Soon after the series premiered, some Brazilians, mostly on the left, declared on social media that they would boycott Netflix. The plea to “stop the bleeding,” critics have charged, is a sign of the show’s shaky relationship with the truth. Lula himself may soon sue the network. (On what grounds, he hasn’t said.) Rousseff’s team, meanwhile, distributed a statement to journalists over WhatsApp pointing to the reassigned line and a number of other inaccuracies in the show that tarnished Lula. In the statement, she likened the series to “a movie where Winston Churchill makes a deal with Adolf Hitler to attack the United States.”
Padilha told me that the “bleeding” line wasn’t lifted from the Jucá recording at all; Jucá is “not the only one that uses that expression. A lot of people use it,” he said. He argued that the real problem is not the language his show used, but the alleged crimes committed by Rousseff and Temer's governments. “It would have been better if [the controversy] didn't happen. But the larger and really important debate won't end there. The people aren't that naive,” Padilha said.
Not everyone buys his explanation. “If that was on accident, the show’s creators didn’t pay much attention in 2016,” Celso Rocha de Barros, a columnist at Brazil's Folha de S.Paulo newspaper, told me. He said that the putative error aligns all too perfectly with a contemporary right-wing narrative about the corruption investigation—that Lula and the PT are behind a plot to stop Lava Jato. “I fully believe in the possibility of artistic recreation, and the show doesn’t seem to be ‘right-wing propaganda’ like some say. But [the ‘bleeding’ phrase] seems really important now, since there’s a big effort to blame Lula for the possible end of Lava Jato.” Rocha de Barros acknowledged that Lula himself, like much of the rest of the political class, probably would have liked to see the investigation stop. But the only ones who could end Lava Jato now would be the men who took power when Rousseff was booted—not the PT.
Once more Brazilians made their way through the show, a broader interpretation of O Mecanismo emerged: its target was not the left, but Brazilian politics itself. The show portrays all elected officials in Brazil as inherently guilty, and rejects the entire system—or “mechanism.” A character based on Aécio Neves, the center-right candidate who narrowly lost to Rousseff in 2014, is a whiskey-guzzling playboy, journalist Luciana Coelho noted. He and Temer’s fictional counterpart celebrate their plan to stop the investigations—something which, unlike Jucá Romero’s taped conspiracy plan, probably never happened.
“Brazil is going through a moment where people are justifiably furious with the political class. But to paint all politicians with the same brush is dangerous because that implies the system itself is broken and there’s no hope. Which, of course, paves the way for people to reject democracy entirely—which many Brazilians are doing right now,” Brian Winter, the editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly, told me. “The risk in Brazil right now is an authoritarian [getting] elected by arguing that all politicians are corrupt thieves. So it bothers me that the pop-culture hit of the moment—during an election year—is making precisely that argument.”