The TV version starts off slow, focusing on character development and building a sense of place. We’re in the Washington Heights of today, a famously Latino neighborhood gentrified to the point where only a few local businesses are left. Even the drug dealers have changed, but they’re still there, mostly serving a white professional class.
So when Dolores returns to her old neighborhood after serving 16 years in prison for possession with intent to distribute (and assaulting an officer), she quickly becomes desperate for anything familiar. Having inherited his father’s empanada shop, Luis fits the bill, offering her a place to stay and creepy but useful devotion.
Dolores tries to do right for a while, which is the reason for the slow plotting. All the build-up makes her first murder mean something. And the one after that. And the one after that. We know from the beginning that she’s going to become an infamous serial killer. While nothing in the early chapters makes that seem implausible, those first few episodes establish her humanity. They show us the other paths she could have taken and how difficult they would have been.
That said, the show really takes off as Dolores ramps up her body count. It gets funnier and grislier as it gets more extreme. For example, in the first half of the season, Dolores and the audience are spared the nasty details of how exactly Luis is disposing of her victims. And when the answer is viscerally revealed … well, it’s about as gross as you can imagine. Maybe worse.
And that makes the climax feel all the more earned. As things spiral out of Dolores’ control, the chaos around her becomes intense—she’s snapping necks, picking fights, and burning the whole thing down. Machado excels in this role, toggling between the willfully ignorant girlfriend to the violence-addicted mistress of her own destiny.
It’s a complete descent into madness, and while “The Horror of Dolores Roach” is certainly dark—it spends a fair amount of time in a basement after all—it’s also funny with Machado exhibiting her characteristic physical humor. Hernandez assists with a simmering nervous energy that’s ready to boil over.