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Even if you’ve never watched Netflix’s Money Heist, you’ve probably heard about it from friends, family or colleagues.
Volume 1 of the fifth and final season hits Netflix on Sept. 3 (with the second volume arriving in December). The hugely popular Spanish show follows eight thieves with unique talents who look to pull off two massive heists, one at the Spanish Royal Mint and another at the Bank of Spain. They’re collectively led by a charming criminal mastermind known as “the Professor.”
It’s one of those buzzed about shows that has built a global fan base despite its foreign language and a cast of relative unknowns. So what’s behind the appeal, which has drawn in millions of viewers, including celebrities such as Mindy Kaling and soccer star Neymar Jr.?
When the show first aired on Spanish TV in 2017, it nearly didn’t make it past its first season, with lackluster ratings and poor critical reviews. But later that year, when Netflix added the sexy thriller to its quickly growing roster of international programming, it found its audience, appealing to binge-hungry watchers desperate for something fresh and fast-paced. Word of mouth, a pandemic that has kept millions of people inside in search of new content, plus a twist-heavy plot that is action-packed have turned it into Netflix’s most-watched non-English language show worldwide.
So why do we love a good heist? What is it about the genre that keeps us glued to shows like this? Like any classic caper from Ocean’s Eleven and The Italian Job to Inside Man and Now You See Me, Money Heist pulls you into the thrilling, nerve-wracking world of would-be robbers. With the thieves as the protagonists, their charged up, exciting adventures become our own. It’s escapism in its truest form. Leaving behind any moral hang-ups about the task at hand, we instead become international jewel thieves, expert code crackers and shadowy hackers. When the world around us seems rote, predictable and small, spurred on perhaps by a series of lockdowns and quarantines, it’s natural to reach for entertainment that takes you far outside your comfort zone, driven by geniuses displaying their illicit crafts and keeping you glued to the explosive, surprising plot-twists at every turn.
Fare like this also follows an exact formula, providing comfort in its calculated reveals, devices and surprises. You know what you’re getting when you turn on Logan Lucky or Ocean’s 8. It’s a chance to relax into a familiar plot, even as individual plot points keep you guessing.
Escapist, formulaic fantasy aside, a well-made heist series or movie also appeals to the growing sentiments of anti-capitalism, letting us vicariously upend the financial systems that elude the many and benefit the few. Seeing a group of savvy, smart upstarts from different walks of life band together to rob from the rich lets us live out our Robin Hood fantasies in a safe, perfectly legal manner, without even leaving the comfort of our couch.
And finally, there’s something deeply appealing about watching people with finely-honed skills use them with glory and precision. As Julian Hanich from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands wrote in his paper, On Pros and Cons and Bills and Gates: The Heist Film as Pleasure, “watching heist films has a lot to do with the pleasure derived from observing people act with expertise and in skillful ways. In this, the genre borders most closely on the dance musical and the sports film.” Capers scratch the same itch as a motivational sports movie. We love to see talented people overcome the odds and perform the impossible, even if in this case, they’re ripping off the mint and printing stolen money.
With Money Heist, we’re offered a pleasure-driven, rollicking, charming mix of all of the above.
The last season left us with a number of shocking deaths and a new target for our racy robbers to hit, making the release of Season 5 particularly exciting. And even if the show is starting to feel like it’s losing some of its dramatic appeal, there’s no doubt millions will once again tune in to see if the creators can pull off this final caper. At least I know I will.