‘Choose a name; something simple’: Names and Identities in ‘Money Heist’

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*spoilers ahead for the first and second seasons of Money Heist*

‘Who are you?

‘Sergio Marquina.

‘Sergio? Salva? The Professor? The person who has kept all the police, the CNI, and the Spanish Forces in check? The man I’ve been talking to on the phone for five days, who I told what clothes I wear and even what colour my orgasms are? … And which one are you?’   

Source: Netflix

What is a name? 

It’s an identifier, a placeholder, a label, an arbitrary title. A name can mean anything, placed upon any one thing. It’s something we’re told to accept – and accept it we do. 

But a name is much more than that. A name is an identity. It’s a personality. It has a soul and a consciousness. A name is who we are. So what happens when you don’t have a name?

In Álex Pina’s Spanish television drama Money Heist, a professional robber known only by the alias “the Professor” (Álvaro Morte), gathers a group of misfit criminals to undertake one of the most insurmountable heists of all time: robbing the Royal Mint of Spain. Armed with a plan that he has been formulating his entire life, the Professor leads eight slapdash thieves through the meticulous plan to print over a billion Euros and escape with the cash in hand. The story, told through a real-time narrative with flashbacks to the heist’s preparation, follows the Professor and his team during the five days they are locked inside the Mint, documenting each dramatic turn.

As the series premiere unfolds, we are introduced to the purpose of names, a plot device that will come to play a vital part in the understanding of the series’ anti-heroes and the build-up of each character’s identity. Prior to the robbery, the Professor and his gang spend five months in rural Toledo perfecting every detail of the heist. To avoid personal relationships, each member is given a codename, preventing them from being able to disclose anything about themselves or the life they have outside this robbery. 

The Professor refers to each member of his crew by a city: Tokyo (Úrsula Corberó), Rio (Miguel Herrán), Denver (Jaime Lorente), Berlin (Pedro Alonso), Moscow (Paco Tous), Helsinki (Darko Perić), Nairobi (Alba Flores), and Oslo (Roberto García Ruiz). Completely anonymous. Entirely unidentifiable.

Just like our merry band of thieves, we too are not privy to anyone’s real name — in fact, the introduction to each character, communicated through a voice-over narration that details their criminal history with footage of that character’s mugshot, blurs out the name on their arrest boards thus emphasising their anonymity. Just like the robbers themselves, we come to know each person little by little as we go on this journey, putting together details about their personality and identity before finally being told their true name. 

Despite the Professor’s efforts, names do begin to be shared—whether it be during moments of personal intimacy, public displays, or accidental mishaps. Yet each moment of revelation is anything but mistaken; instead, the slow reveal of names and the context in which they are revealed is essential to the drama of the story: Rio gives Tokyo, his secret lover, dog tags with his real name on them; the police reveal Berlin, Tokyo and Rio’s names to the public after being identified as members of the gang; Denver convinces Monica (Esther Acebo) that he truly loves her by giving up his real identity to her; and Moscow tragically proclaims his name while on his deathbed, wishing for his friends to know who he is. The unveiling of each character’s name becomes associated with their loss of freedom; they are no longer enigmas, brawling with the capitalist machine. Their private individuality is compromised, forever connected with a life of crime.

But in the same vein, the reveal of each name uncovers the person behind the elusive Dalí mask and red jumpsuit. Each character’s name revelation becomes a harrowing moment in the narrative, allowing us as viewers (and accomplices in this heist) to bond with this criminal group and form an intimate attachment to each of them. After all, we know their most exclusive secret.   

Source: Netflix

Yet over the course of the show’s first two seasons, it’s the Professor’s name — and subsequently the mystery of who he really is — that demands the most attention.  

From the show’s beginning, the Professor—also known as Salva, a pseudonym he uses while forming a relationship with the police’s lead investigator for the heist, Raquel (Itziar Ituño), to manipulate the case—acts as our enigmatic protagonist. We gravitate towards his warm and honest demeanour, trusting his anarchist ideologies and radical mission. We want his plan to succeed despite not really knowing who he is or what his intentions are. 

Just like the rest of the characters, the Professor’s identity and purpose are slowly divulged to us throughout the robbery. We learn that this heist is a byproduct of his father’s failed attempt to rob a bank—the young boy, after seeing his father shot dead on the steps of the Bank of Spain, vowed to complete his father’s mission. We spend intimate moments with him when he falls in love with Raquel, despite its impact on his plan. We see him succumb to shock and fear as he attempts to keep his team inside the Mint alive. We come to know the Professor… yet, we still don’t know his name. So when we finally do hear his name spoke aloud, we pay attention.

Throughout those five days, we are confronted with the Professor’s real name on two impactful occasions: once, during a vulnerable conversation between the Professor and Berlin the night before the heist, and again, when Raquel finally discovers that the man she is sleeping with is, in fact, the mastermind behind the biggest robbery in history. 

These two moments, arguably some of the most captivating scenes in the entire series, bring to light the show’s biggest mystery: who actually is this man leading the modern resistance? In these moments, our untouchable genius is exposed: the Professor is confronted with his name, his most precious piece of privacy, by the two people most important in his life. He is no longer a warrior, but rather just a human. With Berlin, he’s a frightened little brother, scared of what the next day will bring. With Raquel, he’s a man torn between love and pride, conflicted with which is more important to him. He’s not Salva. He’s not the Professor. 

He’s just Sergio Marquina.  

And it’s this that makes Money Heist a show far more emotional than most crime dramas. Because behind the action and spectacle of the show’s thriller plot lies a story that is based around just one thing: the human concept of a name. It’s the mystery of each character and their prolonged character development that draws you into this world. And perhaps why, despite the show’s extensive Netflix budget from season three onwards, the series’ second heist lacks the personal appeal of its original story; because the mystery of our thieves has already been solved.

Words by Shelby Cooke

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