arco Mur (Mario Casas) has it all. He’s a successful businessman heading up his own company; he’s also a handsome man in the prime of his life. But when it comes to relationships, and especially relationships with women, he just can’t open up. His solution: regular visits to an exclusive sex club where – with his face safely hidden behind a mask – he’s able to indulge his desires without the risk of emotional attachment.
Clearly Marco has some issues around intimacy, which is where the thriller part of “erotic thriller” comes in. When you have to visit an Eyes Wide Shut-style sex club (complete with naked woman playing cello) to get your needs met, those needs are about to get you into trouble. But where a lot of English-language series would gloss over the sex and go straight to the thrills, this Spanish drama isn’t afraid to stop and linger.
In recent years the erotic thriller has all but died out in the West. The commercial requirement for just about everything to appeal to the widest possible audience has rendered sex all but invisible in pop culture beyond the basic displays of flesh seen in a Fast & Furious film (and don’t even think about that kind of thing in a superhero movie). Which makes Instinctive Desires the series you didn’t even know you needed, a vital reminder that sex is just as valid a subject for drama as anything else.
That said, there’s a lot more to this series than just a Spanish version of 50 Shades of Grey. For one, this is a lot smarter about what it’s trying to do; the opening scene starts off with the sound of heavy breathing, only to reveal that Marco is just taking an early morning run. But it’s not a cheap joke. Rather, it reveals what lies at his core when the series opens – that for him, physical activity of any kind is a way to run away from his issues.
It’s made clear early on that he’s running from his past. There was something in his childhood that made him decide to embrace a life without love, and until he confronts that he’ll never be able to settle down. It doesn’t take much to figure out his mother had something to do with it – and when she returns to his life, the fragile balance he’s maintained is suddenly sent tumbling.
Maybe if that was all he had to worry about, he could sort things out. But his work life is now about to get a lot more complicated. He’s the owner and boss of Alva, a high-tech company about to launch their big-ticket item Ciclon, a luxury automobile that takes being environmentally friendly to a new level. Even here, Marco’s buried issues are never far from the surface. Escape seems a common theme, and cars (and a proposed train) can take you further than just running can. When he’s asked where the idea for all this came from, he replies “in a dream”.
At work too, Marco has carefully established a balance. His best friend Diego (Jon Arias) is the company’s co-owner; Diego’s wife, Bárbara (Bruna Cusí) handles their marketing. Potential new hire Eva (Silvia Alonso), fresh from Stanford, seems to have more on her mind than the job she applied for. She follows Marco to his club, and when she realises the price she’ll have to pay to gain admission, she pays it. Is she simply attracted to him, or does she have a deeper motive? And when his partners want her gone, will Marco side with them, or with her?
If all this wasn’t enough of a threat to Marco’s carefully constructed life, his brother José (Óscar Casas), who is on the spectrum, now has a new doctor, Carol (Ingrid García Jonsson). She thinks the best way to treat José is to work on his relationship with Marco, and their joint relationship with their past. But there are some bodies Marco wants to keep buried, and when this disturbing new line of treatment seems to be working he’s faced with a blunt choice; help heal his brother, or abandon him to protect the shell he’s built for himself.
That’s a lot for one man to deal with. Good thing he can still blow off some steam at his sex club. But with everything else in his life falling apart, how much longer can Marco keep his double life up?
Instinctive Desires is now streaming at SBS On Demand:
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