Cocaine, mafia and a remote island: the perfect recipe for a Netflix hit
(Credit: Netflix)

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Cocaine, mafia and a remote island: the perfect recipe for a Netflix hit

“Nothing good ever happens here.” In this one sentence, Silvia, who runs Rabo de Peixe’s video rental shop, neatly sums up the feelings of her entire community. That is, until a tiny boat caught in a storm runs aground next to the village. And so begins the Turn of the Tide.

Set on the remote Azorean island of São Miguel in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and with dialogue almost entirely in Portuguese, this series might seem like an unlikely win for Netflix. That’s until you add a sprinkle of gangsters, a tonne of white powder, and a true story into the mix.

Turn of the Tide, or “Rabo de Peixe” as it’s known in Portuguese, has become an international sensation, featuring in the top ten streaming lists for 33 countries last year. In the week of its release, it ranked 7th in Netflix’s global rankings. As of last month, it’s officially been renewed for a second season, with a third already in development.

The most outlandish stories are often true, and so is proven with Turn of the Tide. In 2001, a sailboat really did run aground on the shores of the Azorean fishing village Rabo de Peixe, carrying an enormous quantity of cocaine. Just like in the series, the boat was smuggling its haul into Europe from Colombia.

Locals soon became addicted to the drug, as an oversaturated market flourished with addicts and ridiculously low-priced class-A powder. Overdoses numbers in the hundreds, and deaths were reported.

The semi-fictionalised Netflix dramatisation of this story starts in exactly the same way. All of its characters are fictional, however.

Four young Rabo de Peixe locals drive the plot. Eduardo, Silvia, Rafael and Carlos dream of a better life, facilitated by the sudden abundance of cocaine in their village. For Eduardo, this means both paying for his blind father’s eye operation and escaping island life for the United States. For the others, it means anything but the status quo, from a football or modelling career on the Portuguese mainland, to moving somewhere else where their sexuality is accepted.

The young protagonists are soon hemmed in from all directions, though. They have Italian mafiosos, a specialist detective from Lisbon, and Silvia’s gangster father to contend with.

While offering the stock characters, spectacular set pieces and cliffhangers you’d expect from a series of this kind, Turn of the Tide also delivers an authentic insight into a community left behind by the world. We see the real-life struggles of Azorean villagers unflinchingly depicted. And the sense that they are neglected and condescended by mainland Portugal is skilfully handled with humour and humanity.

There have been some complaints within Portuguese that most of the actors cast are not from the Azores, and don’t even attempt to speak with Azorean accents. Nevertheless, the series is at pains to shine a spotlight on this part of the world, with almost all outdoor scenes shot on location.

As with many big-budget, action-packed cinematic drama series in the age of streaming, Turn of the Tide does begin to trip over its own elaborate plot threads towards the end of Season 1. But this minor offence shouldn’t stop you giving it a watch.

After all, Season 2 is just around the corner, and you don’t want to fall behind. If its popularity in non-English speaking countries is anything to go by, the series has every chance of exploding in the manner of Money Heist. Once English speakers latch onto its headline-grabbing premise, that is.