Judge Victor Valdivia could easily handle himself in prison, but only if it was an all-women's prison.
A place without mercy.
Capadocia marks the first time HBO Latino produces an original series. Produced with Mexican production company Argos, responsible for some of the biggest telenovelas in Mexico, Capadocia is a much more complex and ambitious show than most Mexican productions. There are moments of soapiness and some of the storylines are sometimes far more complicated than they need to be. Still, for all its flaws, Capadocia deserves credit for its ambitions and the series does deserve to be considered in the same league as other HBO programs.
Facts of the Case
In Mexico City, Lorena Guerra (Ana De La Reguera, Nacho Libre) is a suburban housewife who has the perfect family and life until she catches her husband cheating on her with her best friend. After she accidentally causes the death of her friend, Lorena is sentenced to prison. Meanwhile, criminologist and professor Teresa Lagos (Dolores Heredia) is pressured by her ex-husband, Governor Santiago Marin (Marco Antonio Trevino), into joining forces with duplicitous lobbyist Federico Marquez (Juan Manuel Bernal) and tyrannical security chief Isabel Clave (Silvia Carusillo) to run Capadocia, the first privatized prison in Mexico that uses the inmates for cheap labor. As Teresa butts heads with Federico and Isabel while becoming increasingly dependent on prison psychologist Dr. Jose Burian (Alejandro Camacho), she and Lorena must contend with corrupt guard La Negra (Aida Lopez, Frida) and sadistic convict Bambi (Cecilia Suarez, Spanglish), both of whom want to rule Capadocia and serve to make Lorena's life hell on earth. This set compiles all thirteen episodes of the first season on four discs.
As HBO Latino expands from just a channel that shows regular HBO content in Spanish to one that produces original material, it needs to define itself. A show like Capadocia is exactly what it can use. It's an original series that is as graphic and uncompromising as any HBO show but also uniquely addresses issues and stories that couldn't happen anywhere else but in Mexico.
The obvious comparison is with Oz, the other HBO series set in a prison. There are similarities, of course, but the differences are significant. For one thing, the issue of how women are treated as second-class citizens in the ultra-macho culture of Mexico is a prevalent theme. It's why Capadocia has no shortage of inmates, particularly when they are forced to deal with the frequently corrupt Mexican justice system. In Mexico, judges, not juries, decide cases and set sentences, so corruption occurs regularly, such as in Lorena's case, since her crime affected a powerful and corrupt judge. These issues are not handled lightly; they're at the very heart of the series. Virtually every inmate in Capadocia is there because of corruption and sexism. The point is clearly made: men, especially powerful and well-connected ones, who commit crimes similar to the ones committed by these women, would not receive nearly as harsh a punishment. Similarly, the fact that Capadocia is a private prison that can be used for profit-making is also significant. It means that Federico serves as a conduit by which industrialists can exploit the inmates, sometimes in ways that are not just economic. That Capadocia can depict these issues dramatically without being pedantic is a credit to the talents of its cast and crew, who make the situations gripping and real without (mostly) lapsing into cheap melodrama.
To be sure, Capadocia is not an easy show to watch. The tone is unremittingly grim. The violence is graphic and brutal. The language is crude and realistic. There's not a whole lot in the way of happy endings or lighthearted frivolity. If anything, some of the violence and situations seen here are horrific enough to make Oz look like Two And A Half Men. The relentlessly dour tone may be a bit wearying, especially if you watch several episodes in a row, but there's no denying that the show conveys the tension and gloominess of prison viscerally. By the final episode, which makes perfectly clear that Capadocia will consume the lives of everyone (not just the inmates) who touches it, you may feel as wrung out as one of the characters. It's another tribute to Capadocia's power that it can have such an unsettling effect on its viewers.
The acting is uniformly excellent. De La Reguera has the most complex role, as a placid suburban housewife who gradually changes into a hardened drug-addicted killer, but her talent is able to overcome even some of the more contrived writing lapses. Carusillo makes Isabel a more complex character than she might appear; her hard demeanor masks a touching vulnerability and compassion that emerges at the most unexpected moments. The real standout, though, is Suarez. Her depiction of Bambi makes the character more than just a garden-variety psycho. Bambi is violent and aggressive, but she's also tender, calculating, witty, and desperate, sometimes all at the same time. If Bambi appeared on an English-speaking series, she would instantly become a pop-culture touchstone—that's how extraordinary Suarez's performance is. The series is worth watching just for her alone.
The anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer is as gritty as the show. The series is shot in a grainy and desaturated style to capture the bleakness of the women's everyday existence, but there are flashes of color in scenes where the women recall their pre-prison lives. The Dolby surround mix is superb, making full use of the surrounds and presenting the dialogue flawlessly. The extras consist of six 20-minute behind-the-scenes featurettes (without subtitles, unfortunately for viewers who don't speak Spanish), trailers for the first and second seasons, photo galleries, and filmographies for the main cast members.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Capadocia's failings come from just how ambitious it is. The storylines are sometimes excessively convoluted, particularly when introducing new characters. Some of these stories address issues, such as euthanasia and the discrimination against indigenous people, that are almost never mentioned in Mexican television. These end up cluttering up the series to introduce characters that ultimately have only a marginal effect on the main story. Also, some of these stories, especially the love triangle between Teresa, her teenage daughter, and one of her students, skirt dangerously close to soapy melodrama. It's too bad that the show spends time on these stories when it could have spent more time on the truly memorable characters, like Isabel and especially Bambi, who is, it can't be stressed enough, one of the most remarkable characters in TV fiction. The show suffers a grievous loss when her character exits the series.
Capadocia isn't perfect but it is a much more ambitious and complex project than most Mexican TV productions. If you can get past some of the clunky writing, you'll be impressed with just how uncompromising and thoughtful it can be. It's certainly not for the squeamish but viewers looking for a hard-hitting drama with vivid characters (and who don't mind subtitles) should give Capadocia a look.
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