Thursday, July 7, 2016

REVIEW: 'Queen of the South' - Teresa Struggles to Prove Her Loyalty to Camila in 'Estrategia De Entrada'

USA's Queen of the South - Episode 1.03 "Estrategia De Entrada"

Camila sends Teresa out on a major drug operation to test her loyalty. In secret, Camila makes her first big move to take over Epifanio's cartel. Brenda plots her escape to America.

The first two episodes of Queen of the South used chase sequences in order to ramp up the tension. It was a very effective way to liven up both of the episodes. Those moments have been the best parts of the show so far. "Estrategia De Entrada" doesn't feature a sequence of Teresa running against the clock in order to stay alive in this cruel and unforgiving world. That's not an inherently bad thing either. Those moments have been great so far. And yet, they don't establish character. The actions that build to those moments do. Those little details need to have stakes as well in order for the audience to care about the characters - especially when they are thrown into life-or-death situations. This episode slows things down in the sense that Teresa isn't driving away from a situation that could kill her. But it's still fairly intense as Teresa has to take on more responsibility in Camila's cartel while also trying to help Brenda back in Mexico. It's tension deeply rooted in the characters. That's a very encouraging scene that the show wants to be more than just a tense action thriller every week. It can still be that but it has the potential for more as well.

Camila has tasked James with getting close to Teresa. He has no real knowledge of just how important she must be. He sees her as just another girl becoming a drug mule for this operation. Teresa is so much more important than that. James cautions her to just fade into the background. She should only do jobs when asked and don't give Camila any reason to really notice her. And yet, Camila is always watching her. Yes, she has her eyes on the bigger picture of running this cartel and hurting Epifanio's business. But she is very concerned with Teresa - to the point where it's ruining her relationship with her own daughter. Camila needs to be in Dallas watching Teresa closely. She needs to know if this girl has the potential to ruin everything she is trying to build. The business means everything to her. She built it up with Epifanio's help and didn't want to leave it behind just because he wanted to be Governor. She doesn't share that ambition. She just wants to be the head of the strongest cartel in Texas. Teresa forces Camila to be aware of what Epifanio is up to. It's only because of his interest in her that Camila knows that Teresa is special. But that essentially renders James' advice meaningless. Teresa can't just blend into this world. She's too important and shrouded in mystery for that to happen. James doesn't know though so he's puzzled by what Camila keeps doing with Teresa.

And yet, Teresa couldn't make herself insignificant if she wanted to. She made quite the impression during the big drug run in last week's episode. That got her a promotion in Camila's cartel. Camila is no longer torturing her and trying to find out what Epifanio wants with her. Those mysteries still persist but she's investigating them in other ways. That's very smart of her. She's pulling Teresa closer into the operation in the hopes that she will become loyal to her and help her take down Epifanio. This is a lifestyle that Teresa wants and enjoys. Even when she was just the girlfriend, she was fascinated by the danger of this world. She knew it was a life that would likely end in brutal murder. The show doesn't have to remind the audience of that by wistful glimpses of the love Teresa and Guero used to have together before all of this went awry. It's much more interesting to stay in the present than look back on the past and what life used to be. It's exciting to watch her continue to make her stand in the cartel. She refuses to be insignificant. She wants her presence to be known that way Camila can't cast her aside so easily.

So, Teresa is very forceful and determined on the latest run she does with James. She pushes to be a part of the operation even though she has no training for what to do in the field. She gets the opportunity solely because Camila wants to test her. She wants to know if she can be an asset and if she'll snitch on her if given the chance. It's thrilling and tense when Teresa is taken by DEA agents during the big drug trade. Telling them about Camila's operation could get her out of this dangerous world. Sure, it could send her right back to Mexico to deal with Epifanio again. But at least, she wouldn't be a prisoner of sorts any longer. Of course, she has had a certain amount of independence while working for Camila as well. She is allowed into the real world unsupervised. She is no longer trying to run. That's significant. As much as she is trying to run to safe her life, she loves this world and wants to embrace it even more. So, she doesn't snitch on Camila. It's a good thing too because it was just a test by Camila to test her loyalty. It was cruel, ruthless and manipulative. It shows that Camila isn't someone to be messed with.

Teresa shows her worth as well though. It's only because of her skills and need to be an important part of this drug deal that she catches the money mistake. The buyer is shorting them on the funds. That's a huge issue that James and Camila should know about. So, Teresa ensures that they get paid the full amount for these drugs. Yes, it's a sequence entirely about how much a real dollar bill weighs. That's a weird detail to build tension around. But it's still meaningful because it shows Teresa has skills that can be beneficial to this operation in more ways than simply being a drug mule. She knows how to read people as well. That's how she catches this massive mistake that would have taken $50,000 dollars away from Camila. Of course, it builds to another test as well. What does Teresa want done to the person responsible for stealing this money? It's a bit too naive of her to think they can just do nothing. That doesn't particularly track well with the character we've seen for three episodes now. She's not a cold-hearted murderer. That's important. This lifestyle hasn't corrupted her to that point yet. But how in the world did she think they could just do nothing? That just doesn't make a whole lot of sense at all.

All of this largely just sets up a final lecture from Camila about how woman can't be weak for a moment in this business. They have to be even more cruel and ruthless than the men. That's a fascinating story angle that the show should embrace more. Camila and Teresa are the ones who want to be in this business. It excites them. They know what they want and are going after it. The men are the ones questioning every decision they make. James wants to know why Teresa is so eager to be a part of this operation when she doesn't have to be. Meanwhile, Camila's lawyer Teo worries about the consequences of this new transaction that Camila is making that could really affect Epifanio. The women know what they are doing. That's a strong mission statement for the show. And they'll only be growing and getting more complicated as the season develops as well. Right now, their relationship may be dominated by mystery and uncertainty but they could really learn and help each other a lot - with the business potentially growing because of it.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Estrategia De Entrada" was written by Scott Rosenbaum and directed by Scott Peters.
  • Teresa also can't do nothing right now because she needs to help Brenda and her son. They are still struggling to survive in Mexico. Teresa gets in contact with them again telling them to get to Dallas. So, it should be interesting to see if Teresa will be able to help them once they arrive.
  • After three episodes, it has gotten tiring to see Brenda and her son on the run from Epifanio's men in Mexico. It has basically been the same story in every episode so far. It needs a change of pace. Teresa helping them was important. But Brenda needs her own purpose as well. Right now, she's still a distraction.
  • Camila trusts James with many of her drug operations on the ground. She also trusts him to get close to Teresa. And yet, she isn't letting him in on everything she knows about Teresa or what she's doing with her. He didn't know about the loyalty test and was just as shocked as Teresa was when it happened.
  • Camila also gets more of Teresa's story from an investigator she hires to see just how concerned she should be about this girl. The broad strokes of her story are nothing new. But it is important that Epifanio has men looking for her in every border state. So, that's enough for Camila to know she means something to Epifanio.
  • And yet, why doesn't Camila order someone to search the gas station where Teresa was first found? Teresa left that book with all of the secrets there. That has to become important sooner or later this season. But it has largely remained a plot thread the show has chosen not to talk about since then. That's odd.