The ‘sleepy town hiding a dark secret' is a plot line that gets played out again and again. Such setups lend themselves to a clutch of characters where the pleasant facades mask murky pasts and dubious arrangements. Bitter Daises is a limited run Spanish series. It drops outsider Police Lieutenant, Rosa Vargas, into the small town of Murias to investigate a missing persons case. But it quickly becomes clear that the people of the town, and Rosa herself, have ulterior motives.
Bitter Daises is only six episodes. But it manages to plot out a good arc for the central mystery whilst limiting the number of side plots. Almost all the narrative has some bearing on the main plot. At first there may seem to be quite a few unrelated events and characters but these do gradually clump together and feed into each other. Each episode is around 70 minutes long. Thankfully none seem to drag, which is a testament to the engaging presence of the actors.
Rosa (Maria Mera) is a superb anchor for all the slow-burning action. Ostensibly a rookie, there are hints early on that her commitment to chasing down every lead doesn’t just come from professional eagerness. Her sullen and calculated manner rubs local police deputy Miguel up the wrong way.
He openly admits he enjoys the quiet life of a town where nothing happens. Yet his softly-softly approach to residents he knows well is at odds with Rosa’s direct questioning. Throw in a kind-hearted chief who is days away from retirement, and the law enforcement cast is the core of the show.
As the investigation goes on several secrets are unearthed. Is there a serial killer in the town? What happens to the girls who disappear from the local brothel (where they just ‘sell champagne and rent rooms’)? Is the overly friendly colleague tutor getting too close to his female students? What gives with the mentally handicapped kleptomaniac Bernabé and his suspiciously protective brother?
In a longer show, these would be dead ends or stretched out until paper thin. But the compact nature of Bitter Daisies means that each part gets enough spotlight to be of interest, and each time the story is actively progressed by the investigation.
It’s possible that Bitter Daisies doesn’t play its cards quite as close to its chest as it thinks it does. I know that I, personally, had one or two key plot points correctly guessed early on due to some big clues that Rosa conveniently does not pick up on. But it’s a testament to the quality of the show that my on the money guesses didn’t quell the rising tension nor make the pay off reveals any less satisfying.
Bitter Daisies was a surprise find that I thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish. It doesn’t go for shock gore or nasty sexual violence nor does it play out like daytime TV cop show. It’s a superbly balanced and tight scripted whodunit and I wholeheartedly recommend it.
Words by Michael Record