Netflix’s ‘Ares’ takes a look at the Netherlands’ dark history


Netflix Pressroom

Amanda Salazar, Editor-in-Chief

Editor’s Note: The following article may contain spoilers of the Netflix show “Ares.”

A historic building with a grand entranceway and a brick exterior. A dining hall with a couple dozen tables and a platform in one corner. A dark basement with even darker secrets.

These are some of the settings that the first Dutch Netflix original series, “Ares,” takes place in. The dark drama series — often called a psychological horror show online due to the prevalence of death and gore — aired on the streaming service back in Jan. 17, 2020.

The show was filmed in Amsterdam and was created by Pieter Kuijpers, Iris Otten and Sander van Meurs. It was directed by Giancarlo Sanchez and Michiel ten Horn.

“Ares” follows pre-medical university student Rosa Steenwijk as she joins a secret society with a long history, dark secrets and enough power to control the country. With each episode, she learns more about what society really is.

Rosa, who is mixed Black and white, comes from a working-class family. Her father is a night shift nurse, and her mother stays home due to a severe, non-disclosed mental illness though it’s portrayed as schizophrenia.

One day, her long-time best friend Jacob Wessels visits her. While they’re out, they run into acquaintances of Jacob’s, who he desperately tries to steer clear of while with Rosa. He fails, and Rosa ends up talking to the trio of college-aged people, who are clearly very wealthy.

It is revealed that they are members of Ares, a powerful secret society that can supposedly give its members anything and everything they want, and Jacob is also a part of it. Eventually, they ask Rosa to join.

Throughout the eight-episode series, Rosa becomes more and more entrenched in Ares and begins, incidentally, making a name for herself there and getting closer to Carmen Zwanenburg. Carmen is the girlfriend of the student president of Ares, Joost van Moerland. Quickly the leader of the society, Maurits Zwanenburg, who is also Carmen’s father, takes note of Rosa.

The show revolves around a mysterious secret that the Ares leaders keep hidden. The regular members of the society know it as Beal, a monster that resides in the basement of the Ares building, where all the student members live once they have been initiated.

Clips of the monster depict him as a figure made out of an oil-spill like substance, dripping and shiny black, with a shackle chained around his neck. Visuals of Beal often show him pounding against the ground in frustration.

Higher-up members of Ares make offerings to Beal to satiate him — thick, black bile that they throw up from time-to-time.

However, by the end of the series, viewers learn that Beal is not a monster at all. He’s a swirling whirlpool of all the guilt that the most powerful — and most sinful — Ares members vomit up. The black bile isn’t an offering — it is the visual and physical manifestation of their guilt and regret for their bad deeds. By throwing it up in the form of bile, they lose their feelings of guilt.

This is what makes the Ares members so powerful: they never have to feel guilty for anything they do that harms others. They can make sacrifices for their own gain or for the betterment of the society and not be hindered by feelings of remorse afterward.

Therefore, they are able to cheat, lie, steal, embezzle, kill and do whatever else it takes to put themselves on top. They are able to make decisions that no one else would be able to stomach because they know they will just get rid of the bad feelings afterward.

During the show, it is revealed that in order to become the president of Ares, the candidate must complete a trial set out for them by the society’s leadership. The leadership identifies someone important to the candidate and gives them an ultimatum: show you’re willing to do what it takes to succeed by killing the person or never ascend in the ranks.

Once the candidate commits the murder, they have a ceremony and throw up not just the black bile but also a golden egg, removing their feelings of guilt. These are then offered to Beal and the cycle continues.

This is just the first of many bad deeds that those high up in Ares commit. Worse deeds mean more offerings to Beal and the more the person can get in terms of money and power.

The last scene of the season showed Rosa after she became the first female president of Ares. It is interspersed with images of African slaves shackled in the lowest level of a Dutch ship being brought to Europe to be enslaved and old Dutch paintings from the Golden Age.

Beal is seen shackled because he is representing the first evil deed that Ares members committed hundreds of years ago: partaking in the slave trade, which helped make such a small country so wealthy, as Maurits pointed out.

Since early Ares members were able to dispose of their guilt into Beal, they were able to make themselves rich off of enslaving people.

That tradition of using unsavory methods to become wealthy or to gain political power continued ever since then, with Ares members continually being able to dominate the Netherlands’ government throughout the generations thanks to their willingness to do anything to get ahead.

In real life, of course there is no such thing as oil spill monsters who eat people’s guilt so they can get ahead in life. But the series takes a look at the concept of guilt and at those who will do anything to get what they want in a way that gets viewers thinking. The series raises an important question for the viewers: What is the true price of power?