Death becomes him

Death becomes him

By Michael Pickard
May 20, 2024

The Writers Room

Segunda Muerte (Second Death) creator Agustín Martínez digs up the past in this Spanish thriller about a police investigator pulled into a mysterious case. He tells DQ about the drama’s themes, its unique rural setting and how he sought to emphasise character over plot.

Set in the northern Spanish province of Cantabria, six-part thriller Segunda Muerte (Second Death) questions whether someone can die twice.

In an isolated cabin in the Pasiego del Miera valley, police assistant Sandra (Elite’s Georgina Amorós) finds an unusual corpse. It belongs to a woman named Juliana, but Juliana was buried years ago.

Agustín Martínez

Dealing with complicated matters in her personal life after returning home to her village, Sandra decides to stay out of the subsequent investigation. Castro, her partner and the father of her six-year-old son, is about to be released from prison, while her father, Tello, is suffering from the early stages of dementia. But an unexpected twist in the case will pull Sandra back in.

Due to debut on Spanish streamer Movistar Plus+ in June, the show also stars Karra Elejalde, Joel Bisqued, Aria Bedmar and Paula Morado.

The series comes from creator Agustín Martínez (La Caza: Moteperdido), a member of crime writing collective Carmen Mola, who writes with Isa Sánchez (Malaka). José Manuel Lorenzo is the producer and Álex Rodrigo (El Embarcadero) and Óscar Pedraza (Patria) share directing duties.

Produced by DLO Produccionnes and distributed by Movistar Plus+ International, the series was shot on location in Liérganes, Torrelavega and Santander in Cantabria.

Here, Martínez tells DQ about developing the series, its themes of parenting and generational conflict, filming in northern Spain and why it stands apart from typical crime dramas.

What are the origins of the series?

Second Death is born from an image and a theme. The image is something that happens at the beginning of the series: the discovery of a dead person who was supposed to be dead already and had been buried years before. This image, which gave rise to a mystery story, was combined with a theme I wanted to delve into: the troubled relationship between a father and daughter and their journey of reconciliation after years of estrangement.

What emerged from the union of these two concepts was something like taking a classic film like On Golden Pond into the thriller genre. This starting point seemed interesting to me and I began to develop the series with the producers at DLO, José Manuel Lorenzo and Reyes Baltanás, who took the idea to Movistar Plus+, who immediately saw the possibilities of the story.

Segunda Muerte centres on the relationship between Sandra and her father Tello

Introduce us to Sandra and Tello. What is their relationship like when we first meet them?
Sandra and Tello are polar opposites. Sandra is a 26-year-old single mother who has given up a promising professional future to stay in her small hometown in Cantabria, looking after her son and working in an unambitious job at the Town Hall – a choice that her father, Tello, is unable to understand. He is a retired Civil Guard officer who has spent long periods living abroad. Father and daughter do not understand each other and can hardly stand each other. They are living together out of obligation; Tello is suffering from an illness and has been forced to return home and share a house with his daughter.

The discovery of Juliana’s body will make the conflict between them evident. While Sandra prefers to stay away from the investigation, as she has enough to deal with in her personal life, Tello pressures her to get involved, out of personal interest and to show his daughter that she is wasting her talent with the life she is leading.

What can you tell us about their journey through the story?
Sandra and Tello’s journey through Second Death has many twists and turns, moments of coming together and moments of misunderstanding. But the road they both travel is one of getting to really know each other, and then also respecting each other. Although they are father and daughter, the reality is that neither of them understands the other. This is the journey that will bring them closer together: Sandra will come to discover what lies beneath her father’s cold and authoritarian façade and why he made certain decisions in the past that she has not forgiven him for.

Tello will learn to respect his daughter’s choice of life and, at the same time, come to terms with the mistakes that could have hurt Sandra. This journey of reconciliation may come too late, as Tello is suffering from an illness that is a countdown. They don’t have all the time in the world to show their love for each other.

The crime thriller was shot in Cantabria, Spain

How does Sandra become involved in the mystery involving Juliana?
Sandra works as a police assistant in the town council of her village. It is a civil service job with little responsibility, but she will have the misfortune of being the one who finds Juliana’s body. From then on, and even if she wants to keep her distance, it will be impossible. On the one hand, the mystery involves a close family; a friend of hers was the niece of the deceased and she will be forced to investigate to help her. On the other hand, pressure from Tello, who wants to show Sandra that she should not give up her talent, means he will encourage her to get involved.

Sandra is no ordinary girl, she is a brilliant mathematician and has an extraordinary photographic memory. For all these reasons, Sandra will get involved in Juliana’s case to a point where the facts make it impossible for her to take a step back.

What are the themes you wanted to discuss?
The main theme of Second Death is the relationship between parents and children – how these sometimes go wrong because the children do not respond to the expectations that the parents had imagined, and also how the children learn to see their parents as people, with their frustrations, ambitions and failures, as human as themselves.

From another point of view, this theme is also a generational conflict, that of characters who are in their 60s and who lived in a past that has already disappeared, and that of their children, who are in their 20s and live in a new world that their parents find difficult to understand.

