MADRID, Spain — On Jan. 28 this year, the cast and crew of the Movistar Plus’s 16th century adventure drama “The Plague” wrapped shooting on Season 2. Variety visited the set and interview members of the team responsible for what could well be the country’s most ambitious TV project ever.
Here are five take-aways from the visit.
The six-hour Season 1 of the “The Plague” used 130 filming locations, a technical crew of 200, 2,000 extras over 250 sequences and multiple VHF effects to recreate 16th century Seville. Its budget of €1.5 million ($1.7 million) per episode, in a country with typically-modest TV production costs of around €500,000-€600,000, ranked alongside high-end Canal Plus series in France such as the Luc Besson-produced “Séction Zero.”
“’The Plague’ was originally very ambitious, but also very risky,” Movistar Plus 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.”
Season 2 utilized many of the same filming locations, dropping and added when needed, particularly for scenes taking place in the New World. Season 2 saw the number of technical crew increased to a staggering 400, and boasts practical and VFX special effects that promise to push the envelope of Spanish TV production.
With U.K.’s Sky Vision handling world sales on Season 1, the scale of “The Plague” also says something about the broader production and artistic ambitions of Movistar + , owned by Telefonica whose 2017 revenues of €52 billion ($62.4 billion) were more than three times those of Netflix’s last year ($15.8 billion).
Seville’s Golden Age was fueled by riches from the New World, and in Season 1 many of “The Plague’s” most charming scenes involved characters experiencing things from the Americas which have since become everyday staples of Spanish life. Tomatoes are introduced as a poisonous threat worth avoiding, but today are spread on toast all around the country as part of a typical “Spanish” breakfast. Characters are seen tasting chocolate for the first time, a delicacy now served along with all across the peninsula.
Where the series introduced New World exports in Season 1, co-writer Rafael Cobos shared with Variety that Season 2 will actually take viewers to the New World along with series protagonist Mateo.
“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.”
Pablo Molinero, who plays series lead Mateo, explained that while his character finds himself in the new world, the actor didn’t have to go quite so far. The series’ New World scenes were shot at high altitude in Andalusia’s rocky terrain, similar to that of untamed Patagonia.
Season 1 of “The Plague” mixed an acute, often revisionist, take on history, and played like a noir procedural focused on Mateo, a heretic condemned by the Inquisition to burn at the stake. But, when an Inquisition member is found murdered, de-clothed and violated in the streets in a seemingly demonic ritual, Mateo, a man of culture and deep deductive powers, is offered absolution if he can solve the case.
Season 2 will start with the focus on Mateo as well, but this time in Patagonia. Mateo, his faith restored in humanity by a community he encounters in the New World’s Tierra del Fuego, receives a letter from his friend and Season 1 character Valerio, who has received a death threat from Seville’s mob bosses, the Garduña family.
Once returned to Seville he finds himself facing off with the Garduña’s again when he attempts to aid another Season 1 character, Teresa, in her work rescuing female prostitutes enslaved in the city’s shanty slums, from that same organization’s claws.
Having previously helped crush a rising in Aragon in the north of Spain, Pontecorvo, played by “Mar de Plástico’s” Federico Aguado , is a young soldier recently appointed Capitán General of Andalusia and charged with handling the swell in organized crime. Based on a historical political figure from the city who was among the first to examine closely the activities of the city’s criminal underground, Pontecorvo is ambitious to a fault, and dedicated in the extreme to the Spanish crown. He dreams, above all else, to one day being an advisor to the King.
The strong-arm of the Garduña crime family, Conrado, played by Luis Callejo (“The Fury of a Patient Man”), is a bloodthirsty old hitman who commands respect earned through intimidation. Never one to scoff at violence, extortion or harassment, Conrado is the leader of a small army of mafia ruffians.
Estefanía de los Santos’ (“Group 7”) María de la O, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her character in Season 1, came up from the streets, and believes that even when dressed and behaving like nobles, it’s important that people remember where they’re from. Ultra-religious, María is fearless, having been hardened by her rough lifestyle.
“I believe the strength of the second season are the new characters related to the Garduña,” 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.”
In a show of faith and confidence, Season 2 of “The Plague” was greenlit before the costly Season 1 had even been released. And, while Season 3 hasn’t been announced yet, Movistar Plus is optimistic about the future of the series.
“Rafael and Alberto have an idea that would require a Season 3,” said series producer José Antonio 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 wrap up the series’ narrative.