“Do not get involved with my family,” warns Mr. Avila (Tony Dalton) in the first season of his eponymous drama. It’s the kind of caution you could expect from any normal family man, but Mr. Avila is far from normal: he spends his days working as an insurance salesman, and his nights working as a hitman. It’s a profession he keeps entirely secret, but Avila finds it impossible to keep the two parts of his life separate, and it’s the unavoidable collisions between them that makes the series so compelling; anyone can walk around bumping people off in style, but Mr. Avila doesn’t shy away from the consequences of his actions.
We first meet him, tellingly, as he cheats on his wife, Maria (Nailea Norvind) with Maggie (Margarita Muñoz), a woman who has just as little idea of what he really does for a job. To say that his infidelity will be exposed at some point is no surprise – a primary driver of tension is that one of his two deceptions must be unmasked – but the series never paints it as the right thing to do; even with Maria proving more separate from reality than her husband, spending her days drugged at home, we feel sympathy for both her and Maggie, who has to resort to threats to make it clear that Avila has been using her.
The pressure building on that side of the story is echoed by the other half, as Avila finds himself facing the added responsibility of a promotion at work – Moreaira, his boss, is preparing to step down, leaving the whole organisation (neatly operating out of a funeral home) to fall on his shoulders.
With more power and perks come tougher choices, and so Mr. Avila’s two identities become increasingly intertwined: he’s appointed an apprentice, Ishmael (Jorge Caballero), to train, a prickly bond that echoes the awkward relationship he has with his actual son, Emiliano (Adrian Alonso). Pointedly, both boys find themselves turning to violence as a means to express themselves. Emiliano, who has essentially been raised with an absent father, has a warped sense of what the right response to school bullying is, falling in with the wrong crowd in another school as a result. Ishmael, though, is no better an heir: he enters the killing game voluntarily, as he tries to save his mother from being abused, and believes that the cold-blooded act of decapitation is enough to qualify as a CV to become a hitman.
Avila, needless to say, is ill-equipped to deal with either, cutting a morally detached, emotionally distant figure – and it’s the ensuing toxic masculinity that ultimately results in the season’s nail-biting conclusion, a climax that directly pays off his own shortcomings with violent results. It’s a final act that’s steadily built towards by Walter and Marcelo Slavich’s script, which carefully establishes a similar cycle. Every time Avila has a new job to fulfil, it’s a contract that comes with a personal price: Ybarra (Hernán Mendoza), an old hitman, needs putting out to pasture, while loose ends connected to an old police friend also need tying. Even someone who threatens the company’s reputation becomes his mess to clean up.
Throughout, Dalton remains coolly composed, his calm facade only occasionally showing signs of slipping – and his focused presence provides the grounding that the rest of the cast need, from the heart-wrenching melancholy of his wife to the fiery anger of Caballero’s bloodthirsty, unpredictable Ishmael. Directors Fernando Rovzar and Alejandro Lozano juggle the brutal killings with judicious use of flashbacks, which avoid becoming too cheesy by feeding efficiently into each episode’s events. Those high production values, which you can readily expect from HBO Latin America, extend right through to the excellent opening credits, which manage the difficult task of making Tears for Fears’ Mad World sound fresh again. The result could do with more for its women to do – with a second season available, the potential to build upon these foundations is strong – but this is a gripping, stylish thriller propelled forwards by the weight of its protagonist’s actions; what he, and we, realise is that no matter how fierce his warnings, other people aren’t the threat to his family: he is.
Season 1 and 2 of Mr. Avila are available on All 4 and Sky On Demand.
For more information on the other foreign-language shows available, see our Walter Presents TV guide.