In 2018, Movistar released a four-part Spanish miniseries entitled Matar al padre, written and directed by Spanish screenwriter and director Mar Coll. This January, the series was released in the United States under the English title Killing the Father and was made available for streaming on Topic.
Personally, I’ve always loved a good foreign film or series because of the educational aspect of it – watching them is a great way to learn more about other cultures and is also a great tool for language learners – so I jumped at the chance to watch Killing the Father.
I began watching without any prior knowledge as to what it was about – not the actors, storyline, and not even the genre. Going on the title alone, I thought it would be action-packed, or a thriller with layers of mystery.
I could not have been more wrong but I have to say, I was not disappointed.
What’s Killing the Father about?
Killing the Father is a fascinating commentary on Jacobo Vidal, a man who is, in the simplest nutshell possible, a control freak.
He insists on having a hand in every aspect of the lives of those around him, particularly with his wife Isabel, older son Tomás, and younger daughter Valeria – though his relationship with Tomás is definitely more strained than that with his daughter.
We first meet Jacobo and his family in 1996, with Tomás about to start his university studies and Valeria still a young teenager.
The tension between him and Tomás is immediately palpable through the screen, it’s clear that they have vastly different ideas about Tomás’ future career (he wants to volunteer to help the less fortunate communities in Chad while Jacobo wants him to pursue a career in architecture).
The succeeding episodes jump in time to 2004, 2008, and 2012 where over the years, we see how Jacobo’s relationships have slowly started to stretch and strain under his tyrannical personality.
He has cut ties with his close friend Mireia, Valeria has moved to France to pursue further studies, Tomás’ mental health declines as he suffers from depression and anxiety, and eventually, Isabel leaves him after Tomás is hospitalized.
Throughout it all, he seems to have the best intentions for his family in mind. However, his abrasive and domineering personality, coupled with the endless onslaught of verbal offensives, overpowers whatever these good intentions may be.
Instead of looking like a caring husband and father who just wants the best for his family, he ends up coming off as the personification of “it’s my way or the highway”.
He has no hesitations in toeing and sometimes crossing boundaries in order to get his way.
For example, when he and Tomás butt heads about him dropping his university studies, Jacobo resorts to physical threats to try and get his message across. Not only does this just further drive Tomás away but it also earns him a black eye in the process. He seems to live by the maxim that “failing to plan is planning to fail” and gets excessively frustrated when people are late or keep him waiting, regardless of how long or short the time is.
Needless to say, he’s not the most endearing main character that you’ll come across. Strangely enough, however, as a viewer, you never quite get to the point where you’re too irritated by him.
There’s always just that one small detail in his words and actions that makes you think, “Okay, I guess he’s not that bad. His heart was in the right place.”
The constant love-hate relationship with him is a fascinating dichotomy, and it’s this back and forth in opinions on Jacobo Vidal that, for me, is the best thing about Killing the Father.
Personal and grounded in reality
If you have someone in your life similar to Jacobo Vidal, you’ll know that they’re a very difficult person to live with. Watching Killing the Father was a very personal experience for me, not just because I do happen to have someone close to me almost exactly like Jacobo, but also because all of the characters were so relatable.
There was nothing unrealistic or over the top about the way each person was portrayed, which ensured that the entire thing was grounded in reality and allowed for the viewers to sympathize with each character.
Isabel’s dedication to her children to protect their well-being against their father yet still being a loving and devoted wife, Valeria’s protests against her father’s public displays of affection towards her despite her being an adult already, and Tomás’ chase for his father’s approval despite everything he went through – these are all perfectly reasonable, understandable, human interactions.
Jacobo’s vivid dreams (or nightmares, more like) added a touch of the unbelievable in the way that they were so pessimistic (particularly the last one of his childhood self), but even then they added a layer to Jacobo’s psyche that was pertinent to the story.
Each of his dreams played around with the idea of something bad happening to those around him – which only furthered his desperation to have a plan in place for everything.
The irony of it all
Another aspect of Killing the Father that I loved was the irony of it all.
Jacobo spent the better part of a decade writing a book – an “encyclopedia of bad decisions”, as he describes it. He’s so confident that he’s an authority on making good decisions to the point where he even told Isabel something along the lines of, “If everyone had only followed what I said, everything would be okay.”
Did he really make the right decisions, though? It seems that every choice he made only led him further down the path of growing old miserable and alone.
Becoming the father
Lastly, it’s made clear from the very beginning that Jacobo had a terrible relationship with his own father. In fact, he ends up suffocating him at the hospice under the guise of ending his suffering (again – was that the right decision, though?).
At one point, Isabel points out that your relationship with your parents will take precedent and set the path for your relationship with your own children – and I believe that premise is what Killing the Father is hinged on. In trying to avoid what he experienced with his father, Jacobo ends up becoming like him anyway – killing the father to become the father.
It’s somewhat of a relief that in the end, we witness something positive to come out of Jacobo’s infinite neuroses.
When things go horribly wrong at Tomás’ wedding, it’s Jacobo’s over-preparedness that allows him to protect his family – just like he’s been meaning to do all along.
A slow burn that’s worth waiting for
To be honest, Killing the Father is great. It’s just enough to keep you absorbed but not too overwhelming on the emotions.
One thing I noticed, however, isn’t necessarily a bad thing per se but something that future viewers should know beforehand: it’s a little bit of a slow burn.
If you’re a fan of shows that are fast-paced and focus less on dialogue, maybe Killing the Father isn’t the one for you as it is very dialogue-heavy. Given that, It takes a while for things to fall into place for you to understand the bigger picture – but it is definitely worth waiting for.
Killing the Father stars Gonzalo de Castro as Jacobo, Paulina García as Isabel, Marcel Borràs as Tomás, and Greta Fernández as Valeria. Be sure to check out this four-part Spanish miniseries on Topic!