In essence, Car Wash is a corruption scandal of immense proportions that has involved scores of Brazilian politicians and business people. It actually did first get uncovered at a car wash in Brasilia, where laundered money was changing hands, and grew from there. Much of it centered around the huge semi-public Brazilian oil company Petrobras and how Petrobras officials colluded with nearly every major large contracting company in Brazil to overcharge Petrobras for construction contracts that led to bribes and kickbacks. The wealthiest and most powerful business figures in Brazil were involved as well as politicians from various parties. The investigation eventually led to the impeachment and removal from office of one Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, and the jailing of her predecessor, Lula da Silva, though whether the lead judge in the investigation, initially considered a hero by many in Brazil for helping to bring down so many rich and powerful figures, retained his impartiality throughout the process is another question. It's a very complicated story, and as a matter of fact, Car Wash, after 5 years, remains ongoing. A telling fact is that in September of 2017, the Miami Herald reported that when the Car Wash investigation started, 10,000 electronic monitoring bracelets were in use in Brazil for home detention purposes. By late 2017, more than 24,000 electronic bracelets were in use.
I had followed the events of Car Wash a bit through the news the last few years, so I knew the basics about it as I watched The Edge of Democracy. After watching the film and posting about it, I read up on it more. I also got a text from a friend asking whether I knew the series, The Mechanism, and when I said no, he described it as a Brazilian procedural with a historical backdrop that dramatizes the Car Wash investigation. Well, now I just finished watching the series - 2 seasons, 16 episodes - on Netflix, and I enjoyed it immensely.
Shot throughout Brazil, The Mechanism (O Mecanismo, in Portugese) was created by Elena Soarez (a co-writer for the series) and Jose Padilha. Padilha I knew of course from his Elite Squad films, his great doc Bus 174, and his Robocop remake. He is also a producer of Narcos. The Mechanism has a large cast, - people portraying business figures, politicians, black market bankers, cops, judges, prosecutors, family members of politicians, children and spouses of cops, and so on - and every person cast is spot-on in their role. Despite the convolutions of the various plots, which reflect the complexity of the schemes that Car Wash uncovered, the series proceeds with an impressive clarity and speed. Each episode starts with a disclaimer saying that the series is loosely based on a true story, but it is in fact quite easy to connect the characters and companies depicted to real people and companies from Car Wash.
One interesting thing: if you have not seen The Mechanism and have any interest in doing so, I'd recommend watching The Edge of Democracy first. The Edge of Democracy presents the political events that were enmeshed in Car Wash from a certain vantage point (which to me was persuasive), but The Mechanism does not view some of the key players in the drama, or the entire scandal itself, in precisely the same way. While The Edge of Democracy has a leftist viewpoint and posits that Car Wash became, in part, a way for the right to oust the left from power in Brazil, The Mechanism insists that, as Padilha says, "The whole thing is corrupt. Anyone who defends one gang against the other gang, because we're talking about a war of gangs, it's not a war of ideology or political parties, so anyone who jumps on the bandwagon of one of those gangs for ideological reasons is just naive".
Who is right? I can't answer that definitively. Perhaps both the documentary and the series present something that is true - a scandal that involved both the left and the right in Brazil, though within that scandal there maybe were yet other corruptions of power and perversions of justice that led to a political result that one party aimed to achieve.
Regardless, if want to watch a really good procedural that does have a fascinating political/historical backdrop, watch The Mechanism.