Even if Netflix weren’t trumpeting Alex Pina’s new mystery thriller White Lines as “From the Creator of Money Heist,” it would be virtually impossible not to compare the two. But despite the common setting (Spain), slick trailers, and similar reliance on flashbacks, White Lines is no Money Heist. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, however, as the slower-paced murder mystery is able to muster some genuine character moments amid breathtaking scenery, even as it fails to connect the audience to some of its central players.
When the body of her brother, Axel Collins, is unearthed in the desert of southeastern Spain, more than 20 years after the British DJ disappeared on Ibiza, Zoe Walker (Laura Haddock of Guardians of the Galaxy) must confront her own childhood traumas as she pursues an investigation into his murder. With the statute of limitations expired, and the police powerless to act, Zoe winds her way through Ibiza’s famed nightclub scene, and among Axel’s former friends and rivals, to piece together details of his life and death.
Only 16 years old when her brother (Tom Rhys-Harries) left Manchester, England, with three friends to pursue his dream of becoming a superstar DJ, the adult Zoe must reconcile her fond memories with the accounts of those who knew Axel on Ibiza. There’s sad-sack DJ Marcus (played as an adult by Daniel Mays), who once lived in Axel’s shadow, and now deals cocaine on the side to maintain his lifestyle; promoter Anna (Angela Griffin), the love of Marcus’ life but now his ex-wife; David (Laurence Fox), the former party kid turned new-age healer; Boxer (Nunos Lopes), longtime bouncer and problem solver for the Calafats, the wealthiest family on the island; Axel’s one-time girlfriend Kika Calafat (Marta Milans), after whom he named his first nightclub; and Calafat scion Oriol (Juan Diego Bottoas), Axel’s former rival.
Add to that Zoe’s family, the elder Calafats, Albanian mobsters, assorted Ibiza nightclub denizens, and younger versions of the central characters, and you’re left with a sprawling cast — and a sizable list of suspects. Unhindered by police, or rules governing investigations, Zoe is free to suspect, accuse and even interrogate any number of them, her actions on Ibiza growing more reckless, and more criminal, by the day.
In fairness to Zoe, virtually anyone in Axel’s orbit had a decent enough reason to kill him. Despite her recollections of a caring older brother who served as her emotional anchor after the death of their mother, the flashbacks reveal someone else entirely. In the words of the Spanish police inspector, Axel was nothing but “an English asshole”; an egotist who abused drugs, his friends and himself. Twenty years removed, his friends remember him as charismatic, but we’re shown little sign of that. He was barely even nice, except to his sister. Granted, the audience isn’t necessarily required to like a character (murder victim or otherwise) to connect with him, but it would certainly help to understand what qualities drew people to Axel Collins, and then made them endure him, at least until the end. Fame? Drugs? Entrance to the inner circle of Ibiza nightlife?
That’s where White Lines falls short. The flashbacks to the mid- to late 1990s are little more than fractured glimpses of Axel’s rise and decline; they don’t tell a full story. One minute the up-and-coming DJ is arriving on Ibiza, the next he’s opening his first club, and the next he, Marcus, Anna and David have five. Because so little time is spent on the foursome’s climb through the island’s nightlife — it’s not even clear what everyone does in their partnership — life-changing decisions arrive with little emotional impact.
Luckily, Zoe’s own arc is far more fulfilling. On her own for the first time in her life — she married young, to escape her emotionally withdrawn father — the realization that she wasn’t abandoned by Axel offers some semblance of closure, freeing her to reevaluate a history of mental-health issues, and to finally discover herself. Boxer, the charming and dangerous bouncer, plays a big role in the latter.
In a decidedly different way, so too does Marcus, whose storyline veers between comedic and tragic, providing White Lines‘ 10 episodes with much-needed lighter moments (to say nothing of padding for a rather thin main plot). He’s a court jester, of sorts, serving as the object of laughter and pity, while sometimes speaking the truths that no one else will. The only problem is that Marcus’ antics, involving singing, leg-breaking Albanian gangsters, stolen cocaine, and drug-eating poodles, sometimes feel incongruous with the rest of White Lines, as if he wandered in from a different series.
Yet it’s those elements that help to buoy White Lines, and provide something to recommend to viewers searching for a reason not to fast-forward through the flashbacks. Who killed Axel Collins? You have to wait until the season finale to find out for sure, of course, but you’ll be glad they did. The only remaining question is what took them so long.
Streaming now on Netflix, White Lines Season 1 stars Laura Haddock, Tom Rhys-Harries, Nuno Lopes, Daniel Mays, Angela Griffin, Laurence Fox, Marta Milans, Juan Diego Bottoas, Pedro Casablanc and Belen Lopez.
From the creator of Money Heist, Netflix's White Lines delivers sun, sin and secrets on Ibiza, but gives no reason to care about the murder.