A man lurches down a road. Blood streams down his face. Something awful has happened, but he can’t remember.
The 10-part Spanish TV series I Know Who You Are (Se Quien Eres) is clever, alarming and moving, with beautifully scripted – and acted – dialogue between parents and children, siblings and cousins, lovers, colleagues. Let’s get that out of the road (so to speak): watch this series if you can.
For my purposes, the interest lies in its themes.
Can we ever truly “know” who another person ‘is’? If so, do we ‘know’ instinctively, or through long experience? Is love the gateway to ‘knowing’?
On a pragmatic level, in this scenario, is the amnesia feigned? If not, is it possible that losing memory can in effect re-set a man’s ethics? Can a bad man who can’t remember who he is, become good?
Was Elias a “bad” man? Or was he a reasonable man who did the best he could with his circumstances, in a compromised world?
Is human nature essentially “good”, or are we born wired to different moral frequencies?
Are we born innocent, the famed tabula rasa (blank slate) of philosophy? If experience is erased, do we recover innocence?
If we recover our memories, do we reclaim our guilt?
Elias’s most immediate problem is that his crashed car contains his niece’s cellphone and traces of her blood. And his niece is missing.
Under the Spanish investigative and legal system (which is unlike the legal systems I’ve encountered), he is immediately charged with her murder.
Almost every person in this series is a lawyer, ranging from Elias himself to high court judges (Elias’s wife) to law students (including the missing girl). A given in this moral universe is that lawyers are despicable.
Some law firms are corrupt (but successful and high profile), others start relatively idealistic (but shambolic, a joke, out of their depths).
So at another level, I Know Who You Are is an indictment of Spanish institutions, the Spanish establishment, and of the privileged classes.
Is it just white privileged people who are, arguably, born bad? Hard to say, as no ethnicities appear other than white Spaniards, and the poor are all but invisible (glancing glimpses in late episodes).
The family in Spanish culture is an obvious metaphor for various ties that bind.
We have groups of affiliation, the strongest and most traditional being the family. (Others being social class, gender, ethnicity, profession…) Does ‘for the family’ justify any action? What does it mean to say, “I know who my family is?”
It is not a shock to hear at one point a reference likening family to “mafia”. Or to see a jailed family member behave like a mafia don. It’s not a shock that this family’s home looks and functions like a bunker.
On a literal level, does ‘family’ extend to blended families? Are step-siblings our brothers and sisters? Are step-cousins even relatives? What are our obligations to those not of our blood within the extended ‘family’?
It’s no coincidence the character who symbolizes innocence in this scenario is an orphan.
Family becomes a metaphor for community, and for society more broadly. Margaret Thatcher famously said, “There is no such thing as society”. She meant, ‘There are only individuals making choices in their self-interest as best they see it in their circumstances.’
I Know Who You Are is an acting out of Thatcherite philosophy.
It asks the questions, What are our obligations to those outside our affiliation groups? To human beings broadly?
Do we have an obligation to behave like a decent human being, even if we suspect we are not?
There is a Series 2.
UPDATE: In Australia, I Know Who You Are went out in two parts – Episodes 1-10, then, later, Episodes 11-16. So it wasn’t two series, just one longer series, broken into two parts.
IMHO the platform, SBS On Demand, was wise to break this 16-part series in two. The first 10 episodes focus on one specific crime (though other crimes are committed), with one lead detective, and a tight focus on the existential questions I’ve spelled out above.
Episodes 11-16 shift focus to a different crime (though the crime that launched others is still critical), with a different lead detective (though the initial detective is still active), and really homes in on privilege and corruption. I say “homes” in, because ‘family’ continues to be the prime metaphor for corruption and entrenched privilege in Spain. The action becomes increasingly heated, melodramatic, an allegory of Hell.
In the end, it’s a very dark satire: Lucifer at home, with family.