'Muted' stars Arón Piper, Manu Ríos talk dark thriller, 'Elite' comparisons

Manu Ríos, left, and Arón Piper star in the Netflix psychological thriller "Muted."
Manu Ríos, left, and Arón Piper star in the Netflix psychological thriller "Muted."

Spoiler alert! The following story discusses important plot points and the ending of “Muted,” so beware if you haven’t seen it yet.

What happens when the unspeakable is finally given a voice? That’s the terrifying question “Muted” attempts to answer.

Netflix’s Spanish-language psychological thriller, now the service's No. 1 non-English TV show, centers on the harrowing redemption tale of Sergio (Arón Piper), a young man reentering society after serving a six-year sentence for the gruesome murder of his parents. Sergio’s refusal to speak after the tragic event leaves the true account of his parents’ death shrouded in mystery.

Unbeknownst to Sergio, a resolute psychologist named Ana (Almudena Amor) embarks on a study in which she secretly monitors Sergio’s every move to determine his psychological state. But as Sergio begins to find his voice, the people in his life let their darker colors show.

“On this show, there isn’t good or bad. Everything sits on a scale of gray areas,” Manu Ríos, who plays Eneko, tells USA TODAY. “There are moments where I can empathize with a character, and then suddenly they do something or act in a certain way, and I no longer connect with them.”

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‘Muted’ reunites ‘Elite’ stars Arón Piper, Manu Ríos for more love triangle drama

Piper, 26, and Ríos, 24, co-starred as Ander and Patrick, respectively, on the Netflix teen drama “Elite,” which follows the crime-ridden lives of students attending a prestigious private school in Madrid. In the show’s fourth season, Ander and Patrick find themselves in a lustful throuple turned love triangle with Ander’s boyfriend Omar.

With its riveting murder mystery plots and steamy romance, “Elite” quickly became a hit, racking up over 20 million streams upon its 2018 debut and earning an average critical rating of 93% on Rotten Tomatoes across its six seasons.

On “Muted,” the actors’ characters Sergio and Eneko are thrust into a convoluted romance when Eneko's girlfriend Marta (Cristina Kovani) becomes torn between her love for him and her growing attraction to Sergio. Ríos says the animosity between Sergio and Eneko sets this love triangle apart from their “Elite” days.

“It’s a completely distinct love triangle,” he says. “In ‘Elite,’ the three characters participated in the relationship. In this case, Marta is the only one who has a relationship with each of them, and Eneko and Sergio basically have a hateful relationship.”

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Piper, right, and Ríos previously co-starred on the Netflix teen drama “Elite” as Ander and Patrick, respectively. Ríos says the animosity between their "Muted" characters, however, sets this love triangle apart from the actors’ “Elite” days.
Piper, right, and Ríos previously co-starred on the Netflix teen drama “Elite” as Ander and Patrick, respectively. Ríos says the animosity between their "Muted" characters, however, sets this love triangle apart from the actors’ “Elite” days.

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Arón Piper talks putting himself in Sergio’s shoes: ‘I don’t think anyone is born evil’

Aside from his criminal past, Sergio struggles with a history of impulse control, which prompts his psychiatrist mother to place him on an experimental medication. Piper says the hardest part of playing Sergio was “trying to approach understanding the mind of someone who does something so horrible.”

“As actors, we shouldn’t view a character as being inherently bad, because we have to defend them,” Piper says. “I don’t think anyone is born evil, but there are mental disorders and things that can set off or awaken a mental illness.”

Series creator Aitor Gabilondo says Piper related to Sergio's constant surveillance by people he doesn’t know. Piper’s experiences with fame − and the lack of privacy it brings − helped inform the depiction.

“He is someone who is observed with every gesture he makes and every photo he posts,” Gabilondo says. “He told me he identified with the sensation of constantly being observed by strangers and the anxiety that created on occasion.”

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Manu Ríos on the sadness of playing not-so-nice guy Eneko

Eneko dates Marta, a clothing store salesclerk who is enlisted by Ana to befriend Sergio and get intel for her study. The couple’s relationship, as well as Eneko’s mild-mannered disposition, are put to the test as Marta becomes distant as she explores Sergio’s world.

“Eneko is a bit of a reflection of relationships we can see in day-to-day life,” Ríos says. “When there’s something he doesn’t like, or he’s confronted with a complicated situation, he becomes more jealous, vengeful and manipulative. We see his darker, more impulsive side.”

The grittiness of Eneko and Marta’s romance even inspired an emotional introspection for Ríos. “It’s so realistic that it makes you think and reflect on your own behavior, and in those aspects it’s a bit sad,” he says.

Desperate to cling to his crumbling relationship, Eneko leaks a blurry sex tape in an attempt to frame Sergio and reconnect with Marta. “What he wants in the end is to keep her by his side and as his property in a way,” Ríos says.

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Why Arón Piper isn’t ‘hopeful’ about Sergio’s future

Sergio and Ana finally meet in the series finale after Ana reveals to Sergio that her adoptive daughter is Noa, Sergio’s sister, whom he has been trying to contact since his release. When Sergio’s reunion with Noa fizzles, Sergio and Ana are left alone in his apartment. A contemplative Sergio walks toward the balcony, eventually asking Ana to join him. In grainy surveillance footage, one of them falls off the balcony, although we don't know who.

Gabilondo says the murky ending creates “a feeling of anxiety that the viewer now has to decode what is happening on the other side of the screen.”

Regardless of the mystery, Piper says he doesn’t anticipate a promising outcome for Sergio, especially after he fails to reconcile with Noa.

“If you don’t have something to cling to − in Sergio’s case, it’s his sister Noa − you can’t carry on,” Piper says. “In the end, it’s not the reunion he was hoping for, so I don’t see Sergio’s future as very hopeful.”

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Muted' stars Arón Piper, Manu Ríos talk show's cliffhanger ending