justification of a corrupt and evil system. The phrase used to close the show “the future belongs to us” is a double-sided device, and a statement of malevolent intent, masquerading as a promise; or, an open lie that all know of, but can do nothing to alter or challenge.

The sort of environment in the show has existed before, and without consequences as extreme as those in the show that acted as a catalyst. Cleverly, the show asks if we’re veering there again, and how far away the onscreen horror might be. It takes a great eye to make a show like this and break from the norm. This show’s not escapism, primarily. It asks many more questions than it answers and in novel ways, too. Once those who are supposed to protect, foster  and build have so much power that they can harm, terrorise and destroy, how can they be stopped? That’s the central concept of this show. The way it answers may give us some very real insights into our own democracies, showing their frailty, and how easily they can be corrupted. It promises to be an intense and gripping journey.


In Review: The Barrier (S1-Ep 2) - My Sister Sara
  • Story
  • Acting
  • CGI&Action
  • Overall
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