The Spanish Netflix hit series "La Casa De Papel" (horribly translated as "Money Heist" in English) has an astonishing number of strong-willed female characters. In all its complexities, it is, Marina Manoukian argues, a profoundly feminist show.
It was obvious there was a lack of women in the gang. A woman can spend two days choosing shoes for a wedding, but she’d never spend a single minute choosing masks for a heist. –Tokyo.
There may have been a lack of women in the main gang, but the true power of the Spanish series La Casa De Papel lies in its portrayal of not only women but men as well in their multiple dimensions, maintaining their humanity through their flaws. This is what makes its characters (and the show itself) profoundly feminist in its complex manifestations of imperfect people making imperfect choices.
Nobody in Money Heist acts perfectly in coherence with anything that was intended. In a story about meticulous planning that falls prey to human error, it is refreshing to see such a variety of human error exhibited in the characters presented. These errors aren’t thrust upon the viewers as errors. They are simply the choices made. One aspect of equality is that everyone has the freedom to make decisions in different ways.
What makes this show feminist is the variety of decision-making skills and backgrounds among all the genders, and its representations of decisions that the viewer might not necessarily agree with. No one’s positions or choices are made out to be inherently good or bad. La Casa de Papel establishes a spectrum of human behavior without resorting to one-dimensional archetypes that the viewer can either applaud or resent. And the show maintains its complexity all the way down to the underlying rationale of the heist.
"You've been taught to see good and bad guys. But what we're doing is okay to you when other people do it. In the year 2011, the European Central Bank made 171 billion Euros out of nowhere. Just like we're doing. Only bigger. 185 billion in 2012. 145 billion Euros in 2013. Do you know where all that money went? To the banks. Directly from the factory to the pockets of the rich. Did anyone call the European Central bank a thief? No. "Liquidity injections", they called it. And they pulled it out of nowhere, Raquel. Out of nowhere".
"I'm making a liquidity injection, but not for the banks. I'm doing it here, in the real economy. With this group of…of losers, which is what we are, Raquel". - The Professor
There aren’t any inherently good or bad guys. Everyone’s actions are judged by the context in which those actions are taken. And as the show maintains throughout, it doesn’t matter if you’re a woman or a man, a criminal or a policeman, old or young: the ‘right’ decision isn’t always as clear-cut as we like to make it out to be, and nobody acts perfectly.
Tokyo joins the heist because she has nothing to lose. Passionate and short-fused, a lot of the decisions she makes seem irresponsible yet believable to the viewer. From her brief background, the viewer knows that she lives entirely in the present; anything that is happening feels like it’s been happening forever. As a result, she can never anticipate the consequences of her actions until they’ve already occurred. And after Moscow gets shot, essentially a direct result of her actions, she realizes that she’s not as blind to this as she seems. Whether or not his death will cause her to take a step back and consider the way she handles situations is unknown, but it’s a fair representation of someone who can recognize their faults as well as their potential inability to change.
Her relationship with Rio is equally irresponsible yet believable because they are two sides of the same coin: equally convinced about the reality of the present moment, and yet potentially able to keep each other in check. The viewer is never entirely convinced that their relationship will last either, and Tokyo is realistic as well, but there is an uncertain hope. Rio is still young and has plenty of time left to start regretting leaving his family behind, and while he also lives in the present, like Tokyo, it’s unclear if he will one day grow out of it, unlike her. And despite the mysteries of how the Professor recruits him, despite his intellect, he portrays the same vulnerabilities of a child about to lose its parents. Unlike the others, he actually is a child by comparison, though his immaturity is neither glorified nor glossed over. It simply is.
El Profesor: "Well... Maybe we are all immature to some extent and that makes us all a little..."
El Profesor: "Different."
Nairobi is detail-oriented. She is their quality control, and she joins the heist with the intention of finding her son afterwards, but by the end, comes to the conclusion that she needs to wait a few years, so she doesn't "kidnap" a child who might not remember her. Her motherly love is never the whole of her identity nor is it diminished by any of her decisions. Instead, it exists as merely just another part of her being, maintained as a concept, while her attitude towards it matures. Meanwhile, she can certainly be credited with keeping most of the heist on track.
Despite her professionalism and adherence to the rules of the heist, even Nairobi didn’t stick to the resting protocol. And after days of losing sleep, you become vulnerable. In the end, we don’t blame her for giving the command back to Berlin because he does happen to be the one who can mentally handle being in charge of such a situation. Does that make him a good person? No. But in this instance, he’s the only one who got any sleep.
“And all of us, sooner or later, lost control. Except for Berlin. He was the only one who stuck to the resting protocol. The others went crazy.” It's appropriate that the most psychopathic one is the only one not to lose his mind.
Berlin’s behavior is certainly the most sinister in the show, and the fact that he’s going to die soon doesn’t excuse it, but his behavior falls in line with the character that gets established. Whether or not his sacrifice redeems him, there are people like him in this world, and it would be an injustice to act as though they don’t appear.
Alison Parker is probably the only character who gains truly valuable life lessons from this experience, though there is still the question of how far it will inevitably take her. She begins the series as an outcast among her classmates, being taken advantage of by a boy in her class, and lacking both the confidence and the skill to execute her desperate escape attempts. But Nairobi sees her potential: “Look at yourself, the super female you are. Repeat it. My name is Alison Parker and I'm the fucking boss.” And by the end, Alison sees it in herself too. She begins to start standing up for herself. The overall experience will probably be traumatic for her, but there is a definite strength to the character that evolves as a result of the heist.
