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30 Coins Season Two Review: Demons & Zombies & Giamatti, Oh My!

30 Coins is a dark horse of a show produced by HBO Europe that premiered in 2021. Fabricated by the wildly imaginative mind of director Álex de la Iglesia, the series encompasses elements of religious history, conspiracy theories and the supernatural to create a spectacle as entertaining as it is subversive of common belief structures. Endlessly fascinating, the first season focused on the titular 30 silver coins that Judas was paid for his betrayal of Jesus Christ, which ultimately led to Christ’s crucifixion. Taking place in the modern world, specifically the town of Pedraza in Spain, a sect of Cainites inside the Vatican’s order of priests sought to amass the coins, giving the bearer ultimate power over the world.

This is a simplified version of the narrative, which involved witchery, demons, monsters, unnatural abilities, and a whole lot of drama between the citizens of Pedraza. There were many characters on both sides of the line between good and evil. The primary heroes were the town mayor, Paco, played by Miguel Ángel Silvestre, Elena (Megan Montaner), a veterinarian and the town pariah, and Father Vergara (Eduard Fernández), a rogue priest with a dark past and a penchant for extreme violence and gunplay. On the other side of the coin were Cardinal Santoro (Manolo Solo) and Lagrange (Francisco Reyes), leaders of the Cainites, Merche (Macarena Gómez), Paco’s possessive, power-hungry wife, and Angelo (Cosimo Fusco), a demon attempting to shape the fates of man.

30 Coins season 1 was a success, spawning the second season currently airing on Max. And while the first season was in equal parts wild, horrifying, and ultra-violent, the second raises that bar considerably. So, is it even more exciting and entertaining than season one, or has it taken too hard of a turn into madness and confusion? Let’s break it all down and see if season two of 30 Coins is a worthy watch.

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Where We Last Left Off

At the end of last season, Pedraza’s residents had been trapped inside the town walls by a fog created by Angelo. The fog also had the unfortunate effect of driving the majority of them mad and violent, while the Cainites initiated a ceremony, having accumulated all 30 coins. However, just as Santoro set a crown embedded with the coins upon his head, Vergara tackled him off the balcony he stood upon, leaving them both to die on the pavement below. The coins scattered across the ground, driving the gathered mob to scramble for their possession, fighting and even killing one another for them.

Elena was bewitched into a coma by a cursed pin stuck into her neck by Merche, who envied the affection Paco afforded her. Paco removed the pin and escaped Pedraza with the unconscious Elena. Meanwhile, Merche managed to retrieve one of the coins and skipped town with Lagrange. Angelo, seeing his plans fall apart, opened a portal and strode into the heart of New York City disguised as an Asian man.

A Globe-Spanning Adventure

The first season of 30 Coins was confined almost exclusively to the town of Pedraza in Spain. However, with Angelo stepping into Manhattan and the coins being scattered and taken elsewhere by various folk, season 2 opened up to include many more destinations around the world. From France to Peru to the Vatican in Rome and even to Hell itself, the series has grown richer with its exotic locales and interesting, complex characters.

In one episode, Merche is sent to Mexico to retrieve a coin from Cardinal de la Cruz (Carlos Brardem). The Mexican Day of the Dead, a celebration of those who have passed and their connections to those who still draw breath is displayed in spectacular fashion. The Vatican is the site of many scenes, with those priests who betrayed their covenant with God being punished and the Pope himself visited by the animated corpses of Vergara and Santoro to ask a crucial favor.

Peru acts as the location of the final battle between good and evil, its ancient ruins and archeological mysteries providing fodder for de la Iglesia’s incredible vision of an apocalyptic event fueled by religious theory and science fiction. As for Hell itself, the resting place of the damned is displayed with a fervor and creativity that could give author Clive Barker a run for his money.

Unfortunately, Vergara and Elena find themselves trapped there when season 2 begins, although the former is eventually reborn on Earth in his original rotting body to stop the forces of evil from enacting the complete annihilation of the world and everyone in it. The Devil himself makes this “resurrection” happen, seemingly fearing nonexistence as much as the rest of humanity. Elena makes her way out of the Pit with Vergara’s help, waking from her coma to give birth to an immaculately conceived monster that looks remarkably like a facehugger from the Aliens franchise.

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Vergara Comforts Elena. HBO

Bigger Action, Bigger Set Pieces, Bigger Stakes

With a bigger budget comes bigger ideas, especially from a mind as imaginatively fertile as that of Álex de la Iglesia’s. While some might see the enactment of these ideas as over-the-top, there is no denying that they are spectacular to witness and incredibly entertaining.

