Did you catch the premiere episode of Queen of the South which aired on the USA Network on Thursday. A better title might have been The Never-ending Story (which has been used before) because, yes – this is yet another story about the drug trade.
Following along the same path as the Oscar nominated Sicario (which opened last October) and the Netflix Original Series Narcos which also aired last fall, The Queen of the South takes the path less traveled. This time the head of a drug cartel is a woman.
As the series opens we watch a woman, who is dressed elegantly as well as expensively, step down from her own private helicopter. She will tell us that she is the head of the largest drug empire in the Western Hemisphere. Her name is Teresa Mendoza, and her role is played by Alice Braga.
****SOME SPOILERS AHEAD****
Like Tony Montana in Brian De Palma’s Scarface, Teresa began in the streets. Montana washed dishes in a greasy spoon in Little Havana (Miami), and Teresa worked as a street side money changer. She caught the eye of one El Guero, a captain in the cartel hierarchy.
Of course it was love at first sight. And in minutes Teresa and El Guero are living it up in an elegant home. There’s a double reference to Scarface as we watch Teresa in a huge bubble bath watching a video with Al Pacino saying Say hello to my little frien…
There’s also something that El Guero gives Teresa. I’ll call it the Take Me and Run bag. It has lots of cash, a passport, a gun, a book of drug business secrets, and of course, a phone. Just the sort of thing Jason Bourne always has lying around. Guero tells Teresa – Keep this phone. If it ever rings, it means I am dead. And when you have to – trade this journal for your life.
Ominous? Certainly. And even more certain is that, at some point, Teresa will have to hit the streets on the run. You see, Guero and another distributor, have gotten greedy. Stealing from the cartel’s supply, they’ve branched out to do some business on the side. A definite no-no.
The head of the cartel is one Epifanio Vargas played by the familiar (and always great) Joaquim de Almeida. But he has political aspirations. He wants to step out of the cartel business and become legitimate, like a politician. He wants to become Governor of the Mexican state of Sinaloa.
But his wife, Camilia Vargas – played by Veronica Falcón, who actually runs the operational side of the cartel’s business, wants to stay in business. She tells Epifanio that she is staying in business and will relocate to America. She hands him her wedding ring and says, Consider this our divorce. I’ll call you once I get settled. Don’t try to find me.
Then one day, that phone rings. Teresa, you don’t know me. Guero is dead. You have to leave the house right now. And right now is almost not enough time. She flees and picks up her girl friend who’s husband was a friend of Guero, and in the business himself. Too late, as we watch his brains blown out of one side of his head.
Teresa and her gal pal make a run for it. There’s a chase, a car explodes, tons of bullets are fired. Teresa manages to stay out of harm’s way long enough to call Epifanio for help.
She pleads for his help. He arrives with his driver and off they go.
This was a huge mistake on the part of Teresa. A while later the car is out in the desert. It occurs to Teresa that she hasn’t long to live. She tells Epifanio that she knows nothing and hasn’t read the journal. He already knows that because if she had, she would have never called him.
At this point I will stop. You can already figure it out for yourself that Teresa is not going to die today.
She gets away and finds herself at a place where her wounds are treated.
Soon a SUV pulls up, and Teresa is taken away. She’s driven somewhere, and once events have slowed down, she will meet Camilia Vargas.
Where am I?, Teresa asks. Dallas, Texas says Camilia. Welcome to America.
That’s it for the pilot. I think this show has a good chance for success. We’ve seen plenty of films with a strong woman as the protagonist. But this film, has two women at the top of the drug business. Usually, in drug films women are either victims, or eye candy. Not this time.
Although Braga has appeared in some major films like I am Legend with Will Smith, and Elysium with Matt Damon and Jodie Foster, she did not get star billing in either of those films. This time, she is the featured actress, and I believe she has ability to convincingly portray a boss of a cartel.
The pilot had kind of a different structure in that Braga’s Teresa is able to see her self in the present and yet hear and take advice from herself speaking to her from the future. It may sound a bit more complicated than it actually is. Basically it is more easily described as being able to visualize.
The violence is strong so be warned. This isn’t a series for the kids. There are 13 episodes in this the first season. USA Network had provided us with the three seasons of Graceland these past three summers. This time, instead of the focus being on the undercover agents working the cases, the focus will be on the criminals.
The next episode airs next Thursday (June 30th) at 10:00 PM Eastern, Check out the trailer: