In the six episodes leading up to this one, each story has treated the titular Romanoff bloodline like a vestigial limb —a thing that may have had purpose at some point, but as it is now is simply a curiosity. “Panorama” is the first episode to explore how royal lineage may be a problem. Both literally, as an agent of disease, and philosophically, as a kind of myopia that narrows our perception of history, and decides who among us can be great. It’s the strongest, most well-developed thesis using the show’s conceit, but unfortunately it’s also undermined by supporting stories that either falter or just kind of droopily fall away, half-heartedly.
The episode begins with Abel (Juan Pablo Castañeda) idly flipping through some dating app and waxing poetic on how the all the photos of poised, beautiful women can’t possibly excite him because they do not capture how their subjects move or laugh or comb their hair. Presumably, this intro is meant to establish the lead is an insatiable Lothario whose constant urges are elevated by his poetic soul and soulful acoustic guitar accompaniment. He’s a journalist —but frequently remarked on as a shitty one, and it’s implied he should be doing something more whimsical than reporting the news.
Abel is doing an undercover expose on a clinic that supposedly cures incurable diseases. It’s an elite place; a walled off compound designed with plenty of trees, plant life, and gentle, diffused natural light. But behind it all is solid stone; the place is a castle that keeps out the hoi polloi. Abel is hoping to gather enough information for a story revealing the clinic doesn’t actually cure any diseases, and simply takes people’s money in return for false hope. Abel’s editor isn’t enthused about the angle, being unconcerned how the wealthy spend their money, and even Abel has to concede that most of the patients he spots in the lobby are all international criminals, tyrants, or dirty businessmen of some form or another. It’s only on meeting the twelve-year-old patient Nick and his mother Victoria (Radha Mitchell), that Abel’s interest in the clinic is reignited.
Victoria is separated from her controlling husband and spends her time taking Nick on a global tour of specialized clinics in hope of curing her son’s condition. He’s afflicted with an aggressive form of hemophilia and Victoria blames herself since she’s a carrier. She’s descended from the Romanoff family (naming the kid Nick is a nod to Czar Nicholas II, whose son Alexei suffered from the disease), and where others are impressed by the reflected greatness of her bloodline, all Victoria sees is the suffering it inflicts on her son.
This idea of the failure of nobility in contrast to the triumph of common people is brought into focus as Abel takes an interest in the two and shows them around Mexico City. He takes the two to see Diego Rivera’s mural, “The History of Mexico” painted across three walls of the National Palace. It is a testament to how impressive the piece is that even some of its grandeur can be conveyed on screen. It’s a layered piece with strata of characters from every stage of Mexico’s history lapping against each other like waves crashing upwards to the shore. It’s dense; a triumph of framing and composition. Rivera’s strong, blocky proportions and simplified forms allow for the countless figures in the mural to remain distinct, despite how utterly crammed with people the multiple vignettes depicted in the mural can be. And it’s also an effective history lesson, despite the overt political origins of the piece being commissioned specifically as means of edifying and endorsing the Mexican revolution. While the mural doesn’t shirk from dynamic scenes of violence wrought by invading conquistadors and European armies, it explicitly shows how the poor and indigenous suffered due to the excess of the wealthy and the nobility. Along the top, against a backdrop of prosperity that emerges from the failures of capitalism, Rivera painted Karl Marx displaying the Communist manifesto. It’s a direct response to the notion that bloodline is sufficient to denote greatness. Countless people have fought and died for the chance to be seen as equally human as those born into wealth and power.
Falling in love with Victoria represents the fulfillment of Abel’s opening wistful monologue about finding a woman’s true essence. Which is fine and all, but they could also have just told a story about two people making a connection. Abel’s desire to discover some kind of rarefied true love among all the young woman who lust after him is feels utterly superfluous. The idea of him being a romantic can be conveyed without some sort of weird, borderline stereotypical Latin lover asterisk. But if Abel has to fall in love with Victoria, at least the episode allows for Abel and Nick to have a sincere relationship as well. Abel delights in showing Nick all the places in Mexico City he has been unable to visit under the severe restrictions Victoria has instituted out of fear for her son’s health.
Abel and Victoria’s forbidden romance may not be the most interesting direction for the characters, but it has the benefit of being sweet and well realized. It’s more confounding how the episode resolves, or fails to resolve, the clinic story line that is theoretically the backbone to the entire episode. It’s the place that allows Abel and Victoria to meet, and the mid-episode discovery that the clinic uses stem cells farmed from a woman’s clinic in a poor neighborhood is both shocking and damning in how it demonstrates the rich will always exploit the poor. So it’s all the more confounding how the entire arc fizzles away. Abel goes to confront the doctor about his discovery, the doctor doesn’t meet him and Abel leaves. Abel submits a final story that’s more of a tone-poem than incisive journalism and his editor rightly tells him it’s terrible and he won’t publish it. Abel decides that his destiny lie with being a poet, or at least not a journalist and quits. It’s supposed to be a triumphant moment of self-discovery celebrated by both men, but it mostly feels like someone snipped the storyline at an arbitrary point and tied the dangling end into a sloppy knot. Through his time with Victoria and his experience with the clinic, Abel feels more connected to Mexico and his heritage, which is great, but —and I say this as someone completely dedicated to the liberal arts— it seems like he may have been more helpful actually exposing crime and exploitation. Nonetheless, it’s a striking image as Abel walks across the Zócalo outside the National Palace and gradually becomes absorbed alongside the characters of Rivera’s mural.
- In continuing the theme suggested by the title, “Panorama”, this episode was shot in the cinematic 21:9 ratio, as opposed to the standard widescreen TV 16:9 ratio. It’s a neat way to reinforce the episode’s exploration of scale and perspective and searching for a wider view.
- Abel’s interest in Victoria is very Catholic. He admires how she sacrifices everything for her son and can’t help but fall for his own Lady of Guadalupe.
- The secretary who runs the front desk of the clinic has such a fantastic evil face and evil expressions conveyed almost entirely by her eyebrows. She’s honestly very scary.
- Diego Rivera placed himself and his now more famous wife, Frida Kahlo, in his mural as socialist advocates.