‘The Mess You Leave Behind’ Summary & Ending, Explained


Creating a brain-twisting narrative requires a brilliant flair for writing. The writer weaves a layer of events like a pianist plays the musical notes. The audience is enchanted by the melody that they fail to predict, what comes next. When the inciting incident hits the screen, it takes your breath away. Spanish Thrillers are known for their perplexity. It allures the audience into the woods and abandons you in the wild until you have cracked the mystery of their narrative, which leads you to their plot, where all the knots straighten out. The Mess You Leave Behind also known as El desorden que dejas in Spanish is one marvelous conundrum that seizes your attention for the whole 8 episodes. In short, you can’t live without finishing it.

Created by Carlos Montero for Netflix, The Mess You Leave Behind is an original Netflix series based on the novel, El desorden que dejas that Carlos wrote himself. Hence, here is the writer who presents to you, his marvelous piece of fiction. The Mess You Leave Behind is a limited thriller drama that ends in 8 episodes of 40 minutes. The whole series is in Spanish language and subtitles would be your only companion to understand this complex narrative. Here, we are going to simplify the bits for you and explain why and how it tells a dazzling tale.

‘The Mess You Leave Behind’ Summary

The series begins with an enthralling scene where a woman, worried and scared is copying files on her laptop. The chaos within her is amped by a heavy knock on the door from a man who offers help. But the woman resists and denies opening the door. The scene ends as she breaks down emotionally, on the floor.

After the titles, the protagonist, Raquel Valero (Inma Cuesta) is introduced who brings flowers for her mother, only to find out that she is already dead. Raquel wakes up from the haunting dream. She is traumatized by her mother’s death and keeps playing the same incident again and again, trying to overcome the tragedy. Raquel and her husband, Germán (Tamar Novas) are shifting to German’s hometown, Galicia in Spain. Germán is optimistic that a change in location will soothe Raquel’s trauma, and Raquel has even got a teaching job in a school in Galicia.

The narrative portrays the feared and scared woman of the first scene again. Her name is Elvira Ferreiro Martínez “Viruca” (Bárbara Lennie). Viruca is the literature teacher Raquel is going to replace, however, the narrative keeps shuffling from Viruca and Raquel, suggesting that at some point their lives are going to intersect. Fortunately, it does, but Viruca kills herself three weeks before Raquel reaches the town and that is how she is going to replace her and take over her classroom. In fact, their lives intersect, just in a surrealistic way.

Viruca was found dead on the shore and it was speculated that she drowned herself. Raquel, over time, gets obsessed with Viruca’s death as it starts haunting her and she takes a pursuit to uncover what really happened with Viruca. Thus, the further episodes take you on a complex ride to find out the truth of Viruca’s death and Raquel’s part in it.

Major Spoilers Ahead

Intersecting Narrative

The Mess You Leave Behind divides the narrative into two halves. One-half deals with Viruca and her own conflicts in school and in her personal life. Viruca’s story is not narrated linearly and thus it is hard to perceive the chronology of events. The whole flashback sequence runs from Viruca’s point of view but in a very dream-like state. It highlights Viruca’s character trapped in a complex maze, where she is sometimes liked by her students and sometimes hated mercilessly. An important point to note is that the narrative hides away the information. It is in denial mostly. It creates a shadow of Viruca rather than showing her reality. In a way, we are compelled to create an array of opinions about this woman. Sometimes we hate her for being overly rude and ruthless while other times, we feel empathetic for her, questioning what led to her death.

The same ironies and confusion about Viruca are experienced by the central character in the other half of the narrative, that is, Raquel. Some moments in the series mirrors the characters of Viruca-Raquel, in order to make believe that Raquel is going to end up like Viruca, if she lets herself be carried away.

On a binge approach, the narrative of The Mess You Leave Behind is gripping, but it is not astonishing. It keeps feeding your attention with new information and drama, however, there isn’t any “bolt from the blue” moment. It is the only flaw that downgraded it from being a great drama. Additionally, Spanish drama, in general, shies away from showcasing any message along with the narrative. They are basically about common humans and their common lives and nothing much changes after or before the dramatic events. In a simple way, the characters don’t bring about a change in large canvas except for their own life, which isn’t a flaw in general, but for some viewers, like myself, it depletes the historical or memorable importance of the art.

