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‘Dam’ Season 1: Recap And Ending: Everything You Need To Know Before Watching Season 2

In the opening credits of the South African series “DAM,” the title is reflected on the water in the dam. The reflection reads “MAD”—the best adjective to describe the show. Intriguing madness or insanity is also a leading theme in the narrative. Series should be treated as extended versions of films. The makers of “DAM” do not disappoint in this aspect. The cinematic treatment of the South African canvas can easily fool you into thinking that it is a promotional film made to attract tourism. But as the plot proceeds, the natural elements are animalized and even humanized to expose their malicious spirits. It is a psychological thriller enlaced with tropes of horror. Written and directed by Alex Yazbek and produced by Gary King, the first season of “DAM,” which was released on February 22, 2021, on South African streamer Showmax, was deemed to be one of the top 10 most watched shows on the streamer. The critically acclaimed TV series received multiple SAFTA nominations and the award for best actor in a supporting role (female).

What exactly happens in “DAM” Season 1? The plot follows a Ph.D. student, Yolanda Fischer (played by Lea Vivier), aka Yola, who travels halfway across the world from Chile to a quaint, picturesque town named after her forefathers in the Eastern Cape. It is a farming community dominated by white people, while the colored tribals are reduced to menial jobs or are simply marginalized. Yola comes back to attend her father’s funeral and finds out that he has left the lion’s share of his property and possessions to her instead of her sister Sienna (played by Natasha Loring), who had cared for him in his last days. This obviously upsets Sienna. But when Yola tries to make amends by writing off the land around their farm in Sienna’s name, she finds out that her father’s property is disputed – a local tribal man (a witch doctor, in the view of the westerners) who claimed to be the direct descendant of a quasi-mythical and half historical figure. Yola becomes aware of a bar feud between her father and Lazarus, where they might have threatened to kill each other.

Meanwhile, it becomes very evident that in a small town like theirs, nothing can be kept a secret. The lives of all dwellers are interconnected. Yolanda discerns that her father must have been murdered by Lazarus. Her growing obsession with finding him earns the tag of a crazy person. But the greatest plot twist in the series comes when she is accidentally manhandled by her sister’s boyfriend, Dirk (played by Francis Choulder). The incident unearthed a memory that had gotten lost in her unconscious. She remembers being sexually abused by her father. Yolanda eventually finds out that her aunt Dora (Antoinette Louw) knew about his mistreatment and that she was an accomplice, determining that Yolanda’s mother was unstable. She puts two and two together and infers that her mother, Yvette (Jennifer Steyn), had killed their youngest sister Kristi while attempting to murder all three of her daughters by gassing them only to save the girls from their monstrous father. While no one in town would believe Yolo, she finds two confidantes in Bernoldus (Neil Sandilands) and Themba (Pallance Dladla).

In the course of “DAM” Season 1, she develops a love connection with Themba, who is actually the grandson of Lazarus. There is a subplot involving Themba’s family; it shows the rites and customs of the tribal people. His Aunt Lindiwe’s (played by Faniswa Yisa) life is saved by Yolanda when she accepts that Lazarus was killed by Jacob Fischer (played by Andrew Buckland), Yolanda’s father, and pulls up his dead body from the water of the dam. In an eventual turn of events, Yolanda learns about a strange myth her town was built on. Strangely, the townspeople still conduct the absurd rite of raping a young girl in order to purge their surroundings of the local curse of drought. The Spring Festival rituals irk memories of Ari Aster’s “Midsommar,” with the only difference being that the woman here doesn’t come out victorious. At the end of Season 1, we are left with a sedated Yola tied to a table and surrounded by the men from the town in weird catfish masks and her aunt Dora with a tear trickling down the corner of her eye, symbolizing the ultimate act of violation that finally brings rain for the Eastern Cape farming community.

