“Elite” Season 6 Is a Mess — and Not the Fun Kind

Authors Note: The following review of Elite season six contains spoilers from just about every season of Elite

Welcome back to Elite‘s Las Encinas, the private high school with such a high concentration of tragedies and murders that one would think wealthy families would stop sending their children to but alas! I have long loved Elite, a show where teens simply never go to class in favor of having threesomes and hanging out at a nightclub — also run by a teen! — seven days a week. I enjoy its dependable, soapy formula: The first scene of every season teases a Disastrous Event. A hit-and-run, a lifeless body, blood spatter, general murdery vibes. And then the rest of the season alternates between flashbacks and flash-forwards. “How To Get Away With Murder meets Riverdale” is how I usually pitch it before also encouraging English-speaking viewers to change the Netflix settings which for some reason default to a dubbed version to original Spanish audio with English subtitles. It’s a fun and sexy time. It’s a show that will push the limits of your suspension of disbelief but also dazzle you with enough melodrama, slow-motion dancing, and debauchery to make that okay. Most of its seasons are admittedly uneven in terms of plotting and character motivation. But when the twists, betrayals, and reveals hit, they hit good. Season six of Elite though goes off the rails in ways that are not so fun. The Disastrous Event is season six itself.

Things were bound to be wobbly this season given that we had a major character shakeup as a result of some characters finally graduating and heading off. On the one hand, I’m glad Elite didn’t decide to Riverdale things with a time jump or other maneuvers intended to keep following students who are no longer in high school on a show about high school. On the other hand, a major character shakeup is always hard to pull off! No one has ever done it as well as Friday Night Lights did in its fourth season. At the top of season six, Samuel is long-dead, Benjamin is in prison for his murder, and Omar, Rebeka, and Phillipe have all moved away. Benjamin’s kids Ari, Patrick, and Mencía as well as renowned teen DJ Isadora and son of a famous footballer Iván have to repeat their final year, so these season five baddies are back. New students join the mix: Dídac, Rocío, Nico, and TikTok couple Sara and Raúl. New friendships, relationships, nemesis-ships form. You know the Elite drill by now. But while Elite usually includes a lot of queer storylines and manages to say interesting things about sex and desire amid all its steamy, sweaty scenes, it misfires in more than one part of its LGBTQ+ storytelling this season.

Let’s start with Nico. New student Nico is a trans guy, which he discloses to fellow students right away. Nico ends up in a love triangle of sorts (a department this show tends to excel at) with two different girls: One who affirms his gender without even turning it into some big performance and one who is casually transphobic and almost seems to fetishize him. The latter is Ari, and while the ongoing tension between her and Nico is sometimes rooted in more of a misunderstanding than in transphobia, that casual transphobia is still there. Other students make hurtful comments to Nico, too, and his storyline largely hinges on him feeling like others don’t see him as enough of a man because he hasn’t had bottom surgery. At one point, Ari says the only person who cares what’s between Nico’s legs is Nico. But if Elite is trying to make the point that Nico’s genitals shouldn’t be some huge conversation…continually making the characters talk about it certainly does the opposite!

Elite has not followed Riverdale‘s suit in implementing literal time travel, but Nico’s whole storyline makes me feel like we’ve somehow ended up in 2004. This type of trans representation feels dated at best, regressive at worst. There are ways to meaningfully tell a story about a trans person struggling with decisions about surgery, but this wasn’t it. And it’s the only plotline Nico is really given!!! It’s nice to see his parents are very supportive of his transness, but that’s jarringly juxtaposed with the rest of his arc, which hinges so much on how others see Nico rather than how he sees himself. Again, that tension could be explored with nuance and depth, but instead it just comes off as the writers wholly defining Nico by his transness and not allowing him to be complex.

Then there’s Cruz. Iván’s father Cruz starts the season in the closet, but after a series of unfortunate events that includes Cruz making out with HIS SON’S BOYFRIEND, he’s finally outed to the world. He finally embraces this in “Desnudos,” but it comes at a cost. Elite shows the soccer world to be brutally homophobic. He loses sponsors; he receives violent death threats. He tries his best to shield Iván, who is also gay but who has been more accepting of his own sexuality, from the worst of these. Things go to a very dark place.