How and why did you seek to prioritise character over plot?
Lately, I have been writing series and novels in which the plot and turning points set the pace of the story. It’s something that is very widespread, and sometimes you get the feeling that a surprising plot twist or a cliffhanger can take precedence over character development, as if you need to jolt the viewer with a surprise every five minutes to keep them hooked. But when I think about the series or novels I’ve enjoyed, I tend to forget those twists and what I do remember is the characters.

Segunda Muerte aims to tell the emotional story of the main characters in the style of a mystery

It’s something that doesn’t just happen to me. We get hooked on stories because we know the history of the characters who appear in them, not so much because of the plot twists. That’s why in Second Death I decided to focus on the emotional conflicts and character building, without giving up on the thriller or the plot twists, by turning them into a vehicle to talk about the protagonists of this story.

How else might Second Death differ from traditional or typical crime dramas?
It’s hard to differentiate crime dramas given the number of thrillers there have always been on TV and film. Some of them are truly brilliant. However, Second Death brings two elements that are unusual. On the one hand, it is interested in placing the characters and their evolution at the centre of the story, and on the other, [it offers] a different point of view: neither Sandra nor Tello are police officers. They are not the ones leading the investigation. They are two people outside the case, so they do not have access to the usual police resources, they cannot rely on forensic agents, nor are they trained to carry out raids or interrogations. They are investigating a case for which they do not really have all the information and will have to resort to unusual means to make progress. This way of approaching the investigation from the outside makes Second Death different from other crime stories.

What was your writing process on the show?
The first document that existed for Second Death was just three pages in which I detailed the intentions of the fiction and the starting point of the case. From there, I began to develop a first bible and a pilot chapter that I polished with the help of José Manuel Lorenzo and Reyes Baltanás. When Movistar Plus+ decided to support us, we took on board their contributions and I finished developing the series with another scriptwriter, Isabel Sánchez, who also wrote two episodes. Between the two of us, we wrote the entire season.

How did you seek to blend thriller elements with a mystery and the emotional story featuring Sandra and Tello?
For me, the key in this sense was to construct the emotional development of the characters as if it were a mystery story. That is to say, the traumas and conflicts of the main characters are presented as secrets that, little by little, and thanks in part to the investigation, come to light. Let’s say that I considered a twist in the investigation plot to be as important as a twist that revealed an emotional part of the character that had been hidden until then. In this way, in terms of tone, there is no clash between the mystery genre and drama, as both use resources that are typical of thrillers.

How does the show’s rural setting lend itself to the story?
The setting of Liérganes, the town in Cantabria where the story is set, and particularly the Pasiego valleys where a large part of the story takes place, contribute a lot to the series in different ways. On the one hand, they represent the conflict between two generations, the past and the future. The Pasiego valley seems to be stuck in time, decades in the past, due to its particular geography and the way of life of its inhabitants. In contrast to this rural universe, there is village life, in connection with the present, which is the habitat of the younger characters. This dichotomy is not easy to find in such an obvious way. Only a few kilometres separate one world from the other, and this seems to me to be a clear reflection of the conflict between parents and children in the series.

Martínez sees the rural setting around Liérganes as key to the telling of the story

In addition, the rural world gives the series an aura of mystery that helps in the creation of atmospheres. It needed an environment in which something apparently contradictory was present: people living in isolated places but all of them being a small community in which everyone knows each other. This is something that this area of northern Spain fulfils. Finally, this territory has a very interesting folklore, with characters like the Ojancano who add a magical substratum to the series.

What challenges did you face writing the series?
Second Death is a challenge, especially when it came to the development of characters and the mystery plot, as well as the difficulties the characters have to investigate, bearing in mind that they are not police officers. Those were the biggest obstacles we faced in the writing process, finding the balance and making sure that the pace of the series, perhaps more measured than other thrillers that rely on action, was maintained while still generating enough interest.

How involved were you during production?
I have been very involved in the whole process. My work doesn’t end with the writing; I was an executive producer with José Manuel Lorenzo and Reyes Baltanás. That means being part of the casting, the aesthetic design of the series, the shooting and the whole post-production phase. [This] final part, for me, is fundamental, as it is in the editing room where one writes the last version of the script.

What are your hopes for the series?
I hope viewers feel immersed in the mystery of Second Death, that they get lost in the atmosphere we have created, and that they feel the need to accompany Sandra and Tello to the end of their story. It’s an evolution that will surprise many. The actors have done a fantastic job. When you finish a project of this scale, you know that what you have done is in the hands of the audience – they are the ones who will decide the future of the series.

Why might it appeal to international viewers?
It was Faulkner who said that the more local a story is, the more universal it becomes. International viewers are going to find themselves in an unknown universe I find very attractive. The village of Liérganes, the Pasiego valleys and the lifestyle of its inhabitants is something they are not used to watch in fiction. However, they will recognise the emotional conflicts that are the backbone of the story because they are universal.

What are you working on next?
Luckily, there are many projects on the way. On the one hand, I’m already shooting a miniseries for Netflix called Dos tumbas and I’m developing another story that, if everything goes well, will be shot next autumn. I am also continuing with my literary career and in September a new novel by Carmen Mola, a collective writing project of which I am part, will be published. I also hope to be able to work again soon with Movistar Plus+.

tagged in: , , , , , , , , , ,