A mostly real-time review of “Money Heist” (“La Casa de Papel”), parts 1 and 2

The cast of “Money Heist” (“La Casa de Papel”).
Left to right: Rio, ??, The Professor, Nairobi, Tokyo, and Denver. Credit: Netflix.

The following are notes and questions I jotted down as I watched “Money Heist” on Netflix. There are loads of SPOILERS. I don’t provide a lot of context, so this stuff won’t make much sense if you aren’t watching the show. Footnotes include a mix of random asides and follow-ups I posted after I finished the show.

What’s this show about?

Eight thieves—each using a code name that corresponds to a city—break into the Royal Mint of Spain. Their goal isn’t to steal money, it’s to print money. Their most valuable resources are hostages, time, anonymity, and public support: they need all four to print billions in cash and get away. The intricate plan is overseen from outside the mint by The Professor, a mastermind who’s been planning this crime for most of his life.

In-the-moment notes

“The House of Paper” is a much cooler title than “Money Heist.” My guess is Netflix changed the title because the original is too close to “House of Cards.” But a crossover between “The House of Paper” and “House of Cards” is a great idea and someone at Netflix should get on that. 2

Does The Professor always use the voice changer when he’s on the phone? Or, does he only use that when he’s talking to Raquel (the hostage negotiator)? I worry he’s going to slip up and accidentally use his real voice when he’s taunting the cops.

For such a high-stakes environment, the police command center outside the mint has quite the open-door policy. The Professor waltzes in there by vigorously waving a phone and they’re like “must be important since this guy’s really waving that phone around.”

Whoa whoa whoa. This show’s got some homophobia in it. Helsinki is gay and they make it a huge deal — look at the big scary guy who’s gay! The whole thing is a big bag of ick.

I do not understand Tokyo at all. She’s into Rio. I think. But maybe not. And she wants to protect him but she also wants to not be tied down. Is that right? She’s also supposedly 12 years older than Rio, but she looks like she’s in her 20s. So is Rio supposed to be 17 (that can’t be right)? And what makes her qualified for this heist, anyway? At the very beginning of the series she says she’s a thief, but is she a good thief? And why did The Professor recruit her? Does she have a special skillset that has yet to be revealed? 3

There have been four death fakeouts in the early going of this show. Rio (shot), Monica (shot), Moscow (heart attack maybe) 4, and Arturo (shot) all appeared on their way to certain death, but each wasn’t quite dead. 5

I get whiplash from the tonal shifts in this series. Case in point: Nairobi tells Tokyo about how she lost custody of her son. It’s sad (and I almost consider this a fifth death fake out because I was convinced Nairobi was going to say her son died while she was distracted selling drugs). Tokyo nods and looks appropriately affected as Nairboi tells her story. Then, with no segue at all, Tokyo whips out a bottle of tequila (she just had that on hand?) and a twerking underwear dance party breaks out.

So, is Raquel’s mom lucid most of the time? I’m suspicious that her condition is an arbitrary plot device. 6

If the guy who plays Denver doesn’t share the same laugh as the guy who dubbed Denver’s voice, then the actor should sue for defamation. The dubbed giggle is ridiculous.

There was a character on the show “Colony” (I watched it but kinda wish I hadn’t) who stuck around despite being a duplicitous bastard at every turn and everyone knew it. On a show filled with aliens, the most preposterous thing was this character’s survival. I mention this because Arturo is the same guy. There’s no reason he should be alive. He got shot by a sniper, got caught organizing an escape, he stabbed Denver in the back but didn’t incapacitate him, and somehow he did not get brained by Helsinki even though Helsinki blames him for Oslo’s death. 7

Of course Raquel’s violent ex-husband Alberto is the best forensic investigator in the entire police department. And of course he needs to be brought in to crack the case.

I’ll give The Professor credit for fast thinking. When Alberto found a tiny remnant of evidence at the Toledo lair, The Professor turned the tables by faking a bowel condition, goading Alberto into a fight, knocking Alberto out with a Vulcan pinch, and then planting fake evidence. As seat-of-the-pants plans go, this was exquisite work.

So, let me see if I understand this correctly: Berlin, who is dying of a degenerative disease, manipulates and violates Ariadna so he can live on as a deep-seated trauma in her now-warped mind? That’s his goal? And someone thought this up, and wrote it down, and then it got filmed in front of all kinds of people, and not one of those people said “this right here is a horrible idea”?

I hope we find out how The Professor and Berlin met. 8 Their bond doesn’t make sense yet. The Professor appears to have a code (despite being a criminal mastermind) while Berlin is the sort of psychopath who claims to have a code, but that code is bendy and easy to disregard when it’s convenient.

Tokyo might be the worst narrator in the history of narration. You could eliminate her voiceover and the show wouldn’t miss a beat. Was the idea to climb inside the mind of the most reactive and brainless character? If that was intentional you’d eventually realize she’s an unreliable narrator, and that could yield some interesting storytelling. But that’s not what they’re doing. Her narration isn’t unreliable. It’s useless.