Now, let me preface this by saying I am not exactly a warrior of the Bury Your Gays cause. It’s not that I don’t care about the history of queer characters disproportionately murdered on-screen and in literature. I care very much about that history and about media analysis that looks at its impact on queer viewers. I do however believe that the usefulness of Bury Your Gays as a tool for media analysis and cultural study ends when it is used to broadly to basically apply to just…any LGBTQ+ character who dies in any narrative. All that said, I do think Cruz’s storyline in season six of Elite is exactly the type of harmful and homophobic storytelling that Bury Your Gays should refer to. Immediately following “Desnudos” is the episode “Guerra,” in which Cruz plays his first match as an openly gay man. Some embrace him, waving rainbow flags at the game. Iván, whose relationship with his father has long been strained, is so proud of him that he gets his kit number tattooed on his hip. Others are not so happy about a gay man’s presence on the pitch. A stadium brawl breaks out and escalates quickly, ending the match early. That in and of itself is tough to watch, but what follows is almost shockingly upsetting. That same evening, Cruz is murdered by a group of men throwing out homophobic slurs. He’s literally gaybashed to death in the same episode in which he first plays soccer as an openly gay man.

This is exactly why the Bury Your Gays trope was given a name, allowing queer readers and viewers to critique the ways LGBTQ characters are brutalized and killed in fiction. To follow such an empowering moment with Cruz’s violent death continues a long legacy of punitive plotting and to excuse it here because it’s a show steeped in violence and death just doesn’t really sit right. It again feels like the kind of queer tragedy spectacle I’d hoped we’d moved past. It feels like Elite is trying to be edgy, but it comes off as backwards and lazy. I don’t think Elite should have shied away from revealing real homophobia embedded in professional sports; I don’t even necessarily think Cruz should have lived — again, this is a show where pretty much anyone could die at any time. But I do think the specific way in which it is plotted and executed here is piss-poor writing that turns queerness into a death sentence — a reality for many but one that ultimately feels out of place and out of touch on this series.

Marginally better but still ultimately frustrating is the season’s only Sapphic storyline. It took Elite a while to write in queer women (other than Polo’s moms, who never really had much of a storyline), but Mencía’s introduction in season four was a welcome presence. Now, in season six, she sets her sights on Sara, one half of a popular TikTok couple. Her other half, Raúl, is physically abusive and manipulative, often making it so that he’s Sara’s entire world and using their TikTok brand as a weapon against her. Mencía quickly picks up on this and spends much of the season trying to get Sara to leave Raúl. She finally does and she and Mencía start hanging and making out, but suddenly at season’s end before anything more can happen, Mencía observes she thinks Sara is actually straight and Sara confirms it. Yet again, this narrative in and of itself isn’t necessarily a problem. I’m interested in the idea of a story about Sara seeing Mencía as a potential way out of her abusive relationship and then confusing some of their intimacy for romantic connection. It isn’t fair to Mencía, but straight women using queer women is a reality. And beyond that, I don’t think Sara really realizes she’s using Mencía or thinks of it like that. There’s a lot to untangle here, and yet Elite chooses not to at all. It all feels like a lot of lead up to nothing.

I know Elite can tell complex stories even as its barreling through all its over-the-top operatics. I even see it in other arcs of this season, like Isadora reckoning with her assault. I’m fine with character motivations changing on a whim, with people turning on each other, with teens and adults alike making contradictory and frustrating choices. I’m fine with the high mortality rate at this high school! I’m not fine with these reductive queer storylines that don’t even get to the heart of things. With these three queer storylines, it’s all missteps and no juiciness. No scintillating stories, just suffering or surface-level conflict.

Elite has already been renewed for a seventh season, and Omar is set to come back! Let’s hope better queer plotlines return with him.


Before you go! It costs money to make indie queer media, and frankly, we need more members to survive 2023As thanks for LITERALLY keeping us alive, A+ members get access to bonus content, extra Saturday puzzles, and more! Will you join? Cancel anytime.

Join A+!
Related:

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Miami. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 470 articles for us.

5 Comments

  1. Honestly Rebeka leaving was the last drop for me. I’m glad I read your recap instead of watching the rest of the season because it seems like a mess that would’ve just made me angry with this batshit storylines. I mean Elite has always been messy but this just sounds unhinged 😂

    • Same, I loved the first 3 seasons of Elite and how they created a neat trilogy all dealing with ramifications of the original murder, stayed through the messy following seasons for Rebeka, and now that she’s left have little reason to watch the series. I was putting it off and now that I’ve read this review, will probably continue that indefinitely. the characters introduced in the last two seasons are not compelling at all for me.

  2. As a transman I usually detest storylines involving transpeople because they typically boil down to the same tropes. Trans people know we are more than our bodies/genitals it’s the non trans community who needs to understand this😑

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!