Point of no return

Point of no return

September 11, 2019


Executive producer Marcel Ferrer outlines a key scene in Spanish-language political drama Preso No 1 (Prisoner No 1), which is produced by Telemundo Global Studios for US network Telemundo. It was co-developed with Keshet International, which distributes with Telemundo.

Preso No 1 (Prisoner No 1) follows a narrative style that is very different from what viewers are used to seeing in a series. It jumps back and forth in time, supplying different pieces of the puzzle of the characters’ stories over the course of three decades.

The story begins in the present, when Carmelo Alvarado (Erik Hayser), the president of Mexico, is arrested on charges of fraud. In a parallel scene, we see Carmelo taking office two years before. This scene sets the tone for the narrative, which unfolds in three different times: the past, the present and the future.

Prisoner No 1 executive producer Marcel Ferrer

Because of this chronology, the audience doesn’t always understand everything that happens right away. Over time, the story reveals the past that led to the chaos we are witnessing in the present, or even the future. The plot, the conflicts and the political thriller are skilfully laid out in the script. The main conflict that frames the story is the corruption, extortion and abuse of power that characterise the world of politics and spill over into real life.

It’s difficult to choose a single scene that is fundamental to the story. Because of the subject matter, plot structure, and quality of the acting and direction, the series is full of great scenes. As in any production, of course, aspects of the script were adapted to suit the screen. Many scenes posed technical or directorial challenges.

But if I had to name one key scene, it would have to be one that marks a point of no return, when a character has to make a decision that, however small, has the power to change the course of the action.

Coming in episode 29, the scene features a secondary character called Dalia who has the power to free our protagonist, Carmelo. Dalia is an assistant to Judge Linares, who is in charge of Carmelo’s case. Both the judge and the interim president, Rivas Macin, have studied the evidence and it points irrefutably toward Carmelo’s innocence.

This is Carmelo’s only hope, and his freedom seems assured. But the judge makes a sudden about-face and sentences Carmelo to prison, surprising everyone, including Macin.

Erik Hayser as Carmelo Alvarado

The key moment comes when Linares visits Dalia at her apartment after announcing the verdict and admits to her that he was blackmailed into finding Carmelo guilty. The judge’s life has been destroyed – his family has abandoned him and he is about to lose his job. Unable to see him in this predicament, Dalia agrees to take the blame for everything.

In a flashback, we see Dalia meeting Linares’ blackmailer and handing over a folder containing compromising information about the judge that will be used to pressure him into the guilty verdict.

This scene, which comes at the middle of story, marks the point of no return. If Dalia had decided not to turn over those papers, Carmelo would have been freed and the story would have gone in another direction, or even reached its conclusion.

The point of no return in a story is crucial because it defines the characters’ destiny and paves the way for the story’s outcome. Usually it is the protagonists who make these key decisions but, in this case, the responsibility falls to a secondary character. Undone by the pressure of the situation and remorse for her actions, Dalia commits suicide.

In the end, she loses, as does Carmelo, who remains in jail. But the story wins, because if Carmelo had been released from prison, the plot would have ended there.

This is the importance of the point of no return and the power to make free decisions in paving the way for the story the writers want to tell.

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