The Professor has twice used the speakers in the command center to his advantage. First, he commandeered a police radio to scare the junkyard employee into silence, thus thwarting the creation of a composite image that was on its way to being an accurate representation of The Professor. Second, he got through to Tokyo during her interrogation to remind her of his promise to not leave her behind if she got arrested. If the police employed better audio hygiene this caper would have been wrapped up in a few hours.

The Professor organizes a clown audition at a major hospital. He then uses that audition as a diversion while he checks to see if Angel is actually out of his coma or if it’s a trap set by the police. Let’s repeat that. He organizes a clown audition. Given that The Professor has a wig and clown apparel on hand, I’m assuming he has this idea loaded up from the beginning. But it also kinda seems like he dreams up the clown caper on the fly. So which is it? Does he have a whole series of bizarre diversionary tactics to choose from? And if the clown move was the best option, what were the other ones? 9

Tokyo’s rescue and return to the mint is great—the best 10-minute stretch so far. I wonder if the image of a motorcycle jumping into a lobby in slow motion was a seed idea for the entire series. They clearly put a lot of effort into this set piece. 10

The mint and The Professor’s base of operations are in Madrid. The lair—the place where the heist was organized—is in Toledo. So, Raquel captures The Professor at their favorite bar in Madrid and then she drives him to the lair for questioning (why she does this doesn’t actually make sense, but whatever). Take look at this, though:

Toledo is more than an hour from Madrid, yet Raquel and The Professor zip between Madrid and the lair in mere minutes. This is one of those wormholes that only exist in TV and movies.

Let’s talk about the romance between Raquel and The Professor. Is it absurd? Silly? Preposterous? Yes. All of those things. It’s also–I can’t believe I’m writing this–kind of nice. 11 These two characters are the most likable and interesting in the series, so their pairing makes a weird kind of sense.

Are the writers trying to paint Berlin as a hero who sacrifices himself so the others can escape? And are we supposed to like this guy? I can’t accept that. His last stand includes a horrible terrorization of Ariadna. He makes her reload a machine gun over and over while taking fire from cops who are there to save her. Moreover, the entire Ariadna plot is repulsive. Oh, I’m sure it was a bullshit attempt to show through Berlin that morality and heroism are shades of gray. But let’s be clear, Berlin is unequivocally bad and what he does to Ariadna is evil. I hate his storyline.

All that build-up about Alison Parker being Super Hostage No. 1 because she’s the daughter of the British ambassador to Spain is anticlimactic. She gets out with the other hostages. No special treatment. No big moment. Her sole purpose—and I’m using that term loosely—was to hold off a police raid. If she died there’d be an international incident, so the cops keep their distance and that gives the hijackers more time to print money. That’s fine, but then why bother with the dumb early make-out session with a classmate that ended in betrayal? That dude never gets a comeuppance. Why give her a backstory about hunting if she’s never going to put those skills to use? That’s a straight-up violation of Chekhov’s gun.

Helsinki and Nairobi don’t have post-heist plans. Helsinki proposes they get an apartment together. This is the spin-off we need.

So, it would appear Berlin and The Professor are brothers. Either that or Berlin thinks of The Professor as a “little brother”–the writers left this open ended. I suppose a family bond is the only legitimate reason The Professor would include a sociopath like Berlin in his plot. But still, it’s either a lame reveal or a lame red herring.

What happens to the random Serbians who freed Tokyo? They were hanging around the lair after Tokyo’s motorbike adventure, but they aren’t shown at the end. 12 And what about the Ukrainian doctor who comes by the lair to operate on Moscow? Did The Professor excuse him when Moscow died? Did he get his €10 million? 13

So, here’s the roster of who got away and how there were disguised:

  • Denver and “Stockholm” (aka Monica, who’s now part of the group, but they hazed her with the worst codename). These two walk away as a young couple pushing an empty stroller. 14
  • Tokyo. Anime conventioneer.
  • Rio. Sk8er boi.
  • Nairobi. Sassy lollipop enthusiast.
  • Helsinki and The Professor. Workers driving a cider truck filled with money.
  • Oslo and Moscow. Corpses in shipping containers.

The ending jumps forward a year. As endings go it’s … fine. Trite and kind of expected, but fine. Still, I want a broader view of the fallout from the heist. How does Raquel avoid prosecution? What happens to Raquel’s daughter and mom? Now that Raquel and The Professor have reunited, what the heck are they going to do? Raquel may no longer be a police officer, but she found the guy who stole €1 billion, and if she goes back home and doesn’t report him she’ll be an accomplice for real now. It’s possible she’ll never be asked to give up The Professor’s location, but she had to resign because the cops thought she was in on it. Aren’t the police still watching her? I imagine they’d keep a €1 billion case active for a very long time.

