The Mess You Leave Behind review – a dour Spanish small-town mystery

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: December 11, 2020 (Last updated: December 1, 2023)
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The Mess You Leave Behind has a decently twisty mystery, but its slow pace, aggravating characters and inelegant structure hold it back some.

This review of The Mess You Leave Behind is spoiler-free.

Starting over in a new place is always difficult, perhaps even more so if you’re a teacher and you’ve got the local kids to deal with. Imagine, then, that your predecessor committed suicide or was perhaps murdered by one of her students, and threatening notes keep getting mixed in with the exam submissions. This is the hook of the eight-part Spanish small-town mystery The Mess You Leave Behind, and it’s a decent one, even if it isn’t quite as engaging out of the gate as it could be thanks to some distinctly unlikeable characters and an inelegant dual-timeline narrative conceit.

The new teacher, and thus ostensibly the protagonist, is Raquel (Inma Cuesta), who moves to small-town Galicia with her husband German (Paul Galliano), who grew up there and whose parents still own a restaurant. Little does she know that the woman she’s replacing, Viruca (Bárbara Lennie), committed suicide after some rather unsavory incidents with her students, especially tough-guy Iago (Arón Piper), his devoted — and closeted — right-hand-man Roi (Roque Ruíz), and the outspoken feminist activist Nerea (Isabel Garrido). Needless to say, she finds out rather quickly, thanks to the class tormenting her, local gossip, and the insistence of Viruca’s obsessive ex-husband Mauro (Roberto Enríquez) that his wife was murdered.

Thus, The Mess You Leave Behind quickly becomes a whodunit, with Raquel looking into Viruca’s death while trying to stave off harassment as she goes. Carlos Montero adapted the series from his own novel, wrote all the episodes, and directed the first two, so there aren’t any worries about the closeness of the adaptation, but the steady pace, sometimes unclear temporal transitions, and determinedly off-putting students are a barrier to entry here. Eight meaty episodes is perhaps also a couple too many.

Nevertheless, solid acting and an appropriately twisty mystery are clear selling points. With Arón Piper and some of the same creative team, there’s a whiff of Netflix’s own Elite here, but The Mess You Leave Behind isn’t soapy and current enough to attract the same kind of audience. On a busy streaming weekend with Alice in Borderland hogging attention for Netflix and The Wilds doing business over on Amazon, it’s hard to imagine this effort making much of an impression.

Netflix, TV Reviews
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