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El Marginal—No Boundaries

The first Argentine TV series (five seasons) acquired by Netflix (2016), the multiple-award winning El Marginal is, on one hand, a tortuous, vicious, and extremely violent prison drama and on the other hand, extremely well-crafted and attention-getting.  Set in a decaying, unspeakably corrupt prison, –San Onofre,– in Buenos Aires, the prisoners each have their story.  This is The Wire meets Oz times ten on steroids! How complicated it is to live with other people is a theme throughout the series. 

In season one, ex-cop Miguel Palacios (Juan Gervasio Minujin) is forced to go undercover in order to save his young son.  Infiltrating the Borges gang of dangerous felons, under the alias Patron Peña, his mission is to gather information about the kidnapped daughter of a malevolent, unscrupulous judge.

Season two and three are the backstories that take place three years before season one. Mario Borges (Claudio Rissi) and Juan Pablo “Diosito” Borges (Nicolas Furtado) now plan to overthrow the leader of the prison, “El Sapo” Quiroga (Roly Serrano). They negotiate and manipulate “Sub-21” gang members and with Patricio Salgado (Esteban Lamothe), a doctor with a mysterious past, they soon rule.  Season three has the Borges brothers  babysitting a wealthy businessman’s teenage son, nicknamed Booger, who has been imprisoned for vehicular manslaughter.  Diosito unexpectedly bonds as a brother with Booger. 

Overlaid upon all the criminal intrigue, drug dealing, prostitution, murder, and assaults, is the coldblooded greed and psychopathic behavior of Sergio Antín (Geraro Romano), the prison’s warden.   And social worker Emma Molinari (Martina Gusman) attempts to offer humane guidance and comfort to the prisoners who confide in her.

Well-developed character arcs, and surprisingly radical personality twists, malevolence, and vulnerability plunge the viewer into a world one only wants to visit on screen. 

The acting is excellent, and the plot in each episode is replete with betrayal, greed, compassion, corruption, and the need for human connection.  After three seasons it is evident that El Marginal owes its binge-worthy reputation to the actor Nicolas Furtado, who plays the character Dosito, a psychopath whose sexual orientation changes with the wind and his temper.  The entire cast pushes all boundaries—in their physicality, their body movements, and their evocation of emotion. 

My main criticism of the series is the flashback structure of seasons two and three, which could, at times, be confusing with regard to timeline and character arcs.  A good memory and paying attention to the prisoner’s relationships are essential for grasping all the subtle foreshadowing of what menace is coming. [The English subtitles are, at times, quite rapid.]

I hope the violence doesn’t make readers avoid this  series. It is simply too good to miss, but not for the faint-hearted.

Availability:  Netflix streaming

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