Post-viewing thoughts

I went into this show thinking it was a high-quality action drama, similar to Netflix’ “Bodyguard” (which is really good and you should watch it). But it is so not that. It’s an action soap opera. I’ve got a big soft spot for mindless stuff that knows it’s mindless (e.g. “Taken,” “John Wick”), but the disconnect between what this seemed to be and what it turned out to be was jarring.

The writers made two massive mistakes that prevented this show from being frivolous fun:

  1. Berlin’s rape and manipulation of Ariadna was sick. I can’t believe they included this plot.
  2. The homophobia surrounding Helsinki was an idiotic leftover from ‘80s action movies.

These things weren’t provocative. They didn’t give depth to the story. They were cruel, unnecessary, and lazy.

The U.S. version of this show is dubbed, which creates a few quirks:

  • Alison Parker is positioned as an outsider among her classmates because she’s from another country and she has a “higher” status. You see this when she’s physically bullied, but there isn’t a strong sense of her otherness throughout the series. Now, dubbing translates what’s being said, but it can sometimes miss how it’s being said, so perhaps something important was lost in translation. Or, maybe the writers really didn’t know what to do with Alison and they punted on character development.
  • Helsinki–who’s Serbian but is speaking Spanish–at one point doesn’t understand what a “fingerprint” is. The language skills of all the dubbed characters appear to be on the same level, so when Helsinki doesn’t get something obvious he comes across as an idiot rather than a guy speaking a second language who doesn’t know the Spanish phrase for “fingerprint.” 15
  • The dubbed voices generally match the actors, with one big excerption: The actor playing Colonel Prieto looks to be in his 50s or 60s. The voice actor sounds decades younger.

Plotting is not this show’s strong suit. There are a lot of false starts, including at least two–maybe three?–half-assed escape plots by the hostages that fizzle out. It’s as though the writers were trying to hit a runtime rather than construct a narrative. What’s weird is that there’s clever and entertaining stuff in this series. The Professor’s plan is smart: Print money instead of steal it? Not a bad idea. And some of the action is quite well done, most notably Tokyo’s exhilarating return to the mint. But those bright spots get pulled down by long stretches of nonsense that suck the excitement out of the story. It’s a very odd show.

A third “part” of “Money Heist” is coming in 2019. 16 I hope that with Berlin dead and Netflix now running things there won’t be a repeat of the abuse and homophobia that infected the first two parts of what could have been a dumb fun show.


  1. This is a promo photo for Part 3 of “Money Heist,” which is coming in 2019. Look at the second person from the left, the one with the mask. Notice the hands. He / she is intentionally pulling down on his / her jumpsuit. Why?
  2. Titles worse than “Money Heist”: “Cash Crime.” “Currency Theft.” “Euro Heist” (that’s not bad actually).
  3. Rio is around 20 years old. When Raquel proposed a plea deal to him she said he’d get out in two years, when he was 22. Also, it seems like Tokyo is pretty good with guns, but not Martin-Riggs-sniper-shot-from-unfathomable-distance good.
  4. Moscow had a panic attack.
  5. The timeline for the first two parts of the series takes place over five days or so. Yet, at the end I actually forgot Rio, Monica, and Arturo had been shot because all of them were bopping around like it was no big deal. I’m pretty sure if you get shot on a Sunday you’re not back to full speed by Friday. Also, Moscow survived the panic attack but he later died from gunshot wounds.
  6. My suspicions were valid. The mom’s dementia was an arbitrary plot device.
  7. Arturo does not die.
  8. The Professor and Berlin are brothers. Maybe. Or maybe not. It’s unclear.
  9. The Professor wisely rejected these alternative distraction plans: mascot tryouts, Blue Man group audition, flash mob performing “Groove Is In The Heart.”
  10. I’m not saying it’s easy to shoot someone on a motorcycle, but even a Storm Trooper would take issue with the police officers’ marksmanship. All those bullets from all those guns and nothing comes close to Tokyo.
  11. “Nice” is a relative term here. Raquel twice pulls a gun on The Professor, she interrogates him while he’s hooked up to a lie detector, and she bites the hell out of his hand. And The Professor isn’t any better. He asks degrading questions while Raquel tries to do her job, and then he almost poisons her mother to keep his identity a secret. So, they’ve got some shit to work out.
  12. When did Serbians become the go-to group for gritty criminals who’ll “do what it takes”? And why do they always have bad haircuts?
  13. Speaking of payment plans, how does The Professor pay off the team after the heist? Is it through Dark Web direct deposit? Two-day untraceable shipping anywhere in the world?
  14. A pushed stroller without a baby or dog in it is a very creepy stroller.
  15. According to Google Translate, “fingerprint” in Spanish is “huella dactilar.” So now you know.
  16. “Money Heist” doesn’t have seasons. It has “parts.” I don’t know why.