Thursday, June 30, 2016

REVIEW: 'Queen of the South' - Teresa Goes on a Drug Run for Camila in 'Cuarenta Minutos'

USA's Queen of the South - Episode 1.02 "Cuarenta Minutos"

Teresa has to prove her worth to Camila. Epifanio gets closer in his hunt for Teresa. Brenda desperately tries to find Teresa and hide from the cartel.

Throughout these first two episodes, Queen of the South has proven that it can be a very entertaining and thrilling series when it focuses on its characters being on the run with life-or-death stakes. That propulsive energy is what made last week's series premiere so effective. It was a slow build getting to that point. The initial character work and romance didn't work so well. But as soon as Teresa was fighting for her life, it was a gripping journey that made for a captivating series. She ended the premiere worse off because she had gotten into this world of cartels. She was on the run from Epifanio and being held prisoner by Camila. And now, she has to find a way to survive in a harsh and unforgiving world where she could be killed at any moment. She still has her importance with the secret notebook she has hidden away. But that's a secret that really could be exposed at any moment to complicate her new life in Dallas.

More importantly, "Cuarenta Minutos" sets up that the viewers should be just as engaged with Camila's journey as they should be with Teresa's. They are polar opposites in this world. Teresa is beaten down and desperate. She has been forced to flee all she has ever known in Mexico. Her boyfriend was killed for allegedly stealing from Epifanio. She has lost everything. And now, she is trapped in a world where anything could happen to her. She's holding onto the idea that she'll one day escape this captivity and make a name for herself in the cartel. But that seems increasingly fleeting given her current circumstances. Meanwhile, Camila is at the top of the drug cartel. She's the one running the show because Epifanio has decided to run for Governor. Even if that weren't the case, it's significant that she is the one with the determined mentality for this business. She's the one who built this organization up. It has its fair share of problems that she's dealing with. But she's the one reaping the benefits and rewards of this life. She enjoys it while also being very mindful of just how small the rare moments of beauty in this world really are.

It also helps immensely that Camila and Epifanio aren't getting along right now. That's all Teresa has ever really known about the two of them. They are a couple with different aspirations for this business. He wants a personal career of legitimacy while she wants to thrive with this illegal business she has made for herself. That is the source of tension in their dynamic. Plus, Camila knows that she isn't being given the whole story with Teresa. That's completely why she keeps her around. Teresa is a mystery to her. She knows that this young woman is important. She just doesn't know how or why. She believes Epifanio is conspiring against her. So, she's being very withholding with him. She's not letting him know that she already has Teresa in her custody. She's not afraid to use his presence as a threat to get Teresa to talk. It's a tactic that doesn't produce any results though. Teresa is strong and refuses to break despite all that is happening to her. That's impressive. It's clear Camila sees something special in Teresa. And perhaps, that allows her to be more indulgent with the mystery surrounding her. She is ready to play the long game in the hopes of earning her trust.

Teresa also proves her worth to Camila's operation. She takes over as a drug mule after the girl who was originally suppose to do it collapses from a sudden drug overdose. One of the bags she swallowed burst while inside her and killed her instantly. That was such a startling moment. It immediately reminded the audience of just how unsettling this universe is suppose to be. Someone can be rational, sane and optimistic one moment and then be violently killed the next. This woman had a dream of being able to reunite with her child in El Paso. She wanted to provide a better life for her family. That's why she was doing this job. And yet, she won't be able to do that. She is just collateral damage for the group of men in charge who don't understand why this delivery system keeps failing. They need to deliver drugs to a very influential customer. But all they are getting is a bunch of dead girls. Teresa volunteers for the job largely because she has nothing left to lose. She believes that she'll survive this ordeal and take over the cartel. That's what's fueling her right now. But she could just as easily die getting to the airport to deliver the drugs. The scientists don't seem to change anything to the delivery system. It's largely just an excuse to deliver one big action sequence in the middle of the episode.

And yet, that car scene as Teresa and her new bodyguard of sorts, James, drive as fast as possible to the airport is thrilling. It shows that Teresa is just as determined to make this run successful. When they hit a roadblock, James is willing to give up. It's Teresa who pushes to keep going. That shows that James probably isn't like the rest of the men who Camila has in this facility. The hour opens with one of the guards hitting Teresa in the face with his gun. When she tries to escape, the men corner her and aggressively take her back to her cell. James is different because he shows an appreciation for life. Sure, that could be fueled by his desire to deliver the drugs. But he's also being sent up as a potential character of significance for Teresa. When she presses for personal details, he opens up to her. That signals that he should be a character the audience cares about. He is able to get Teresa to vomit up all of the drugs by spraying her in the mouth with soap. It's a brutal and nasty sequence. But it underlines just how successful this endeavor was. They succeed with passing the drugs off to the buyer. It also proves that Teresa can be incredibly calm and sensible while under extreme and life-threatening pressure.

Teresa's time with Camila represents a change within her. Camila is a symbol of the future that Teresa is destined to have. She wants to climb the ladder of this world. She wants to be the woman in charge of the cartel. She essentially wants to be Camila. That will probably keep them in close proximity over the course of the series. Meanwhile, Brenda presents Teresa's past. She was a part of the crew in Mexico who could relax and have fun together. The world of the cartel wasn't that serious because they had each other. Teresa was able to escape to a very dangerous life in Dallas. But now, Brenda is still on the run in Mexico. A twist needs to happen to justify Brenda's continued importance in this story. She is a reminder of the past that Teresa left behind. All of her other connections to the past have been killed. She is on the run because she has nothing else. Brenda is still alive though. There has to be a reason for that. Epifanio's men are still tracking her down but she has managed to elude them so far. It seems unlikely that she'll be able to do so forever. And when that happens, one can expect a lot of change to the status quo which could be very exciting.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Cuarenta Minutos" was written by Scott Rosenbaum and directed by Matthew Penn.
  • Camila also orders James to get close to Teresa. She knows Teresa is important to Epifanio for a reason. She sees a connection forming between James and Teresa. So now, she wants to exploit that to her advantage.
  • The characters are still at their best when their connection to Teresa is apparent and a part of the tension of the scene. Without her, things are less exciting. However, it is interesting to see Camila planning for the future in a financially risking move with her new lawyer, Teo (played by Mark Consuelos).
  • Running for Governor meant that Epifanio would have to take a step away from his criminal operations. And yet, that hasn't been going so well for him so far. Every time he is seen, he's directly involved with the cartel because Teresa is such a threat to him.
  • However, it's weird that Epifanio doesn't seem to be very injured at all from the car accident in the series premiere. He's back in his office making major campaign decisions while talking about Teresa with Camila.
  • Brenda's story is also hampered by the fact that she is on the run with her son who just wants to complain about being hungry. He's already a very annoying part of the story. Tragic things are coming for them and it's weird to be rooting for that to happen.