l Silencio, Muted for international viewers, is a Spanish Netflix psychological thriller focusing on a man in his mid-twenties released on probation for nine months before being declared as fit to “be left alone to mingle with the society.”
Arón Piper, the Spanish-German actor, plays Sergio Ciscar, the man in the limelight. Jailed as a minor for the double homicide of his parents and accused of being a malignant narcissist with an IQ of 154, Sergio appears to be guilty of the crimes he was imprisoned for.
His angry outbursts, his silence on the matter, his lack of empathy and emotions, his calm and collected composure as he sets out to find his younger sister after being released can all be taken for the traits of a potential psychopath.
Viktor Emil Frankl, the founder of logotherapy says, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.” But what if that growth and freedom are taken a notch too far? The space is also the site of many an ethical dilemma.
The series is not the first showing the limits some researchers cross in their attempts to follow their passions and answer the questions in their minds.
The Stanford prison experiment, tea room trade and Milgram’s obedience experiment are just a few famous cases. Hundreds of ethically questionable studies and researches have been conducted in limbo of the public’s eye.
“We begin the programme of daily monitoring and behavioral analysis.”
Ana Dussuel, acted by Almudena Amor, is one such researcher eager to ascertain that Sergio’s current psychological state and potential threat level are low enough for him to be left unmonitored. Gradually, the undertaking starts turning into a project focused on proving his innocence.
A student highly influenced by her mentor who happened to be Sergio’s mother, Ana comes across as a keen yet weirdly ‘different’ researcher and an outcast. As the series progresses, we see the character develop into an unhinged person.
From childhood to prison to adulthood, Sergio has constantly grown up being watched 24/7 by his mother, by the police and by Ana and her team of researchers. The psychological impact of such violation of privacy can also be considered a trigger in earning him the name The Balcony Killer. But is he innocent?
“That feeling that you’re always being watched is real.”
The show provides an insight into the grey world we live in – in ethical terms — but leaves behind loose ends so that there is a much bigger mess at the end than the one it began with.
Of course, Netflix never serves answers on a platter. But the six-episode season can be summarised as: did he murder his parents or not?
Plot twists such as a police officer, Cabrera, trying to sabotage evidence to end Ana’s crazy research exist but are rather uninteresting and typical of Netflix.
Similarly, Sergio’s admirer, Marta, played by Cristina Kovani, enters the story working as a double spy. Her loyalties shift between Ana and Sergio, another Netflix specialty.
The acting could be rated as average at best and a movie adaptation of the script would’ve been a better idea. It seemed as if the shooting, too, was done on a low budget at the same three or four locations.
Important issues including the right to privacy; ethical considerations for a research; using people who have a hard time rehabilitating into society for personal advantages by appearing for help them; and a lack of awareness of mental health issues are downplayed in a way that promotes rather than discourages unethical behaviour.
Most people would agree to a place in the prison or rather a room with a spectacular bed, carpeted floor, centrally air-conditioned, the lobbies adorned with paintings and running tracks for inmates. One would think that the prisoner is innocent based on this VIP treatment alone. This provides a very unrealistic image of Spain’s traditional prisons.
The absolute resolve of Ana to see the research through gives the feeling that it is okay to do whatever without weighing the consequences for one’s actions. Instead of providing Martha with the therapy she requires, she is forced to elicit confessions from Sergio as a researcher somewhat like the tea room trade.
The show provides an insight into the grey world we live in – in ethical terms - but leaves behind many loose ends. In the end, there is a much bigger mess than in the beginning.
Honest unfiltered opinion: “Netflix is creating shows that basically have the same plot.” One could call them realistic but they don’t do much to keep the audience hooked to the screen unless they are thriller fans.
Even for a thriller fan, while they mildly pique a short time interest, the urge for reruns is non-existent.
Also, for a platform like Netflix running a show that fails entirely to address ethical violations is highly questionable.
Marshall B Rosenberg’s words provide an apt comment: “we are dangerous when we are not conscious of our responsibility for how we behave, think and feel.”
The writer is an undergraduate student of psychology at FC College