Onwards to Victory
Episode 1 of Gloria begins in West Germany, 1968. A Russian General called Boris travels to the headquarters of Radio Free Europe and records an incriminating plea. This plea is what drives most of the first episode.
We’re in the midst of the Cold War and over in Portugal, at RARET, operators work hard to record chatter across the radio.
Having heard this Russian general ask for soldiers not to invade Czechoslovakia under orders from the Soviets, an operator stops the recording and hurries outside. Only, on the road he’s stopped by two men who hold him up at gunpoint and force him to hand over the tape.
As they do, we cut back to Lisbon 48 hours prior. Joao is our protagonist and he attends a fancy ball run by his father, who happens to be the Portuguese secretary of state, Henrique. Joao is on the verge of leaving though. He’s traveling over to the small town of Gloria to become the new technical coordinator for the antennas up at RARET.
Now, RARET is a secretive part of Radio Free Europe, with tireless operators working to rebroadcast the network’s programming out into communist countries. Interestingly, a woman named Ursula is one of the translators there, someone whom Joao slept with the previous night out in his car.
Along the way, Joao meets Goncalo and the American director running operations, James Wilson. The place is constantly busy, partly thanks to the need to switch broadcast channels and get around the Soviets, who remain dead-set on closing down the broadcasts no matter what.
Operators work all round the facility, thanks to a beautifully composed tracking shot, as we see them in action.
The tour continues on to lunch, where Goncalo and Joao talk. Now, Joao fell out of love with Lisbon a while back, hence why he’s no longer at the National Broadcast company. He’s also got an ulterior motive for being in Gloria. He’s interested in rekindling his old friendship with a telegraphist known as Mia. Only, Mia has gone missing.
Joao working on the antennas is actually a front for a much bigger operation though. He’s a spy for the KGB, which we find out when he’s one of the hooded men in the car that intercepted the tape during the opening scenes of this episode.
It turns out the tape he bagged from the courier is a fake, and it only has music on it. The real tape was handed to a US federal agent just prior to the courier getting in his car.
When Joao realizes this, he decides to use his ties with Ursula to infiltrate the translation process before it goes out over the air. In order to do that, Joao cuts the electrics before distracting Ursula, who’s working on the reel. The plan here comes down to switching the reel while she’s all hot and bothered, so Joao can take the real one and leave her with the fake.
Joao does just that, and the plan works a treat. He switches the tapes over while Ursula is in the bathroom composing herself.
When James Wilson realizes he’s been duped, he demands a list of names for people who have been around the tape. He’s livid, and realizes they have a KGB agent inside RARET. With the cat out the bag, Wilson remains dead-set on finding who this is and stopping them, no matter what.
Over in Russia, General Boris is taken care of too. Word of his betrayal reaches higher-ups who make quick work of him, stabbing the man in the foot in the middle of a busy street. As the episode comes to a close, we learn Russia now controls Czechoslovakia.
The Episode Review
Portugal’s first Netflix original gets off to a pretty good start here as espionage thrills combine with period drama in a pretty compelling set-up. The characters are nicely defined, there’s a lot of intrigue around Joao and the reveal that he’s actually a KGB spy is a nice way to subvert expectations across this episode.
This also sets the precedent too that we’re going to get a lot of twists and turns across this season. With the chase now on to find the spy inside RARET, it’s going to become progressively harder for Joao to cover his tracks and not be caught.
Gloria looks like it could be quite the compelling watch and as this first episode comes to a close, it leaves the door wide open for where this one may go next.
You can check out our full season review for Gloria here!