Layers of Deception in Netflix’s 'Money Heist'
Most of the dishonesty used in the series is rather creative.
Posted Aug 17, 2020
Warning: Spoilers ahead!
Having recently watched Netflix’s Money Heist, it seemed pertinent to write about the innovative trickery used throughout the series. The first two seasons chronicle a massive heist planned and successfully executed at the Royal Mint of Spain; the rest of the series is about another one at the Bank of Spain. The “Professor” spends time training a team of professional thieves to carry out the crime, and seems to have thought of (nearly) every possible scenario that could arise.
Money Heist is a treasure trove of creative deception commonly found in heist movies (similar to the Ocean’s series). The first instance is when the hostages at the Royal Mint are given red jumpsuits with Dalí masks to blend in with the perpetrators. This made any law enforcement effort at extracting hostages or eliminating the offenders completely futile. Similarly, the objective of the heist itself relates to printing new banknotes (that are yet to enter the economy) rather than a run-of-the-mill theft of money in banks. The ambiguous nature of the theft means that the public-at-large are left grappling with the ethicality of the crime itself.
Next, one of the ways in which the crime is creative relates to obscuring the location and identity of the mastermind of the operation. In Money Heist, the (in)famous Professor is never inside the location that is being robbed. His careful planning ensures that he is in contact with his team inside as well as police negotiators on the outside—without ever betraying to law enforcement the idea that he is on the outside (at least in the heist of the Royal Mint). This allows him to stay a step ahead of his teammates as well as police to see the plan through.
Of course, one of the crucial elements of any highly complex robbery is having access to information at all times. Not being on the inside gives the robbers an edge already, but they need more: knowing what their opponents’ next move is. In the show, this is done unconventionally: rather than having a complicit individual from the police on their team from the start, the crew places a monitoring device in the spectacles of a police detective who enters to appraise the situation. Thus, the inside man here quite literally doesn’t know that he’s the inside man!
Another technique used liberally was disguising intentions and people themselves, as being discrete is crucial to the mission’s success. Apart from the Dalí decoys, the heist called for the Professor adopting an alter ego when interacting with the Inspector overseeing the negotiations. He was shown to alter his appearance at least twice: once as a homeless person and once as a clown, both to avoid detection by the police who were in close proximity. Decoys were used often, as strategically placed distractions to help the Professor and his crew steal the most valuable commodity of them all: the police’s time.
All this was possible against the background of technical innovation, which the Professor had accounted for. For example, the heist features a team member who is specifically recruited to oversee computer hacking as well as controlling cameras and other bank technology. Although there isn’t much sophistication in the technology used, each component is vital in the larger plan. In fact, when the Professor loses visuals of the happenings inside the Bank of Spain, it becomes more than just a technical glitch; it severely affects his (and therefore, his crew’s) ability to be nearly omnipresent.
Money Heist has also inspired real-life robberies, some of which use the same red jumpsuits and masks, alluding to the themes of capitalism, anti-fascism, and redistributive justice. The very fact that they could be termed copycat heists suggests that they may not be all that creative. Perhaps life imitates art in the case of Money Heist, which is important since the last season of the show may bring with it new immoral ideas.
This post was written with Anirudh Tagat, a researcher at the Department of Economics, Monk Prayogshala. He tweets @inhouseconomist.