The phrase "Netflix and Chill" cannot be applied to a TV series like Santo. This is a show that requires you to be active, attentive, and alert. If you casually watch Santo, chances are you might not understand what's happening in front of you. There are shifts in the timeline between the past and present. Sometimes, you get a text (Present Day), and sometimes you figure it all out through characters (if you know a person has died, and you see them alive, it means you are in the past). Hence, if you are not walking with Santo, you will end up frustrated.
Santo does reward your attention. The whole series is like a riddle that slowly unravels itself and asks you to just hold on to the clues so that you go "Aha!" after receiving the whole picture. For example, take the scene where a WhatsApp text disclosing someone's location is revealed to be the reason behind someone's capture. Santo purposefully employs a non-linear structure. It shows you one event and then later explains the story behind that particular event. In this way, the series maintains unpredictability and a sense of discovery.
It's futile to go into plot description. Santo is best enjoyed without any prior information. Go in blind. But if you still want something, here are some minor details. Santo is about some police officers who want to catch a cult leader named Santo. He is a godlike figure to his followers, who perform bloodthirsty rituals. But who is Santo? Is he a man or a woman? Is he a narc or a god? Characters often bring this name up, but this mysterious figure never menacingly looms over the narrative. Santo feels less like a scary boogeyman and more like Mr. X.
One of the reasons behind it is that the series builds a wall around its characters. Santo is so occupied with its style that it forgets to establish a bond between its dramatis personae and the viewer. There is pleasure in watching Santo unfold. However, even a keen-eyed viewer will find it difficult to form an emotional connection with any of the characters. That's why the final reveal becomes more frustrating than shocking. You find it difficult to accept Santo's identity because (a) there is no clear explanation and (b) this particular character remains an enigma. Even the things that take place after the revelation leave you perplexed. Again, this issue could have been overcome if we had some attachment to the characters. Since that's not there, one can't help but take all of it as an excuse for a second season.
Yet, it's impossible to say that the series would have been better in a different format. I can't imagine it as a film. Santo could have only been made as a TV show. It may have its flaws, but unlike most Netflix series that merely kill time, Santo justifies every second of it by inventively editing the story in such a manner that all we can do is just guess where it is headed till the very end. Every bit of optimism and cheerfulness is sapped by this vision of hell where there is abundant sex, drugs, and bodily mutilations. Santo is both exhausting and well-made. It's unafraid and ready for a divisive response. Consider me ambivalent.
Final Score – [7/10]
Reviewed by - Vikas Yadav
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