It is always impossible to pick just one episode out of a whole series, but if I had to choose just one, I might say one from season 2 where the team meets Napoleon in a monastery. Granted, I love many other episodes (Felipe II, Lorca, Lope, Groundhog Day with Isabel I, Cervantes…) but I don’t think I ever laughed as hard as I did with the monastery. But this week’s episode comes close.
We begin with Salvador at a club, watching some stand-up comedy about political correctness (great subject). After the show, he has a drink with the comedian, Juanjo Cucalón (this is a real actor known for his TV work, playing himself, by the way). At the same time, in 1832, Fernando VII is ailing in bed. His doctor, Castelló, is a ministry agent, and promptly calls Salvador to inform him that, as suspected, the monarch is going to die a year earlier if nothing can be done. Thus, Salvador begins his plan: he tells Cucalón, who is the spitting image of the king, that he is going to be part of a “historical reality show” where all he needs to do is lay in bed and, most importantly, not say a word.
Why is it so important that Fernando VII, arguably the worst monarch Spain has ever had, survives another year? You see, there was this law, Pragmatic Sanction of 1830, which stated that a woman could only inherit the throne under extreme circumstances. In this case, that meant that the heir would be Fernando’s brother, Carlos María Isidro, because Fernando and his wife María Cristina only had two daughters. But Fernando eventually abolished that law, allowing his daughter Isabel to become queen. The problem is, if he is about to die before his time, he can’t abolish the law. So something must be done. Also, Carlos María Isidro (CMI from now on) isn’t even supposed to be there.
So the plan gets started, and while Irene and Ernesto bring Fernando VII to the present day to treat him and find out what’s wrong with him, Pacino and Alonso are in charge of going to the past with Cucalón, Pacino as assistant to the doctor, Alonso as his personal guard. Alonso is ecstatic because he knows Cucalón from his favourite soap operas, but Pacino is more worried about the actor doing a proper job and remaining silent, like a dying man. What could go wrong?
Things start to look bad when Cucalón sucks on a dummy as an enunciation technique, but soon he is tested with the arrival of the queen and Calomarde, the Secretary of Justice. It doesn’t help that he is lying in a bed that stinks and the sheets are sweaty.
In the ministry in 2020, Fernando VII doesn’t seem to improve, even going into cardiac arrest. All the while, Alonso troubles himself because he can’t seem to respect a king (Fernando VII was really a dipshit) and Pacino is still sad because Lola is gone.
Unbeknownst to them, we the audience soon discover Calomarde is up to no good, as he discusses with the cook how much poison to put in the king’s morning porridge. When the breakfast arrives (not before Alonso hilariously pads the servant down), María Cristina insists on giving him the porridge herself, and while alone, she confesses to her husband that she is sorry she made him sign the document in 1830 that annulled their daughter as the heir, something she only did to protect her child. But she regrets it. Thanks to the hidden cameras installed in the room, Ernesto and Salvador watch aghast from the ministry as Cucalón tells the queen that he loves her and kisses her, going completely off-script –although, as he reminds them later, there isn’t a script at all. Just in case, Salvador warns Pacino and asks him to keep an eye on Cucalón. But because we knew this guy wouldn’t just play dead, he even lights a cigarette he smuggled under his nightgown.
It is then we learn that Calomarde and CMI are in cahoots about the slow poisoning of the king. But what’s worse, the brother, this human version of Scar, wants to bring back the Inquisition when he reigns!
We move on to more amusing moments when Castelló, Pacino and Alonso tell Cucalón off for talking while in character. The guy is all about showing his grandeur as an actor, and goes the extra mile and starts reciting the Shylock monologue from The Merchant of Venice; but it is during this recital that he suddenly becomes ill. Something is rotten in the state of Spain, indeed.
Holding Cucalón’s blood sample, Pacino returns to the ministry so that the doctor treating the king can find out what poison is running through their veins. Salvador uses this moment to let Pacino know that Fernando VII is the only monarch who didn’t know about the ministry. His father did, and his wife will as well, but he would have used it for the wrong reasons, or perhaps even closed it altogether.
Back in the palace, Pacino and Alonso pay a visit to the cook, and through the power of, err, persuasion, they discover that Calomarde was behind the poisoning.
In the royal chamber, Cucalón is now raving, saying stuff about acting in front of the queen. Irene arrives with an antidote and confirming that the poison was arsenic, but she also tells the team that now Cucalón has to get up, walk around, talk, so that the people behind the poisoning get nervous.
As one could expect, leaving the actor to act is not a great idea. The next morning, the queen arrives with her youngest child and he calls her Isabel, when it’s Luisa Fernanda. He evens says some lines directly at the camera. A mess. CMI sees his “brother” walking around the gardens and gets restless. We know something is coming.
In the ministry, Fernando VII is completely recovered, and Salvador uses his sanity to scold him, big time. He tells the monarch that he is in purgatory, and that the only way he can atone for his sins is making sure that his daughter inherits the throne, because he is only one year away from dying.
