Warning: This story contains spoilers for the first four episodes of "Élite" Season 4.
At the Gran Hotel Brenwhorf, a handcuffed Mencía Blanco lies in Suite 428, dimly lit by red fluorescence. The daughter of the incoming director at the posh international school Las Encinas, the center of Netflix's Spanish-language hit "Élite," Mencía has found herself in the grip of a new client, pleading “suéltame, por favor" as her phone rings incessantly.
"Behave like a professional," the man demands. "Except I told you," she retorts, "I'm not a professional."
With eight new episodes premiering Friday, . the fourth season of the streamer's "Gossip Girl"/"Degrassi"/murder mystery mash-up does not hold back.The series, which follows three working-class students who transfer to Las Encinas as they form relationships — and commit crimes — across socioeconomic lines, dives headlong into the allure and the perils of mixing sex, cameras and money. It arrives just as TikTok and Twitter have emerged as sites for a conversation about the need to distinguish consensual, adult sex work from digitally mediated adolescent grooming.
"We wanted to keep the DNA of the show. We have adult subject matter, but we wanted to go all the way with these new characters," "Élite" creator Carlos Montero told The Times through an interpreter. "We wanted to talk about what happens on certain online pages, such as OnlyFans, where you can access some kind of [sex work]."
This season, Las Encinas welcomes four fresh faces, including the royal Phillipe Florian (Pol Granch) and the spoon-fed Blanco siblings: pet eldest daughter Ariadna "Ari" (Carla Díaz), her seductive twin brother Patrick (Manu Rios) and the youngest, misunderstood Mencía (Martina Cariddi).
As their father's draconian administration assumes power, the siblings butt heads with their new classmates, causing a deeper fissure between Mencía and her father Benjamín (Diego Martín).
"At the time Mencía is cut off from her dad, or doesn’t receive as much money as she would like, she accesses this accidental client," Montero said. "She agrees, easily, so we wanted to talk about how this is happening more often and how this has been more normalized nowadays."
Both hardheaded and desperate, Mencía goes against the grain, sitting alongside her classmates in their protest of Don Benjamín and catching the eye of heroine Rebe, short for Rebeca (Claudia Salas). After the season previews and newly added historias breves — four collections of short stories that follow the protagonists over summer break — fans have been longing for Rebe, who is bisexual, to finally have a female love interest after three seasons.
Yet the budding relationship is almost thwarted by Benjamín, Mencía's elusive behavior and Rebe's emotional scars.
“The thing is, [Rebe] has no problem in exploring a gay relationship. Her problem is with opening her heart to a new relationship... because she had this great heartbreak with Samuel," Montero said, recalling Rebe and Samuel's brief relationship in Season 3 — which ended because he only had eyes for Carla (Ester Expósito), the cold-hearted marchioness who later leaves him to study abroad in London. "Mencia is able to make her, little by little, open up her heart."
The connection culminates in a concerned Rebe, who's fallen out with Mencía over her secretiveness, mounting her motorcycle in a mad dash to save her love. In the process, Rebe, the former "Narco Barbie," proves that Benjamín's distrust of her is misplaced.
In a red tracksuit and signature gold hoops, Rebe impersonates a hotel worker, offering room service and Champagne. When the client opens the suite door, Rebe hits his groin with her helmet and throws him out. After helping Mencía narrowly escape a traumatizing encounter, Rebe asks her what we're all wondering: "¿Que cojones?"
With the women moving into the foreground as in the sequence above, the series delves into how sex, survival and status manifest in these teens' everyday lives. And as two love triangles brew and chaos ensues, "Élite" pushes the characters' limits.
"This particular season is mainly based on the concept of privilege," Montero said. "[The rich] have everything and they want more, so it's never enough. This [season] is filled with a great emotional load and very powerful subject matters. It's meant for people to watch one episode after the other — and not be able to stop."
The season ends on a cliffhanger, pero no pasa nada. This won’t be the last you see of the crew at Las Encinas, though: The series has already been renewed for Season 5, and Montero hopes to have a new set of historias breves before then to tide you over.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.