Episode 1 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 2 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 3 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 4 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 5 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 6 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 7 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 8 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 9 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 10 -| Review Score – 3/5
If there’s one thing Netflix have always done well with, it’s experimentation. While most of the streaming platforms fight for a slice of American pie, Netflix have set up studios across the globe, releasing content at a steady pace to cater for everyone. The latest comes straight from Portugal.
This intriguing tale plays out as part-telenovela and part-gritty espionage drama. On paper, it seems like an intriguing blend but the execution is a little hit or miss at times.
The story itself takes place deep in the heart of the Cold War in Portugal. The main crux of the drama takes place at RARET, a secretive part of Radio Free Europe. The tireless operators there work to rebroadcast the network’s programming out into communist countries. While they do, Russia breathes down their neck and tries to stop that from happening.
Joao Vidal is our main character, and he happens to be an agent working for the KGB; the enemy. He’s sent in to recover a tape that could incriminate the Russians, while keeping up the pretense that he’s an antenna operator there to help with operations.
Now, the story does run deeper than that, tying in to two important women. The first is a foreign translator called Ursula, whom Joao ends up having sexual relations with. Her part in this tale soon becomes clear, which leads nicely to the wildcard of the show – Mia. Joao has a soft spot for this young woman, who disappeared some time ago and no one seems to know where she is.
Naturally, Joao works behind enemy lines to carry out the KGB’s plans while simultaneously trying to uncover what happened to Mia. The set-up is simple and works to drive the story forward. And for the first half at least, Gloria does an excellent job balancing its characters and story.
For most of this time, Gloria walks a fine line between soapy melodrama and gritty espionage thriller. The latter half of the show unfortunately slips up several times, leaning a little too hard into the soap opera side of things. Part of this can be attributed to a weak and contrived forbidden romance between Carolina and Joao, another important female. While this does become central to the main story, it never feels befitting against the cutthroat world of the spies.
When Gloria does focus on the KGB and RARET, with Joao conflicted over which side he should be playing, the show is all the stronger for it. There’s some great moments early on, with Joao’s time in the war explored through flashbacks. This helps round out his character, and as the show goes on we do learn more about his time in Angola. There are also a fair few deaths lain in his wake too, from both sides of the conflict.
This is a proper Cold War though, with a lot of spying, stake-0uts and intercepted intel. Don’t expect much James Bond-esque action here, Gloria is all about the espionage thrills. That’s actually a great play and late on there’s a masterful scene of Joao breaking into a hospital and evading authorities, all done through a single tracking camera. Moments like this really help to elevate Gloria.
But sadly, for every great moment there’s an equal lull. The aforementioned romance feels dreary and bogs down the story. There’s also a questionable focus on Carolina’s current lover and husband Fernando, who’s off to war and suffering from the horrifying realization of what’s happening.
While that helps give more context to how much war changes oneself, Joao already has that with his flashbacks, so it renders the scenes irrelevant. Moments like this make the screenplay feel sloppy and hold the show back from being a more endearing watch.
However, the acting is pretty good from all involved and the camera work is excellent for the most part. This, next to a solid visual design and a good pacing, makes Gloria a decent watch overall.
Gloria is not without its flaws, but this espionage thriller does well to sneak past any of its major hiccups. The forbidden romance doesn’t really work, the soapy subplots are a little too formulaic while the open conclusion could put some people off. However, underneath that is a decent plot that’s hard not to see through until the end. If you can go in with some patience and look past the flaws, there’s certainly enough to like here.
Verdict - 7/10