Riveting Characters in an Unconventional Set-Up

When Television Series flooded the streaming sites, the most chronic of them were the High-School Dramas. The Mess You Leave Behind revolves around the same setup but it deals with the other side of the coin, The Teachers. The series masterly underlines the messed-up life of both adults and kids, thus, creating a balance. The main focus remains on Viruca and Raquel, yet, the teenagers in their class, Iago, Roi, and Nerea play an important role in the puzzle.

Each character is well carved out and their presence hits the screen differently. Often Novels provide a much stronger base for characterization due to abundant literary words about their behaviour and characteristics. The shades of grey are present but it’s hard to point it out, which means the writer is a genius of words.

I really wish to put some light on the complexity of the two prominent characters, Viruca and Raquel. From start to end, the mystery around Viruca’s character is maintained. It’s hard to perceive her nature and thus impossible to create an opinion about her. She shows a marvellous bouquet of emotions and flaws that keeps surprising you. But that’s how real humans are, right? Dynamic and Unpredictable.

Raquel on the other hand is severely flawed. The only good thing about her, she isn’t lying about those flaws. She is an imperfect human being who has accepted the flaws but still hasn’t made peace with them. The same is visible in her dilemma when she is unable to erase the trauma of her mother’s death. The memories keep haunting her. Placing Raquel in a narrative that wildly runs in memories, is yet another master-stroke. When an already unstable person (traumatized or haunted by a dead mother) becomes obsessed with a dead person (Viruca), then you present a protagonist that is terribly weak to help herself.

“I’ve spent my entire life in my mother’s shadow. Now I am in the shadow of a Dead Girl.”

– Raquel

The above words clearly state Raquel’s disposition. How she is going to come out of the abyss within herself, will decide the fate of her character and define its strength.

Constant Threats

Raquel on her journey faces potential threats throughout. She is bewildered why these things are happening to her. She has just replaced a dead teacher, then why someone is toying with her personal life and events of the past. Raquel receives death threats and her personal videos are leaked on the internet for no apparent reasons. Some of the times, Raquel feels that the kids are trying to scare her away but when things get pretty serious and bloody, she has no other option but to dig deep into the mystery.

These threats also act as an element that allures the protagonist into a trap.  She doesn’t want to complicate her life further. Thus screenwriters implement traps coated with candy to allure the characters, to make a move, and mess up their life, without which the drama will not sustain. These traps or threats in The Mess You Leave Behind are very precisely plotted, however, the nature of these threats is cliched and has been seen a plethora of times on the screen before.

‘The Mess You Leave Behind’ Ending Explained

At the beginning of the series, The Mess You Leave Behind, we see Viruca copying some files in an external storage device. This storage device, later found by Raquel, contains footage of Iago. Iago, his father Tomás, and Viruca are interconnected. Viruca shares a sexual relationship with both son and the father, but when Iago falls in love with Viruca, he shares his father’s darkest secret so as Viruca leaves his father.

Raquel finds out that Tomás and his partner in crime, Acebedo have set up a whole network of male prostitution in Galicia. They brought boys from all over and even Iago became a part of it, as he was being exploited from childhood. When the footage reaches Viruca, Tomás gets her killed and the same was about to happen with Raquel but she was saved, fortunately.

The series ends with the arrest of Tomás and people connected with him, ending his black empire.

The Mess You Leave Behind is an intriguing watch. Once it captivates your attention, there is no going back. You are compelled to finish it because it is the only way you are going to get your peace back. Raquel’s own conflicts become your own confusion and you are obliged to help her, so both the viewer and the protagonist can finally rest. Hence, you can understand the amount of dramatic disturbance involved. If you are ready to take the challenge, do binge these 8 episodes. You won’t be disappointed.

The Mess You Leave Behind or El desorden que dejas is streaming on Netflix.

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Shikhar Agrawal
Shikhar Agrawal
I am an Onstage Dramatist and a Screenwriter. I have been working in the Indian Film Industry for the past 12 years, writing dialogues for various films and television shows.

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