“Into the Lion’s Den” introduces two characters separated by time, and a mystery that comes to involve them both.
This recap of The Mess You Leave Behind episode 1, “Into the Lion’s Den” contains spoilers.
I’m not sure how long it’s supposed to take us to realize that “Into the Lion’s Den” is working on two separate timelines, but I must admit it took my brain a little while to kick into gear and make that connection. At first, I thought Raquel was on her way to become Viruca’s colleague, and that they were both going to become firm friends and team up against the ghastly students who make both of their lives miserable throughout this opening episode. Perhaps that would have been a better show, but nevertheless, this is the one we’ve got.
Starting as we mean to go on, the first thing we see of the show is a man named Mauro hassling Viruca at her apartment. Later, we’ll learn these two are married, and that whatever Mauro is worried about is probably what led to the apparent suicide — though most likely murder — of Viruca. But we’ll get to that in due course.
In the meantime, we meet Raquel and her husband German, who’re returning to the small town where German is from so that Raquel can teach at the local school. She’s an unconventional literature teacher who’ll be replacing another unconventional literature teacher in Viruca, and we get proof of that by seeing her force a handsome but clearly unpredictable student named Iago to write a Sylvia Plath stanza on the blackboard. The sense we get very early in “Into the Lion’s Den” is that something untoward was going on between Viruca and Iago, and seemingly everyone knew about it.
We also get the strong sense that Raquel is somewhat haunted by the death of her mother and that German’s family unit — and perhaps his marriage — is on the brink of collapse. He also had a coke habit which Raquel believes he might have resumed. There’s an obvious distance between them. When they attempt to have sex later in the episode, it devolves into giggles and sulks.
It isn’t the only complicated relationship in town. Iago and his best friend Roi have an extremely homoerotic carry-on and the latter is obviously infatuated with Iago. An extended sequence in which they both strip and pose for photos in a hot spring is ridiculous but also telling.
Towards the end, “Into the Lion’s Den” tips its hand by showing, in the past, Iago getting physical with Viruca and Roi promising her she’ll be made to pay for what she’s done, and Raquel in the future realizing that Viruca committed suicide and possibly did so in large part because of the students who it’s now her responsibility to teach.
Bundled in with the students’ exam papers is a note asking Raquel how long before she dies too. You have to wonder. In the meantime, a ghostly vision of Viruca joins her in the bath to warn her to run while she can. That seems like advice that’s unlikely to be followed.
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