Death has a looming presence in all eight episodes of “DAM.” The story is set in motion by the suicide of Jacob Fischer. Yolanda, the protagonist and Fischer’s daughter, gain the reins of a legacy she never wanted. It was apparently the stifling atmosphere of a small town where everyone judged their neighbors that had driven Yola to attend university in Chile. But it was actually a sign of her PTSD, which she faced after facing regular abuse at her father’s expense. She finds out that her father was nothing more than a pervert and that it was an open secret for people close to the family. While Yola was put on anti-depressants so that she wouldn’t blurt out the secret, Sienna had spent her entire life believing her father to be this great man who worked to his wits’ end to establish a self-sufficient farming community in the Eastern Cape. Jacob Fischer was, in fact, considered a hero in his town, with men like Rudy and Max looking up to him. Set in a post-apartheid South Africa, the series points out the discriminatory attitude the townspeople still possess towards the local, tribally colored folks. Their treatment of Themba in order to “save ” Yolanda, the so-called member of their own community whom they won’t budge from mistreating, shows the hypocrisy of a racist outlook, amplifying the issue of the white man’s burden.

In order to understand the cultist practices of the townspeople, it is important that we take a closer look at the myth behind the foundation of Fischer town. It is believed that when one of Yolanda’s forefathers reached the Eastern Cape, stricken with malaria and on the verge of extinction, he was saved by the local Princess, who took him to a nearby cave and nursed him back to health. Once back on his feet, he thanked her by impregnating her and then abandoning the Princess for the first white woman settler. She was upset and was ousted from her clan. The Princess, dejected and broken, miscarried her child and created a stream from her tears of sorrow, which in turn is believed to have granted the area its fertility. In order to keep the fertility of the land intact, women from this area are often raped and abandoned in the name of customs and rituals.

The show also offers room for postcolonial interpretation. In the context of this series, the white man has appropriated the local environment, pushing the local tribal beliefs and practices into the background. Yola, who is sympathetic to the indigenous people, can only scratch the surface of understanding their beliefs. The pagan rituals that were replaced by the phallic pier of the Christian church stand erect to show how these people had been exploited by the white settlers. We become privy to all the problems in this white settler town, which otherwise looks picture-perfect from the outside. Here, the insiders always want to maintain the status quo for their own benefit; they deem young girls like Clara, whom they once raped, to be insane and lock them up in mental asylums so that their dirty secrets do not fly off into the outside world. It is interesting because the series also highlights the insider-outsider conflict where people like Yolanda, Themba, and Dirk, who had estranged connections with the community or are in the process of becoming a part of it, become the rebels. Their actions shower sparks of hope that can free the land from the criminalities that the white settlers have been imposing on them for centuries now. 

Sienna is probably one of the most interesting characters on the show. She remains eternally confused about trusting her sister. The predatory behavior of Dora shows how she has internalized patriarchy and will do anything to keep the customs alive. Their insolence towards Yola and their inability to develop a notion of sisterhood is perfectly pitted against the bond that is seen between Themba’s aunt Lindiwe and the local priestess Qaqamba, who exhausts all her learning and training to free Lindiwe from the malicious spirit of Lazarus that tries to warn about the crisis Jacob Fischer and his way of mastering the land have brought into their farming community. These women, being closely associated with the elements of nature, are symptomatic of nature. They have a better understanding of both. Where the white population’s understanding fails, these women are seen to be calmer and more perceptive, and their rituals and beliefs seem to be more potent. As Homi Bhabha had put it, the South African locale of the Eastern Cape serves as a liminal space that keeps the histories of the indigenous communities hidden under the garb of the dominant whitewashed narratives.

Season 2 of the series “DAM” is expected to start streaming on Showmax sometime in the first quarter of 2023. According to articles available online, Season 2 will observe Yola once again as she tries to emerge from the memory loss that was induced in her during the “ceremony.” This time Yola is expected to fight back or escape once she manages to join every dot in the narrative and present to us a coherent story with all its tropes singing in unison, making “DAM” a feminist text that can separate a woman’s rebellion from hysteria.


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