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Santa Evita (Hulu), a seven-episode miniseries from Disney Latin America and executive producer Salma Hayek, chronicles the curious journey of Argentine politician, activist, and actress Eva Peron’s embalmed body as its possession becomes a political bargaining chip and its location a mystery to be solved. Santa Evita is adapted from the bestselling 1995 novel of the same name by Tomas Eloy Martinez.  

Opening Shot: Eva Peron (Natalia Oreiro), Argentina’s “Spiritual Leader,” lies in bed, wasting away. Her breathing is labored. She’s dying of cervical cancer. “My time left is short,” she tells her attending nurse. “The skinny girl’s leaving. She’s going to rest.” It’s July 1952. 

The Gist: Peron was right. The First Lady of Argentina dies on July 26, 1952, shortly after her husband Juan Peron (Dario Grandinetti) has begun his second term as president. Weeping mourners gather in the rain outside the presidential residence, and a sedan pushes through the throng. Dr. Pedro Ara (Francesc Orella) has arrived to embalm Evita’s body. Her mother Juana (Gaby Ferrero) is hysterical at the bedside. “You can’t go along with this nonsense,” she shouts at General Peron. “Show her some respect!” But the president says he made a promise to his wife. “It’s the way to keep her alive, as her people wanted it to be.” He has Juana removed, and gives the room to Dr. Ara. Blood out, fluid in, and Eva Peron has become the “incorruptible corpse.”

In 1971, everyone’s smoking cigarettes in a busy newsroom when journalist Mariano Vazquez (Diego Velazquez) gets an intriguing new assignment. By this time, Eva Peron’s embalmed body has been missing for years. But Mariano’s editor says the military dictatorship that rules Argentina has offered to give it up as a means of negotiating with Juan Peron, who’s lived in exile since his toppling in a 1958 coup. Mariano doesn’t believe it. “It must be fake news,” he says. But he agrees to contact the former president and ask him what he thinks.

Back in 1952, at Evita’s public visitation, Lieutenant Colonel Moori Koenig (Ernesto Alterio) offers his condolences to General Peron and his establishment. But later, as millions of Peronist supporters crowd the streets of Buenos Aires to get a glimpse of her funeral procession, Koenig is toasting to her death with a gaggle of drunk military officers. “The leech is finally dead! Long live cancer! Peron’s days are numbered!” These are the men who will overthrow the president, and attempt to quell Evita’s spiritual influence over the working classes. And Dr. Ara moves Eva Peron’s body to an improvised laboratory at the national labor union’s headquarters, where he forbids anyone to see it.

Now actively tracking leads into the embalmed corpse’s strange history, Mariano visits Julio Alcaraz (Hector Diaz), Evita’s former hairdresser, who swears he saw her body at the union HQ. And he discovers it was Koenig who was somehow at the center of its eventual disappearance, after the military coup.

What Shows Will It Remind You Of? In the first season of Netflix’s contemporary Argentine thriller The Kingdom, the murder of a presidential candidate spurs his rival’s rise to power. The streamer also features the period romance Secreto Bien Guardado, where a Jewish teenager from Buenos Aires falls for a young Nazi lawyer. And don’t forget 1995’s big budget movie musical Evita, which won Madonna a Golden Globe for her work as Santa Evita herself.

Our Take: At the heart of Santa Evita is ownership. From the instant of her death, the squabbles started. “She told me not to let anyone bathe her and dress her, that only I could see her,” Eva Peron’s mother protests. But she’s shut down by a firm General Peron, who authorizes the embalming of his wife’s body, and specifies where it should be placed. And with that authorization, Dr. Ara takes ownership, working quickly to tamp down any access, even from Juana. The labor union members claim ownership over Evita, who in life championed their cause. But any vestige of that ownership in her death must be stomped out by the military dictatorship that comes to power, which is how Koenig comes to assert his ownership over Eva Peron’s body, tasked with taking physical control of it in order to destroy its spiritual worth. 

It’s not only the forces of power or evil who claim Eva Peron as their own. In Mariano’s meeting with Alcaraz, her former hairdresser inserts himself into the narrative of her rise from being a struggling actress in 1940 to becoming Argentina’s most revered political and social figure. All he did was fix her hair. “From that moment on, Evita was a creation of mine. I created her. The blonde hair? That was my doing.” In death, Santa Evita shows, Eva Peron can’t find rest, because aura means different things to different people, all of whom see themselves as owning it.

Sex and Skin: Before he begins the embalming process, Dr. Ara cuts the bedclothes away from Peron’s body.

Parting Shot: After throwing Ara out of the lab, Koenig takes a scalpel to Eva Peron’s corpse, making a mark underneath one earlobe. Gazing at the body, he recalls how Peron once caught him snooping in her bathroom, making notes about her health at the request of her husband.

Sleeper Star: When we meet him in 1971, as his desk telephone rings incessantly and he continues to attack the keys of his typewriter, we immediately understand that Diego Velazquez’s Mariano Vazquez will be the viewers’ eyes and ears, the resourceful bulldog journalist the audience can follow as he tracks the vagaries of where Paron’s body went.

Most Pilot-y Line: “We don’t want this woman to become a saint!” The military dictatorship that’s taken power in a coup understands how important Evita is to the Argentinian people, even in death, which is why they can’t have her embalmed body become a symbol of hope for the working class Peronist political base.

Our Call: STREAM IT. Elements of mystery, cultural history, and cults of personality elevate the morbid fact at the center of Santa Evita, which is an embalmed body with nowhere permanent to rest.

Johnny Loftus is an independent writer and editor living at large in Chicagoland. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, All Music Guide, Pitchfork Media, and Nicki Swift. Follow him on Twitter: @glennganges

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