But please, forget about that, because now comes the highlight of the episode. Alone in his room with the queen, Cucalón is shocked when she offers herself to him. In her case, she claims that, if he makes the sacrifice of reinstating Isabel, she will make the sacrifice of giving him what she hasn’t in a while. First reticent, Cucalón is later all in, ignoring the offer of a strange pillow and all. And then it goes wild. Like, really wild. It can be heard everywhere in the palace. I don’t think I have ever laughed this much at a sex scene.
The problem is that Fernando VII had a malformation in his, err, thing, so Salvador, who is watching the screens with the others in the ministry, is certain that the queen now knows Cucalón is an impostor. Alonso and Pacino, who are by the door with Castelló, listen as the doctor tells them about the “issue” as well. To be fair, the queen seems pretty okay afterwards, so I don’t see the problem.
Oh wait, there is a problem. While our team is fighting Cucalón over his deeds, soldiers arrive, with Calomarde and CMI at the front, holding María Cristina hostage. They claim that the queen and Castelló have killed the king and have put an impostor in his place, because everyone knows about Fernando VII’s inability to, you know, give pleasure to women. Demanding the soldiers undress the man to prove he is not the king, what the bad guys don’t know is that, while they were on their way to the room, Irene has arrived with the real Fernando and sent Cucalón to the present, so the man in front of them is indeed the king. And he is not too happy, so he removes his nightgown in front of everyone, angered that his identity is questioned in the first place. Yes, everyone sees his junk.
Fernando doesn’t hesitate and banishes Calomarde, who gets a well-deserved slap from the queen (although history says it was her sister who slapped him). CMI would also get banished, to Portugal, and from then, the Carlist Wars would begin. Luckily for us, the plan works out, and Fernando signs the abolition of the law, ensuring the throne for his daughter. Castelló, present in the room, winks at the camera, knowing the others are watching – Cucalón included. Now he knows that he was in the past, and he actually slept with the queen. Not that he will be allowed to tell anyone ever.
If you missed Julián, you must know that he wasn’t idle. Claiming that he was visiting his sick mother, Julián sneaks into the ministry and goes to… can you guess? Yes, he goes to the day Maite died, and my friends, he actually saves her this time! I feel like this was always meant to happen. Sure, he had feelings for Amelia and whatnot, but Maite has always been the love of his life. It was his one consistent trait. His whole character has been about him trying to save her, then not being able to, then moving to a century in the past to help people and forget he couldn’t help her… And now he has! Unfortunately, some criminal-looking men go after him and kidnap him, forcing him into a car. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I think next week, for the finale, we are going to… the future!
God, Fatherland, and Me
-I wish I could include all the memorable quotes, but it would be impossible. Pacino alone has about fifty.
-I encourage you to learn more about Fernando VII, and the royal family in general in the 19th century. I have only found articles about his anomaly in Spanish.
-“It was in those small moments of silence where I realised what a great actor you are.”
-“It’s historical. The only thing left to do in realities.”
-“You know what they say: play an ill person, you get an award.”
-Castelló claims “Por La Pepa” which is the constitution of 1812. It was a saying uttered by liberals. You have to admire how much historical accuracy this show has.
-You also have to admire the great casting. Every actor resembles their real-life counterpart. And that is thanks to casting director Luis San Narciso, who gets a mention in the episode when Cucalón mentions how good the other “actors” are.
-“The Spanish people believe anything, but give them a martyr and they will go nuts.”
-“The scene was taking me towards something more physical.” “Then see if it takes you to something physical, but inwards.”
-“What an actor won’t do for a role.”
-“I close my eyes and I’m with her until I wake up.”
-“How is he?” “So-so… as they say in my home town.”
-“I can’t take this anymore. This is The Rich Cry Too, but with period costumes.”
-“What a devout wife.” “That’s not love, that’s panic because she is losing her leverage.” “I’m worried about the little girl.” “Ernesto, this is not a TV show.”
-“Pacino wants to give him some direction notes.” “Then he better give them to him soon, or else this is going to change genres pretty quickly.”
-“He is a politician capable of dealing with the devil as long as that keeps him on the throne.”
-“Cervantes already said it: each actor is as God made them and even worse.”
-“Stick to the script!” “But there is no script!”
-“Is that Shakespeare or the Álvarez Quintero brothers?”
-“I need to study more to understand everything.” Never a line said in this show made more sense than this one
-“Last time it was lacking salt, and that can’t be, or else we are going to kick you out of Masterchef.”
–A delirious Cucalón: “You have to be your character, become your character..”
-If you want to read on Fernando VII, I recommend the biography by Emilio La Parra López.
-“Lots of fancy curtains and dress coats, but the catering on this production is not the best…”
-“An awareness of death encourages us to live more intensely.” “Beautiful. Garcilaso?” “Paulo Coelho.”
-“I am a king, but first and foremost (looks at camera) I am a father.”
-From the first second, I knew Cucalón would sing María Cristina me quiere gobernar to the queen.
-“I’m Fernando VII.” “And I am Antonio Banderas, don’t mess with me.”
-Out of topic, but I’d like to say it: let’s focus on what unites us, not what divides us, especially with the year we are living as a planet.
-You haven’t truly been a child in Spain if you don’t know this song by heart: