Merciless, or Ojos Sin Culpa (Eyes Without Guilt), or Dupla Identidade (Double Identity), is a show that’s unafraid to live exactly up to its title. The series follows a man with a double identity: Eduardo Borges (Bruno Gagliasso), a political advisor by day, and a serial killer by night.
It’s clear from the start of this Brazilian series that he’s a slippery customer: we first meet him on crutches carrying a pile of books and folders, which he drops in the middle of the road at night. Stopping to help him, an unsuspecting woman finds herself on the wrong side of his crutch and locked in his car boot. So much for Mr. Nice Guy.
It’s a cracking little introductory sequence, full of tension, wit and a cunning performance by Gagliasso, so it’s a shame that the show struggles to live up to that standard during its initial episodes. As Edu’s killings stack up, the police bring in a criminal profiler from the FBI, Vera (Luana Piovani), to help understand and track him down. She brings the kind of forensic psychologist insight to the table that we’ve heard in countless TV programmes before: their killer is a man with confidence, who likes power, who craves control. It’s that similarity to what we’ve seen before that hampers the series slightly; while it may be a gritty departure from the norm in Brazil, it’s not necessarily anything new here, as the show arrives billed as a South American cross between Dexter and The Fall, and delivers almost precisely that.
Piovani’s a strong foil for Gagliasso, even though she’s lumbered with a familiar subplot involving her boss, Dias (Marcello Novaes), who’d like to be more, ahem, involved. The rest of the police are less impressive, as they seem too slow to catch up with Edu, even as he leaves fingerprints at the scene of a crime. A close call involving a left-behind lighter is just about covered up by the crafty manipulator, but he doesn’t always come across as the formidable mastermind he’s meant to be.
What he is, though, is hugely charismatic – and, given that the show hinges on his ability to charm victims into a false sense of security, Bruno Gagliasso is perfectly cast in the lead role. He doesn’t disappoint at any stage of the show’s first steps, keeping a cool poker face when a witness gets too close to him, while breaking into smiles, jokes and twinkly-eyed friendliness as soon as the occasion calls for it. His assault scenes are performed with equal verve, making for rather disturbing viewing. Even more unsettling still is what may be a sincere romance forming with single mum Ray (Debora Falabella), to whom he applies lipstick in his “favourite colour”, something she thinks is sweet and everyone else surely thinks is creepy as heck.
The series, though, doesn’t quite have the confidence of its protagonist, with some explanatory dialogue feeling too heavy-handed, and one shot of Edu standing looking over Rio, his arms open wide like the Christ the Redeemer statue, leaving zero room for subtlety whatsoever. The heavy metal soundtrack, meanwhile, recalls Se7en’s opening credits, but runs throughout each episode, which often risks undermining the glossy sheen being built up in the other scenes. Whether the tone will become more even as the series continues is anyone’s guess, but it’s only apt that Bruno Gagliasso should be the glue holding the thing together. Judging by this intense, and often unsubtle, start to his tale, though, a little bit of mercy would go a long way.
Merciless premieres on Channel 4 on Sunday 18th June at 10.15pm, with the full box set released on All 4’s Walter Presents immediately after its broadcast.
For more on what’s coming soon to Walter Presents, see our TV guide.