Reviews

‘Trese’: Dealing With the Lies of the Past

Spoilers ahead.

There’s a point in Trese that I find really interesting; something that pops out even outside the messy plot and the extremely convoluted double-twist ending. It’s when Datu Talagbusao (voiced by Steve Blum in the English dub) tells Trese that what she has been defending, the Accords—an agreement between the engkanto and the human world to keep the peace in our modern times—is a lie made up by her father in an attempt to stop the prophecy. 

In a series with many distinct and interesting moments, that moment struck my mind as the most important of the series. It defines Alexandra Trese (voiced by Shay Mitchell in the English dub) and the series because it sums up the conflict that exists in Trese’s frame of mind, between the legacy of her family and the responsibilities that weigh down on her in the entire series. It’s not entirely clear to me yet, though, so I’m trying to figure out why it is so important. 

First, a primer: Trese is the 2021 animated television adaptation of the famous komik series made by Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo. It is one of the definitive modern-day Filipino komiks, with an iconic main character in the form of Alexandra Trese. Its neo-noir feel and creative modernizations of old Filipino folk creatures stood out to readers, and it quickly gained a following outside the komiks community. 

I really liked the komiks when I first read them in high school. The black-and-white art was different from the superhero comics I was reading, and its fantastical portrait of Metro Manila felt satirical without being preachy. And since it was a neo-noir, I also gravitated to the fact that a lot of the early releases were case-of-the-week kind of stuff that needed no introduction of Alexandra Trese. 

Trese (2021) works a lot differently from what I read in the komiks. Writers Tanya Yuson, Zig Marasigan, and Mihk Vergara connect the fabrics of the early standalone stories into one big plot, culminating in a terrifically animated finale that tries to tie up all the loose arcs of the story. 

To be clear: I did like the show. The animation is gorgeous, the action scenes are tightly made, and it does the double-duty job of making Metro Manila feel scary without ruining the fun that the viewers could get with these weird and mystical adventures. 

And yet, by the final episode, it felt rather exhausting. The fake-out big bad reveal of the Nuno (voiced by Eric Bauza in the English dub) felt too contrived to really make sense and took the wind out of the sails of the Datu Talagbusao reveal. The past episodes kept teasing a big confrontation with a manipulator behind the scenes who was pulling the strings, yet the finale struggles with tying up all of that satisfyingly. It failed to resolve the conflict that Trese has with her burden or her father’s actions. I know it’s trying to set up a second season, but the show just leaves Trese in such an unsure place that it’s not clear if anything was actually resolved in her inner conflicts, or if anything that happened to her actually impacted the way she will operate in the future.

I absolutely hated that they just ended up explaining exactly what was going on, with Datu Talagbusao just monologuing for a huge chunk of the final episode. It sure wasn’t visually boring, but it stops all the momentum of the plot when they just explain things like that, hand-holding us through the plot instead of showing it through the story. But I digress. 

TRESE (L to R) SHAY MITCHELL as ALEXANDRA TRESE in episode 101 of TRESE Cr. COURTESY OF NETFLIX © 2021

From a thematic point of view, the series hints at something interesting. Trese as a series dealt a lot with the idea of generational trauma, especially with how Trese lives in the shadow of her father’s legacy. 

Alexandra was the Sixth Child of the Sixth Child, a person prophesied to bring doom to humanity. Her father, Anton (voiced by Carlos Alazraqui in the English dub) did horrible things to keep that prophecy from happening. Now, Alexandra is the one dealing with those problems firsthand.

So that moment I talked about earlier, where Datu Talagbusao just outright said that the Accords were a lie, stands out because thematically, it addresses the generational trauma where the lies and actions (or inactions) of our past causes harm to the world at present. It’s personified here by Alexandra herself, struggling in the shadows of her father’s unforgivable lies and legacy. 

Does Trese dig down on how this affects Alexandra Trese herself? Well, they keep hovering around that idea, and we do get some insight as to how much these expectations weigh down on her, but it still doesn’t feel like enough. We never see her break, we never see that moment where she questions everything she’s fighting for, and we never see her struggle with the horror of her father’s actions. 

It suffers from the same issue as the finale: we see how Trese got to this point, but there’s no endpoint or even self-reflection to show us how she’s processing all that has happened. I guess they’re leaving that for season two, but it leaves us with a largely incomplete portrait of Alexandra Trese’s emotional journey.

In this dizzying portrait of the engkanto side of Metro Manila, the points about the power-hungry mayor or the guilty soldier who tortured enemy soldiers or Anton Trese killing her own daughter to stop a prophecy felt like a portrait of how the Philippines was built on lies, backdoor dealings, and the fictional myths that men make around themselves. So when Datu Talagbusao called out Anton Trese’s transgressions, it felt like a commentary on how our country’s own heroes and idols—dead or alive—had to do unforgivable things to get that veneration they had.

As a country, the Philippines hasn’t really dealt with that generational trauma of dictators, double-crosses, and colonialism. Trese is burdened with carrying the hopes of the komiks community and the local animation industry; but beyond that, because of the strong political messaging throughout the show, it carries the heavy load of our country’s past as well. You don’t make one of the bad guys a corrupt mayor if you’re not trying to make a statement about the country’s dirty political arena.

Trese is an excellent show. The final episode lags, but it is propulsively paced with some intriguing images and insights on Philippine society today. It’s a distinct product of our fraught history as a nation, one that tries to deal with the emotions of betrayal that we feel for our leaders and our past. 

Trese is streaming on Netflix.

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