Just when you think you’re out, they pull you back in. So goes the gangster’s motto, a time-honoured fact of thug life that dates all the way back to the Corleone family. Black Widow (known as Penoza in its home country) delivers a fresh new twist on that old truth: the person being pulled back in isn’t criminal Frans (Thomas Acda), but his wife, Carmen (Monic Hendrickx).
We first meet Carmen as the mother of Boris, their son. Boris is in trouble at school. Why? Not for late homework or talking rudely to teachers, but because he got into a fight with another boy. And then pulled a gun on him. It’s a shocking introduction to the world of this crime drama, one that takes the horror of organised violence and puts it in a brand new setting, one that’s so innocuous it makes the whole thing seem fresh. Carmen, naturally, is outraged and delivers Frans a simple ultimatum: get out of the game or she’ll get out of their marriage. Move away with the family to start afresh, or she’ll move on without him.
Needless to say, he doesn’t – he’s too busy making a move on another gangster’s stash of drugs. And needless to say, that raid goes wrong. One thing leads to another and he’s in hospital, with a concerned Carmen by his side, and she finds herself subject to the same gravitational pull of the Amsterdam underworld.
That’s what Penoza means in Dutch: underworld. Walter Presents’ English title is perhaps a more eloquent interpretation, referring not only to the suffering wife facing up to the idea of losing her husband, but also conjuring up the sticky web of dodgy deals, violent threats and double-crosses that is about entangle her – her, of course, being a deceptively lethal spider in her own right. It’s that balance of reluctance and innocence and passionate determination that make Black Widow such a compelling watch, with Monic Hendrickx delivering a superb performance in the lead role. Acda does fantastic work with fewer scenes, making sure their relationship is fully convincing (as do the rest of the familial ensemble around Carmen), but there’s no question whom we want to be spending the season watching.
The opening episodes carefully set things up with just enough sympathy and just enough suspense to ignite your interest, from the happy wedding that descends into fisticuffs that are almost as brutal as the karaoke and the stupid decisions of Carmen’s ambitiously stupid brother, Irwan, to the retaliatory threats of the rival gang whose drugs Frans stole. And, of course, there’s the promising introduction of the token man of the law (the excellently named Leeflang, who is already on her heels. But why trust the police to help protect Carmen’s family, when she can seek vengeance herself? It’s that question that Hendrickx manages to answer with conviction, as she wants to protect her family – specifically, Boris – and so begins her descent into the criminal underworld.
Black Widow joins a number of other Dutch shows on Walter Presents, including Framed and The Swingers, as well as Belgium’s The Out-Laws, but the closest companion piece for this slick is French series Mafiosa. Both Penoza and Mafiosa have been smash hits in their respective countries, follow burgeoning female heads of crime families, and both have spanned multiple seasons. It’s not hard to see why: with Hendrickx in the lead, every time you plan to put down the remote to escape Black Widow’s clutches, you can easily image being drawn back in.
Black Widow Season 1 and 2 are available to watch online and download on Walter Presents.
For more information on the other foreign-language shows available, see our Walter Presents TV guide.