“Isabel” is a bizarre episode that doesn’t entirely work, hinting at greater depth rather than showing it.
This recap of Criminal: Spain Episode 1, “Isabel”, contains spoilers You can check out our spoiler-free review of the full season by clicking these words.
“Isabel” is one of the few episodes of Criminal that I was less than enthused about, even though I can appreciate what it was trying to do and how close it came to actually doing it. But its depiction of a deeply insecure woman finding solace in her prized Dalmatian is a bit too quirky for its own good, only managing to hint at some depth that it would have been better off exploring fully.
Isabel, to her credit, is remarkably self-aware; she knows exactly how people view her, how ludicrous they find her explanations of inner love, and what questions they presumably ask about her relationship with her dog, Luna. The police are willing to indulge her eccentricities, however, in order to find her missing brother, Piti, a drug addict who might have murdered a missing man named Silva.
Criminal: Spain Episode 1 reveals that Isabel frequently meets men through an app and takes them home for no-strings-attached sex — a practice her violent brother dislikes. Silva was one of those men. Another was a man named Mateo, who claimed that Piti posed as Isabel’s husband and they both tried to blackmail him. Did Silva meet a similar fate?
While the various police departments throughout Criminal have all played a bit loose with protocol, those in Criminal: Spain seemed most keen to do so immediately. A fake warrant is drafted which claimed to authorize the putting down and chopping up of Isabel’s dog, on the grounds that it had been fed human meat. Two of the detectives even bring the pooch into the interrogation room to make this convincing; it’s a low blow, but it gets results.
The truth is that Silva was a creepy man who wanted more of Isabel — and her brother — than either of them was willing to give. When Silva and Piti began arguing, Isabel left, returning to find two large bags which eventually ended up in the reservoir. She also reveals her brother’s current location. In a final scene, she reapplies her lipstick — appearances must be maintained, after all.
As a story of a deeply dysfunctional woman using her pet as an avatar for the perfection she covets, Criminal: Spain Episode 1 is decent, if unspectacular. As a crime story, it’s predictable. But as the introduction to a department of interestingly daring police offers — including the ostensible leader, Maria, who is sleeping with a young fellow officer named Rai — it does a respectable job in setting up this trilogy of episodes.