Of All the Mess in Teen Drama Elite, The Most Important Lesson Is Surprisingly Empathy
I won’t lie to you. When I started Elite, the hit Netflix Spanish equivalent of Riverdale meets Pretty Little Liars, I was only watching for two reasons. The first being the obnoxiously beautiful actors, and secondly, the remarkable sex scenes. While my palate was very satisfied with both (polyamory has never looked so good), I was surprised that the thing I walked away from Elite with most, was empathy.
Every teen drama has that character that we all for good reason hate. It’s been done successfully on shows like Game of Thrones (Joffrey), The L Word (Jenny), Gossip Girl (Jenny and yes, we all still hate Jenny). We’ve met characters before that frustrate us to no end with their selfishness, stupidity, and lack of remorse for their actions. Elite’s antagonist Polo struck a different chord with audiences, because even when we got what we all wanted, for him to disappear, we realized we didn’t really mean it.
To catch you up to speed : We find out very early on that Polo is the person who sets off this three season chain of events that alters the lives of all of our characters. He accidentally kills Marina, his best friend’s sister, while trying to obtain a watch that has information that could ruin his girlfriend’s family (talk about drama). After this, Polo allows another person to take blame for her death, but once everyone realizes that it was indeed him, he’s shunned from his friend group and the entire school for the remainder of his time in high school. And as the cherry on top, at the open of season three, we find him being pushed through a glass window and falling to his death.
When I realized it was Polo who was dead, my initial reaction was glee. Finally, this boy who had caused so much pain for everyone around him and had escaped real punishment because he was rich was finally getting what he deserved. However, the show quickly flips the script, and as I watched him suffer endlessly throughout the season, my righteous and ready-to-condemn perspective softened.
It felt really gross to take pleasure in the downfall and eventual death of a character that made an irreversible mistake but was trying to make amends. He absolutely deserved prison, but I didn’t feel as self righteous anymore as other students laughed about his suicide attempt. Or watching him continuously get beat up and even trying to defend himself. Or being petrified to attend school where he knows everyone despises him. I think what Elite does beautifully that other dramas don’t, is allow us to be angry with a character while reminding us that they are still very much human. By the time Polo’s full death scene was revealed, I was conflicted about whether or not I was allowed to feel sorry for him. In his last moments, all he wanted was forgiveness, and I didn’t want to see him suffer.
Polo is one very specific example, where as an audience we have no choice but to watch him grapple with his guilt and depression. It’s a lot easier to be empathetic when we have proof of remorse. But in our own lives, we aren’t granted access to those around us in that way. We’ll never get to see if an ex-partner or former friend is remorseful or suffering because we’ve already walked away. If we had the chance to see that vulnerability, our feelings could possibly change. And in the worst case scenario, while they may not be worthy of our forgiveness, I hadn’t considered that we can still be angry and acknowledge that a they're still deserving of empathy.
Right now, we’re all very quick to cancel people. Whether it be a celebrity or a friend, it takes so little for us to decide they are no longer worthy of our respect or sympathy. Sometimes it feels like we’re all just waiting for someone to have a misstep, so we can remind ourselves how righteous and better we are. But if we were to lose them today, would we be proud of that behavior? Would we feel justified? Can our anger only be redeemed through death?
To be clear, I’m not saying Polo should’ve gone along unscathed. (I mean, he did kill someone.) But I don’t think he deserved a lifetime of humiliation and disdain either, especially considering that he was genuinely sorry. I think to play judge, jury, and executioner to people would mean that we are perfect, which none of us could ever be. I think I’d rather be someone who can show empathy, than someone who can only condemn.