The Longest Night has all the hallmarks to be a massive success. An eclectic group of diverse characters, an interesting setting and a volatile, pressure-cooker situation that could explode over at any moment. It’s all right there to be exploited. The problem, however, comes from the execution, which is shaky at best.
Spread across six episodes, Netflix’s latest Spanish series is a breathless, frenetic and high-octane series that refuses to let up as it rockets through the main plot. The trouble is, the exciting story comes at the expense of memorable characters, who ultimately fade away into mediocrity, leaving very little time to flesh out their journeys into anything beyond feeling very one-note.
The story is simple enough, with several layers to its conflict. At the heart of this is a serial killer known as Simon. In the middle of the night, he’s arrested and moved to a psychiatric prison called Baruca, where Warden Hugo, is called in on the eve of Christmas to process him. Unfortunately, he’s also forced to drag his kids along with him, thanks to family issues back home.
Unbeknownst to poor Hugo and the others, armed mercenaries are en-route and intend to take Simon alive, having been hired by a mysterious contractor, who has his own plans for the night. These plans aren’t really revealed until late on in the game but it’s not much of a spoiler to say they’re trying to keep Simon quiet incase he spills some secrets to the judge when he’s processed in the morning.
So with mercenaries on the way, Hugo’s situation is made all the more precarious when he learns his other daughter, Laura, is being held to ransom. If they don’t hear from Simon at 1am then they’re going to kill her. This puts Hugo in an impossible situation, juggling the life of his family against the lives of those inside the prison.
On paper, this actually sets up quite the intriguing conflict. The problem is, The Longest Night is in such a hurry to get to the next set piece that it never takes the time to actually get to know these characters properly. Hugo feels like an archetypal white male protagonist you’d find in numerous video games. Likewise, the mercenaries – fronted by both Ruso and Lennon – have very little characterization beyond being hired guns. They’re incredibly one-dimensional, as are a lot of the prison guards too.
The inmates inside the prison do fare a little better, thanks in part to some flashbacks peppered through each episode that show how some of them ended up inside.
As for Hugo, the only backstory we get for him comes from a little snippet of his strained family life in episode 1 and a repeated flashback of him with Laura, which does have context when it comes to the ending of this show. Although, I will reveal that everything here is left on a big ol’ cliffhanger (4 in fact!) in preparation for another season.
The biggest problem with The Longest Night though comes from its pacing. There is a good story here, and there are some genuinely nail-biting sequences, especially as the inmates and invaders come to blows. But all of this is sped up across a show that needed about 10-12 episodes just to let everything breathe.
One of the more understated reasons shows like Prison Break and La Casa De Papel – which feel very similar in execution to this one – work so well comes from its quiet moments of contemplation.
In Prison break we had a good deal of time with each of the inmates, understanding their psyches and how they all slot together into the prison hierarchy. with La Casa De Papel we had quiet moments of Tokyo reflecting or The Professor contemplating his next move, notching up the tension in the process as we’re left to wonder what’s next for our characters. Outside of the first episode’s wait for the mercenaries to show up, The Longest Night has none of that.
For a title like ‘The Longest Night’, the irony here is that this show needed to be longer to really punctuate the threat and raise the stakes. Instead, the writers are so desperate to make it to the good bits, they lose sight of characterizing the main cast. Instead, what we get is a plot-heavy, character-lite prison drama that’s unlikely to be remembered in a hurry.
It’ll be interesting to see how audiences view this one though, as there are definitely some stand-out moments. These are dotted around a frenetic screenplay that blasts through its main plot. There’s no way you’ll get bored with this one but it’s questionable how fulfilled you’ll feel at the end of this. And that’s before mentioning some of the head-scratching decisions characters make in this show.
The Longest Night isn’t a bad show per-se; it’ll likely find a good chunk of audience that’ll blast through this with happy abandon. The trouble is, this is also one of those series that tends to fall apart the more you think about it. And with the ending hinting that we’ll have to wait a while for a proper resolution, there’s lot of time to pore over the issues. This is an average, easily forgettable drama that so easily could have become a night to remember.
Verdict - 5.5/10