Those with coins have more power than was depicted in the first season, giving them telekinetic abilities and more. Merche, for one, may be considered evil by many (though it’s obvious that her desire for a family with Paco is her driving force), but there is no doubt her possession of a coin has transformed her into a formidable, confident force of nature. She utilizes her newfound abilities to mutilate and kill those who would use her or try to take away her power. She even goes up against a giant animated recreation of the Holy Death, the Grim Reaper, as it tries to run its scythe through her.

Vergara Stuck in Hell. HBO

Other incredible scenes involve the aforementioned depiction of Hell, a bombed-out city running red with lava and blood, Vergara and Santoro being summoned back to life and stuffed back into their rotting carcasses, otherworldly technology being used to escape the apocalypse, and even a cameo by an almighty deity. It is a lot to take in, especially with the quickness with which each spectacle is replaced by a new one, which makes the pacing of the show a bit fast for those trying to keep track of everything that’s happening. A couple of extra episodes may have stretched the proceedings into a more palatable meal. However, as unwieldy as the narrative may be, it’s a delicious feast for those who love horror, sci-fi, action, and complex characterization.

Enter Paul Giamatti

Of course, the big news coming out of 30 Coins season 2 is the addition of celebrated and beloved actor Paul Giamatti to the cast. The reason his casting is so conspicuous in these circumstances is that 30 Coins started as an HBO Europe show filmed entirely in Spain with an almost entirely Spanish cast. The actors spoke in Spanish and the credits were displayed in Spanish. Now the credits read, “Paul Giamatti como Barbrow”–como of course meaning as. It’s unusual for a well-known Hollywood actor to join a foreign production for a supplementary season, but in this case, Paul Giamatti knew exactly what he was doing.

The character of Christian Barbrow is perfect for Giamatti in so many ways, from his intelligence to his ruthlessness to his lust for power. These traits can be seen in the actor’s past work in Billions, Love & Mercy, Shoot ‘Em Up, and many other roles. Giamatti as the eccentric billionaire genius who plans to use the 30 coins and other religious and supernatural constructs to destroy the world and shape a new one is perfect, with the actor chewing the scenery in the most satisfying ways in each scene in which he’s presented.

Giamatti’s Barbrow meshes very well with the rest of the cast from season 1, most specifically with Cosimo Fusco’s Angelo and Macarena Gómez’s Merche. With the former, Barbrow is completely unintimidated in speaking with a true denizen of Hell, even downplaying his dark ruler by signing a book “to Lucifer.” With Merche, he is even more involved, recruiting her to carry out his sinister plan, and perhaps even pining for her despite the fact that she clearly only has eyes for her ex-husband. Hopefully, there will be a season 3, so that these relationships and Barbrow’s true endgame are further cultivated for the audience.

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Paul Giamatti as Christian Barbrow. HBO

Religion, Science Fiction & the Supernatural

What Álex de la Iglesia attempts here is a jarringly powerful combination of intense horror (including body horror and cosmic horror), bold religious conspiracy theories, ultra-violent action, preternatural human capabilities, supernatural folklore, otherworldly science fiction, and good old-fashioned melodrama. Incredibly, it works.

There are a few missteps here and there. Paco and Elena and their relationship take a back seat to the rest of the proceedings, despite the first season’s focus on them. In fact, they gradually become the least interesting parts of the show. The pace, as mentioned, is very fast, quickly moving from one gruesome, unbelievable scene to another without enough time for the audience to fully contemplate what they’ve just witnessed. And the ending … oh, that ending. We won’t spoil it for you, but wow. It is really something and will totally work for some viewers but may stretch beyond others’ abilities to suspend disbelief.

Some of the religious conceits explored here may offend those of strong faith, such as that Christ told Judas to betray him as part of the grand plan and that God and the Devil are two sides of the same deity. But the same can be said of many popular and successful contemporary shows tackling religious issues such as Supernatural and Preacher. The theories posited during the course of 30 Coins may be divisive, but they are also incredibly interesting and nourishing for those with open minds.

One Wild Ride

With season 2 of 30 Coins, Álex de la Iglesia expands just about every aspect of the story. The audience is no longer confined to Pedraza, Spain. The whole world becomes the characters’ playground and the prize or sacrifice in the final battle between good and evil. And the cultures and beliefs of the citizens of each location play into what happens on-screen.

Whether you’re a fan of horror, the supernatural, religious controversy, action, science fiction, or plain old drama, there is something for every viewer to enjoy here. If you liked season 1, you’re bound to love season 2. It’s more of everything season 1 provided in the best possible way. And with Paul Giamatti’s inclusion, it shows a glimpse into the future of TV and film production, when the greatest talents from across the globe will come together to create unprecedented on-screen entertainment.



Jason Robbins is a features editor and writer, attorney, computer scientist, bio-exorcist and inventor of the piano key necktie.

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