TV: Welcome to Eden (Season 1)

It’s dressed up in the fancy clothes of a twisty mystery box, but don’t be fooled: Netflix’s new  series from Spain, Welcome to Eden, is basically a shiny soap opera with drones. The intriguing set-up is tantalizing enough: a company called Blue Eden invites select young people to a remote island festival to promote their hip new drink. Among the lucky recipients of this golden ticket is Zoa (Amaia Aberasturi), the product of a broken home, who seizes the chance to cut loose on an exciting getaway. She brings along her friend Judith (Ana Mena) and joins her fellow revelers on a boat ride to the idyllic Mediterranean island. Turns out there’s something powerful in the beverages, however; Zoa passes out and misses the boat back. Indeed, she and four others—skeptical Aldo (Albert Baró), sensitive Ibón (Diego Garisa), glamorous influencer África (Belinda), and hard-partying Charly (Tomy Aguilera)—have all been left behind in Eden. The resident community’s founders, Astrid (Amaia Salamanca) and Erick (Guillermo Pfennig), promise to return them to the mainland once the weather allows. But what quickly becomes clear to the newcomers is that they’re not getting off the island—they’re getting indoctrinated into a strange, fascist, quasi-utopian cult.

With its lush production values, robust and attractive cast, and mysterious world-building, Welcome to Eden gets its hooks in by slickly evoking the feel of earlier, better shows: a dash of Lost, a pinch of Squid Game, a sprinkle of Westworld, all stirred into the simmering stock of 3%. But ultimately, it just comes off like the mutant, mainstream offspring of these speculative shows, only interested in its underlying mysteries to the extent that they generate factions, conflict, and romantic chemistry. It all looks great, with spectacular locations effectively leveraged to render the isolated community both enticing and treacherous. But Eden’s conspiratorial vibe is undermined by the incompetence of its methods, which creates far too many opportunities for bad actors to rupture its bubble and reveal its secrets. (In fact, a major subplot involves the efforts of Zoa’s resourceful little sister Gabi, played by Berta Castañé, to find her missing sister—which she manages far too easily thanks to slapdash security.) Meanwhile, what are the island’s secrets? I’m not sure Welcome to Eden knows, but if it does, it’s awfully coy about it. Numerous onscreen characters, some only half-complicit with Eden’s smilingly evil regime and others actively rebelling against it, surely have some idea of the cult’s endgame, but they ruthlessly refrain from telling the audience. A vague reference to Eden’s founding as an elite climate-change refuge is the only real hint, but various narrative threads tease out other potential hidden agendas, without ever delivering the season to a satisfying conclusion about it. It all feels like wheel-spinning obfuscation.

Perhaps I’m being too harsh, looking for science fictional answers from a series that is merely quasi-SFnal. And Welcome to Eden isn’t entirely without merit. It may be saying a thing or two about the uncomfortable intersection of utopian ideals and elitist methods. It’s glorious in its representation when it comes to gender and sexuality. And it does manage to make a compelling character out of its mystery box island. Whether there’s anything inside the box, though, remains an open question.

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