Arturo Román: "Who are you to tell us what to do, brat? It's your fault that we're all locked in here!"
Alison Parker: "My fault?"
Arturo: "Yes, your fault."
Alison: "You are the director, and eight morons managed to slip in like they owned the place. Is there any Mint in the world that has been robbed? Just this one, right? Congratulations, you’ve made history. Now, please, don't blow us up and sit down."
Mónica Gaztambide may be one of the more polarizing characters. The question of whether or not she does well in sleeping with her married boss, falling for Denver, foiling the hostages' escape plot, and leaving with Denver in the end with a fake passport raises many questions of believability. But at the end of the day, faced with what she might be giving up, the chance for a fresh start with someone she thinks looks at her honestly for once might not be the most unbelievable thing to strive for. They’re already robbing the National Mint, so how does this attempt at happiness seem ridiculous?
The rhetoric surrounding her pregnancy and abortion leaves something to be desired, but to expect anyone to do everything well is idealistic. The ease with which the abortion pill is provided to her is commendable, but Denver’s attempt to convince her to keep the child rings of a lack of understanding. He asks her what ‘crazy’ things would she be missing if she had a baby. Do her friends at home with their babies seem ‘screwed up’? “If the father is an arsehole and he misses it, even better, you'll get all the affection. Do you know how much your son can love you?” Being a single mother just because you’ll get all the love is a terrible reason to be a single mother. And it’s irritating that he feels compelled to voice his opinion to her when he has absolutely nothing to do with the situation.
We’ll never know if he would have bothered her throughout the duration of the series or if he would’ve said his one part and then left her alone, because Mónica tried to sneak Arturo’s cell phone back. That decision, and that cell phone going off, can probably be traced back as the origin of everything that went wrong. Whether or not she reacted to any of the aftershocks well can only be determined if she’s allowed to act at all. And the fact remains that neither the police nor the government gets in the way of her obtaining an abortion pill, even while in this hostage situation.
With regard to bad decision-making, everyone can agree that Arturo Román is the worst. Fucking Arturito. Everything he does and everything he makes others do for him makes everything worse for everyone, and he reacts so poorly the viewer is inclined to wonder how he got so far in life without being pushed into a well. An absolute manifestation of pretending to care about others' interests, while only trying to maintain your own wellbeing. And he probably truly believes that he’s a great guy.
Ariadna Cascales is also polarizing. Her decision to give herself to Berlin because of her belief that they’re killing hostages cannot be said to be a good one, but it’s an accurate representation of how in certain extreme circumstances people are willing to do whatever it takes to save themselves. And as much as a viewer wants to judge and say that it’s the wrong decision, the viewer has the knowledge that the shots and screaming were staged. If your mind jumps to the worst-case scenario in mundane circumstances, then where would it go in an actual worst-case scenario? But as a result, not knowing all the information and assuming the worst has led her to have to live with the memory of Berlin raping her. Offering her the possibility of a few months of waiting for Berlin to die for her to spit on his final moments on Earth is poetically vengeful, but not outside the realm of believability. That’s not to say that there aren’t vast numbers of people who would refuse to take a few moments more of suffering and would need a lot of time to heal from such an experience. But there are some who would take the option of a couple months of suffering for all the money at the end. Because healing is still expensive.
Inspector Murillo is the most competent and respectful of all the police officers. Well, Ángel Rubio is probably a little more competent than her, since he had the right hunch to suspect the Professor all along, but she’s still able to figure out the Professor’s hideout on her own just from watching security video footage. Nobody else in the police force except for her seems to care when Tokyo is being interrogated in her underwear, though even she tries to appeal to Tokyo’s womanhood by alluding to her potential future as a mother.
She’s going through a difficult time in her life, but she doesn’t apologize for it. She describes herself as a battered woman but refuses to be shamed or silenced about it, because why should the truth be sugar-coated for the convenience of others? Yet none of these can be pointed at as the reason why she falls in love with the Professor. They fall in love with each other. There’s a mutual bewilderment at human error.
None of these women are the typical damsels in distress, nor are they hardened fighters suppressing any notion of femininity. They all make different choices based on their different backgrounds and personalities, and while not all of their choices may be agreeable, they all exercise their right to have them, even when it makes things worse, because the right to make a choice doesn’t mean you’re always going to make the right one.
"For your life to fall apart, doesn't matter if you're in a bathroom, in a heist, or at the door of a penitentiary. You see, that afternoon, the misfortunes of three women would sync up. Raquel suddenly understood that she had fallen head over heels for Spain's most wanted heist man. Mónica Gaztambide realized that she had just become an accomplice, and that there would be no turning back. And me… I kept following the instructions the Professor gave us in Toledo. But without any certainty. Feeling numb. Like a bottle thrown into the sea. Not knowing if someone would pick it up." -Tokyo
And none of the men are straightforwardly-positioned either. Their actions and motivations range from familial love to romantic love, from apathy to foolishness. No one is truly predictable, and no one is a caricature. Even the masterful Professor. Constructing the most perfect plan, taking all the variables into account, but forgetting that even the position of the methodologist always affects the final outcome.
You might find yourself cheering on the heist gang at the end of the show, celebrating their rationale, and believing in your heart that the Professor did the right thing because of the precedent that had been set before. Or you might maintain that they are still criminals, and since they’re going to be leaving the country in favor of one without extradition laws, then it’s not like this ‘liquidity injection’ is actually going to help the Spanish people in any way. But at the end of the day, nothing is so simple and clean-cut, and neither should be our representations.
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