If there’s one thing I love about the English, it’s their dance music. If there’s two things I love about the English, it’s their dance music and their stylish crime thrillers. If there’s three things I love about the English, it’s their dance music and their stylish crime thrillers and their conviction that the golden age is always receding into memory, to be revisited and yearned for but never quite recaptured.
Is this my way of saying White Lines might be extremely my shit? Yes it is.
Created by Álex Pina of Netflix’s successful international crime series Casa de Papel (known to English speakers as the preposterously titled Money Heist), White Lines is a murder mystery set on the sunny vacation-destination island of Ibiza. (It’s pronounced “Ibitha,” just to clear up any confusion). This paradisiacal Spanish dance-music mecca has lured generations of English kids to its clubs, where some of the most influential DJs in the genre’s history have made stars of themselves and the acts that they play. Twenty years ago a quartet of such kids headed down there; one of them, Axel Collins, never came back.
But White Lines is the story of his younger sister Zoe (a fine Laura Haddock), who’s come to the island to confirm the identity of her brother’s desert-mummified corpse and, she hopes, find out who killed him.
I’d say “hijinks ensue,” but until the very end of the episode Zoe’s eyes remain on the prize. After saying goodbye to her husband, who has their kid back home to worry about, Zoe tracks down Axel’s old buddy Marcus (Daniel Mays). Marcus describes himself to Zoe thusly: “I’m a 44-year-old DJ and I live in Ibiza. Most of the time I wear flip-flops. I’m the man.” But he’s speaking largely facetiously: He’s a divorced father of two whose ex-wife has moved on to a life of throwing elaborate sex parties for the elite.
Yes, the glory days are behind Marcus, no matter his bluster. As he tells Zoe later, “If you live like a god when you’re 20, how can you be happy after that? You’ve had it all: love, girls, the perfect life. After that, how could you not be sad? The good times are always behind you.” It’s strong writing.
Marcus is also a low-level cocaine dealer, who’s been ordered by his boss Oriol Calafat—the scion of a wealthy semi-legit crime family trying to pull enough strings to get a casino built on Ibiza and therefore not in the mood for any unnecessary legal entanglements; he also attends Marcus’s ex’s orgy because why not—to stop dealing. One of the surfer dudes who helps ferry Marcus’s coke is none to happy about this, and tosses a banana boat full of the stuff over his fence. The boat and a package tear on the way, and, well…
[whispering to date while watching White Lines when a white line first appears on the screen] That’s a white line.
There’s some funny business involving his dogs getting high off the stuff and running around barking like mad, which echoes a subplot in which Oriol’s powerful father Andreu loses his beloved dog King to an unspecified illness. White Lines giveth, White Lines taketh away.
But Marcus has bigger fish to fry than his coked-up pooches. Mere seconds after Zoe broaches the topic of whether Marcus lied about her brother’s whereabouts when he disappeared—Marcus claimed he was in India, but now admits that was a lie, though he maintains he doesn’t actually know where he was—Calafat family enforcer Boxer shows up and nearly drowns him, also demanding to know who killed Axel. Only he does it by nearly drowning the guy, forcing Zoe to step in and save Marcus by firing a harpoon at Boxer’s leg off-camera. (The three of them wind up leaving the hospital together, in time for Marcus’s DJ gig later that night no less, so I guess they clear things up at some point.)
Now, we’re in the very early going of a series that seems destined to have more twists and turns and surprise revelations up its sleeve, so it’s difficult to say where White Lines will wind up quality-wise. So far, however, it’s doing a lot right. The bittersweet, nostalgic sounds of the balearic and house music that define Ibiza score a direct hit on any viewer with any kind of connection to that music. (There’s the question of how all this plays to the uninitiated, but I’ll leave that to others to answer.) This dovetails nicely with the emotions roiling within Zoe, whose love of and grief for her brother can be seen in her lambent, teary eyes and in the way she dances while picturing him DJing at the end of the episode.
In other words, it seems like White Lines, whatever its sex and violence and decadence quotient winds up being, is about grieving for lost youth, for the promise of a bygone era, as much as anything else. That’s fecund territory for a murder mystery, since it contextualizes the killing as a loss of life surrounded by a loss of what made that life worth living, too. Play on, White Lines. I’ll be listening.
Sean T. Collins (@theseantcollins) writes about TV for Rolling Stone, Vulture, The New York Times, and anyplace that will have him, really. He and his family live on Long Island.