Review: ‘Luna Nera’

Over the course of history, humans have come up with all sorts of excuses to be violent to each other. A couple of centuries ago, when science was still an alien concept for the masses, the practice of magic and witchcraft gave people the reason to round up women they found guilty of being witches. The witch trials, in one form or another, have taken place all over the world, which is why we find it a common topic in films and TV shows all over the world.

Netflix has already been dabbling in it with shows like ‘The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’, and its latest Italian original, ‘Luna Nera’, tries to recreate this success. The story takes place in 17th century Italy, which gives it the benefit of blending historical facts in its fiction. However, the show fails to exploit the opportunity, and hence, lacks the charm that makes its counterparts a success.

Luna Nera Season 1 Recap

‘Luna Nera’ is set in a town called Serra, where there is already a strong hatred towards witches. The townspeople have a band of witch hunters who call themselves the Benandante. For every bad thing that happens in the town, they blame the witches. When an unborn baby dies in its mother’s womb and Ade senses its death beforehand, she and her grandmother have to face the wrath of the Benandante. The teenager is left to take care of her younger brother and is told to find others of their kind deep inside the forest. The next day, her grandmother is executed in the town square.

Because the witch thing had been kept a secret from her, Ade is still confused about her identity. She is ostracised by the people which pushes her towards the ones that her grandmother had told her about. It is between this that she meets Pietro. He is a doctor who believes in nothing but science and wants people to stop blaming everything on superstition. He falls in love with Ade the first time he sees her, but the problem is that his own father is the leader of the group that hunts witches.

Luna Nera Season 1 Review

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The time of the witch trials is a dark chapter in history and to explore it, the story must embrace the darkness. ‘Luna Nera’ does not do that. For the most part, it remains caught up in its own confusion of what it actually wants to be. There is a supernatural tone to it, but it does not get into it until the last episodes of the season. It has the edge of history, but it never quite makes use of it.

Through one of its main character, Pietro, it adds a scientific perspective to the story. He is a man of science and he looks for reasonable explanations behind everything. For one instance, he even succeeds in proving that what seems witchcraft is just simple science. This adds another dimension to the story, but again, it is never really explored. In fact, the show quickly lets go of this sub-plot, which could have been used incredibly to strike a balance in the magic vs science of it all.

‘Luna Nera’ creates its own mythology by talking about the things of the past and the secret book that has the answer to everything. It gives us a glimpse into the fantasy element, and in the latter half, this is what becomes more prominent than the rest of the story. In addition to this, there is also the classic Romeo and Juliet trope, which becomes a critical factor at the end of the season. But instead of subtly sliding into it, the connection between Ade and Pietro seems rather forced. We don’t feel the chemistry, and the “love at first sight” thing doesn’t work so well, which results in further detachment of the audience.

Another thing that bothered me about the show was how it dragged on. Having six episodes generally means a condensed plot and a fast-paced story, but not with ‘Luna Nera’. Out of the six hours that one spends watching it, there are at least three where you wonder why they did not use the time span to add more backstory or establish character arcs. It is rather disappointing because, time and again, there are small things in the show that hint at something deeper. You can feel the currents of issues like sexism, nepotism and blind belief below the surface, but before it can embed itself properly in the plot, the story takes another turn.

The one thing that the show does get right, to an extent, is its ending. After having seen five episodes, you prepare yourself for getting over with the sixth one. But then, you are surprised and you want to know what happens next. You know you will watch the second season just to know where the story goes from here. Hopefully, if the second season does happen, it will be better than this one; the show will have figured out itself and will be more focused the next time around.

Rating: 2/5