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30 Coins series premiere recap: Religious horror meets Lovecraft in this new series

30 Coins HBO blends religious horror with Lovecraftian elements.

According to the New Testament, Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus to the chief priests in exchange for thirty pieces of silver. That is the crux of the aptly titled 30 Coins, which appears to revolve around these biblical totems sought by the darkest forces known to man. 30 Coins HBO is the latest  HBO Europe series to air in the states. The Spanish horror series from auteur Álex de la Iglesia debuted the first two of the eight-episode first season on HBO and HBO Max last night.

But don’t expect to get many answers about the coins and their purpose by the end of the second episode. The most substantial background we get on them thus far is from the show’s grisly opening credit sequence, which portrays Christ’s crucifixion in graphic detail.

If you like religious horror and Lovecraft, then 30 Coins should be right up your alley. The first episode features one of the creepiest monsters I’ve seen on television, maybe ever. It should be a good way to keep those missing Lovecraft Country busy for a while.

A priest with a dark past is exiled to Pedraza, a remote small town in Spain where nothing ever happens (one of the characters actually describes it this way in the first episode, so you know bad things are coming). Before coming to Pedraza, Father Vergara (Eduard Fernández) served time in prison after trying to exorcise a young Italian boy named Giacomo. He died in the process.

Not long after Vergara arrives, strange things begin to happen in town, starting with a cow giving birth to what appears to be a human baby. Veterinarian Elena (Megan Montaner) and the onlookers are understandably baffled by the birth and immediately alert the owner, Paco (Miguel Ángel Silvestre), who also happens to be the town mayor. Paco and his wife Merche (Macarena Gómez) oversee the town’s meatpacking district and are in the midst of opening a new slaughterhouse when they find out about the baby.

Trying to explain the unexplainable, Paco and Elena turn to Vergara for assistance. He believes that someone swapped the calf out for the baby while Elena’s back was turned. It’s the most reasonable explanation. But then Elena does some snooping online and discovers that Vergara is an exorcist, immediately making her suspicious of the priest.

While our protagonists try to figure out where the baby came from, they give the infant to a local couple whose own son died at a young age. The woman, Carmen, quickly becomes overly attached to the baby — and here’s where things start to take a bizarre turn.

The baby starts growing at an accelerated rate until it looks like what can only be described as a giant demon baby. Then it reaches its final form — a crazy, horrifying spider-scorpion-baby monstrosity that Carmen is obsessed with protecting. She goes crazy with her knitting needles, creating wool webs all over her home and even murdering her own husband and stringing him up like a fat, juicy fly.

Carmen becomes possessed by an entity that wants the coin that has made its way to Pedraza, a coin that Elena possesses. All of this culminates in an epic, grisly showdown at Vergara’s church, in which the monster nearly kills Elena. They barely manage to defeat the beast, and suddenly Father Vergara starts rattling on about how it was the power of persuasion that rid them of the monster.

Basically, Vergara is full of s–t. He doesn’t want to admit to any supernatural beings in town and tries to convince Elena that she’s having a nervous breakdown and seeing things — that it’s all her mind playing tricks on her. This is especially frustrating to Elena, whose husband mysteriously disappeared without a trace years before.

Since she lives in a small town, people gossip. Rumors have swirled among the townspeople that Elena was crazy and drove her husband away. So, she’s been told she’s crazy her entire life, and then here come more men trying to make her feel out of touch.

Even Paco, who witnessed the same things as Elena, starts to try and chalk the whole thing up to a string of stress-induced hallucinations. But if Father Vergara really believed that, why does he have an entire arsenal of weapons hidden away in the sacristy? Something isn’t adding up.

30 Coins

Megan Montaner, Miguel Ángel Silvestre in 30 Coins HBO – Photograph by Manolo Pavon/HBO Nordic

30 Coins HBO Episode 2 recap: Ouija

The second episode, “Ouija,” mostly follows some of the same story beats as the first. A new horror is introduced this time because a group of teenagers decides to use an Ouija board in a cemetery and accidentally summon Giacomo’s ghost.

One of the teens, Sole, vanishes. When she returns, Sole is possessed in a similar fashion to Carmen and goes on a rampage for the coin. Again, the episode ends with several characters previously injured and/or hospitalized. And Vergara again tries to convince Elena that she didn’t see what she thought she saw, although his excuses are wearing thin — especially since Vergara took Sole to break into Elena’s house to find the coin.

Thankfully, by the end of the second hour, it looks like Paco is finally starting to catch on to the fact that something seriously messed up and likely supernatural is going on, so hopefully, he and Elena will be more of a united front against Vergara in the weeks to come.

Overall thoughts on the 30 Coins HBO premiere

One thing I didn’t anticipate from 30 Coins HBO is the monster-of-the-week approach, but I think it works for the show. While the first episode was far scarier than the second, I liked the contrast between a grotesque monster story and a conventional paranormal teen scream in the second. Like many television series before, 30 Coins HBO looks like it’s going to have a “case of the week” theme with an overarching story and mythology. I just wish we got more answers regarding the coins.

Marissa De La Cerda at The AV Club watched the first seven episodes of the first season and had this to say about the coins and their purpose: “With every occurrence, it becomes clear that the coin, though initially dismissed as something worthless, is the cause of everyone’s misfortunes. But giving it to the priests at the Vatican would likely place power in the wrong hands, as ‘whoever has the 30 coins will have in their possession a weapon more powerful than the very Arc of the Covenant.'”

The coins seem to act like demonic beacons of sorts from what we’ve seen so far, attracting nefarious shadow-dwellers and the ghostly ancient priests forward to try and collect them all. Based on her interpretation, I’m assuming we’ll get a more thorough backstory on the coins in the coming episodes.

The new series reminded me of Cinemax’s short-lived Southern gothic series Outcast, which also featured a mysterious priest, exorcisms, demons and an incredibly bleak atmosphere.

Overall, 30 Coins is a captivating new show despite a few stumbles. It often tries to infuse levity into some of its darkest scenes, which doesn’t always work and comes across as a tonal mishmash.

The series could also have done with a little pruning and better pacing — both episodes released so far are also over an hour in length, although to the show’s credit, I didn’t notice the runtime as much as I expected to. In fact, despite being nearly 90 minutes in length, the first episode felt shorter than the 65-minute follow-up, perhaps because it was more action-packed.

What did you think of the 30 Coins series premiere? Do you plan to keep watching? Let us know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below!

New episodes of 30 Coins will air Mondays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO and are also available to stream on HBO Now and HBO Max.