A missing woman, a probable murder, an illicit affair, and an unreliable central character reeling with amnesia – this isn’t a new premise for a television show. But what makes Spanish drama Sé Quién Eres (I Know Who Are You) different and watchable is what the showrunners have done with it.
On a long shady road in the middle of a forest, Juan Elias (Francesc Garrido) is found wandering aimlessly after an accident. He has a wound to the head, a bout of amnesia, and a lot at stake. As his wife whom he doesn’t recognise informs him, Juan is one of the most successful lawyers in Barcelona and she, Alicia Castro (Blanca Portillo), an influential judge. She tells him that their niece Ana Saura (Susana Abaitua) is missing, and that traces of her blood and her mobile phone were found inside Juan’s car. But he doesn’t remember this or much else.
Juan doesn’t remember that Ana was infatuated by him, enrolled for a Master class he teaches, and was running a campaign to have Elias elected as the new chancellor at her university. And that the vice-chancellor she is helping Juan replace is her father, Ramón Saura (Nancho Novo), who is married to Alicia’s sister Sylvia. He doesn’t remember that he watches movies with his daughter, and plants tomatoes and fake medical reports with his best friend and business partner, Heredia.
The only person Juan remembers is Eva Duran (Aida Folch), an ex-student and lover, who is now prosecuting the case for Ramón, and is committed to proving that Juan’s amnesia is a farce, and that he knows where Ana is. She, like most people in the show, is convinced that when it comes to Juan, they know who he is.
Since Juan can’t deny or confirm anything anyone claims to know about him, his reply to the oft-quoted “I know who you are” is a just long intense stare. As Juan puts the pieces together, he discovers he isn’t too fond of the man he used to be.
The 16-part series, created by Pau Freixas for Telecinco, was first aired on the Spanish network early this year. Great reviews and the enduring nature of a good murder mystery led BBC 4 to pick up the series. The thriller is packed with dysfunctional family equations, dangerous secrets, loaded stares, purposeful struts and an appropriate amount of dramatic silences. For every ultra-formulaic, overtly dramatic moment that you might have seen before, there are a dozen elements of intrigue and unanswered questions. The show is subtle and sexy – the colours are dialled down, and the story cuts between flashback and the present day, adding context and urgency to the many truths that are revealed in every 70-minute long episode.
The suspense is genuinely gripping, and the performances are as measured or powerful as needed. Noa Fontanals is powerful as Juan and Alicia’s daughter Julieta, the one person still optimistic that Ana has simply run away for a tropical vacation and that the two families will one day sit and laugh about it all at the family barbeque.
But this family has too many skeletons and secrets rattling in the cupboard, and Ana’s disappearance brings them tumbling out for all to see – distrustful detectives, influential judges, hidden cameras, family secrets, and a team of low-key committed do-gooders headed by the increasingly hassled Eva Duran, who seems to still be obsessed with the man who broke her heart eight years ago. She is great at her job, but she is vulnerable too, much like season one Carrie Mathison from the popular American show Homeland, who found herself falling in love with the man she was convinced is an enemy.
Shows like Broadchurch, Sherlock and Luther have already set the stage for heavily nuanced, beautifully crafted, wonderfully shot, and believably baffling crime thrillers on British television. I Know Who You Are is a good crime series too, maybe not as glitchless all the time. The miniscule loopholes don’t seem to matter in the face of the grand mystery that constantly thickens, and the characters are layered and meticulously written. If I Know Who You Are is your introduction to Spanish drama, it is definitely not a bad place to start.