Movistar+ hit a home-run when the first season of historical-fiction thriller “The Plague” – the most ambitious original series of the most forceful push into high-end series production of any telecom in Europe – bowed in Spain in January 2018 to the best results of any series, aired or available, on the Telefonica-owned pay TV giant.
On Jan. 28 this year, the cast and crew of the 16th century adventure drama wrapped shooting on Season 2. Variety was invited to visit the set, and has given exclusive access to some first stills.
A six-hour series, Season 1 of the “The Plague” used 130 locations, a 200-technician crew, 2,000 extras over 250 sequences and multiple VHF effects to recreate c. 1585 Seville. Its budget of €1.5 million ($1.7 million) per episode, in a country of relatively contained TV production costs, ranked alongside high-end Canal Plus France series such as the Luc Besson produced “Séction Zero.”
“’The Plague’ was originally very ambitious, but also very risky,” Movistar + director of original fiction Domingo Corral told Variety. “We produced it when we were just getting into series. We didn’t have a tradition of producing like this for TV, and there was no tradition in Spain of producing such ambitious series.”
Abroad, “The Plague” sold to the U.K., the market in Europe which sets the gold standard for series’ export potential, popularizing Nordic Noir a decade ago. Screened in BBC 4 Saturday night prime time, “The Plague” was billed by The Guardian with “Killing Eve” as the best of Saturday TV.
According to Corral, the early success of “The Plague” played a fundamental role in the first phase of Movistar+’s Original Series production.
“It gave us a lot of security and convinced all of us at Telefonica that we could also do quality, prestige series, and series that will reach a large audience.”
However, with unprecedented success came unprecedented expectations for Season 2.
So, “We made it even bigger,” Corral said. “In fact it has much more adventure, more action and it opens up to other stories. It has to say new things that weren’t said in Season 1.”
Season 2 kicks off five years after the last great epidemic of plague in Spain. “For a century and a half, over 1519 to 1682, Spain dominated the world,“ said “The Plague“ producer José Antonio Félez. “Its Black Legend, which continues to this day, was a consequence of that.”
Season 1 of “The Plague” mixed an acute, often revisionist, take on history, what made Spain tick then and now, with mass entertainment and immersive spectacle at times, such as its climactic auto de fe, unseen on Spanish TV since RTVE’s push into big series in the 1980s.
The plague now in the past, Seville remains in Season 2 the economic and cultural capital of the western world, maintaining its trade monopoly with the Indies; its wealth and influence are only moving one way: Up.
However, the same is true for the city’s population. As the number of people in the city and its hinterlands hits historical highs, the government is struggling to feed and provide public services for its people. Confronting huge social inequality, public discontent fuels organized crime. One mafia, the Garduña, rules the streets, taking advantage of the influx of local wealth and the inability of politicians to police the city.
In the New World’s Tierra del Fuego, series protagonist Mateo, his faith restored in humanity by a community he encounters there, receives a letter from friend and Season 1 character Valerio, under death threat from Seville’s new mob bosses. Once returned to Seville he tries to help Teresa, the extraordinary feminist painter from Season 1, to rescue female prostitutes enslaved in Seville’s shanty slums, from the mob’s maws.
Meanwhile, having helped crush a rising in Aragon, Pontecorvo, a young ambitious soldier is appointed Capitán General of Andalusia, to deal with the mob. But how far can one man turn back the tide of history?
Season 2 uses a 400-technician crew. According to series co-creator Alberto Rodríguez, director of hit feature films “Marshland” and “Smoke and Mirrors,” Season 2 won’t just be bigger and better, but brighter too: “What we have in Season 2 is more narrative muscle. Mateo has got over his melancholy, this is a season of pure adventure.”
“Mateo comes back having found a new meaning to life,” he added. “The Mateo that comes back is someone renewed.”
Season 2 will see other new characters introduced. Many details are under wraps, but Pontecorvo is based on a historical political figure from the city of Seville who was among the first to examine closely the activities of the city’s criminal underground.
“I believe the strength of the second season are the new characters related to the Garduña [Seville mafia],” series co-creator and show-runner Rafael Cobos told Variety. “Mateo is still the protagonist in Season 2, but this time he shares the limelight, and there are a lot of strong characters related to the Garduña.”
Cobos also shared another bit of news that is sure to intrigue fans of the series; Season 2 of “The Plague” begins far from the streets of Seville in the wilderness of colonial Patagonia.
“I was very clear that I wanted to start in the New World,” he explained. “But I didn’t want the story to be jungle, crystal clear water, no. I was interested in a new world, a land of fire, blizzards, snow and of glaciers. The opposite image of what is associated with the New World and conquistadors meeting with natives.”
With more action, added characters, further-developed plot lines and new sets, Season 2 certainly promises bigger, better and brighter.
Movistar+ greenlit Season 2 of “The Plague” before Season had been released, and while Season 3 hasn’t been announced yet, Movistar+ is optimistic about the future of the series.
“Rafael and Alberto have an idea that would require a Season 3,” said Félez. This would “make the series into a triptych; going from shadow to light and returning again to a certain shadow, completing a circle.”
“If we call the change from Season 1 to 2 a departure, then we can say there would be a massive shift between the second and third season,” Cobos explained of his desire to finish the story he and his team are telling.