Thursday, June 8, 2017

REVIEW: 'Queen of the South' - Teresa Expands Her Role in Camila's Criminal Operation in 'El Cuerpo De Cristo'

USA's Queen of the South - Episode 2.01 "El Cuerpo De Cristo"

Teresa brokers a deal with an eccentric smuggler. Camila struggles to rebuild her empire. Epifanio takes on a new partner he may not be able to control.

Queen of the South in its first season proved that it could be an effective action show if not a particularly deep or meaningful one. It has a terrific female empowerment message despite it being about the control of a Mexican cartel. And yet, it's incredibly formulaic as well. The series premiere opened with Teresa's husband, Guero, getting killed which forced her to go on the run. And yet, the audience never saw a dead body. We did with Brenda's husband but not with Guero. So, it wasn't particularly surprising to see Guero pop up alive and well (and working with the DEA) in the season finale. It was the expected twist. Moreover, Teresa has had to do a lot of morally compromising things since she went on the run. A lot of stuff has happened to her too. Key moments that will shape her into her future self. But the show didn't really want to linger on her sexual assault or her killing a guy or her getting her best friend killed. As such, it could be easy to grow either numbed to these dramatic events or see them as exciting action moments and twists. Both would be somewhat awkward. As such, Queen of the South has yet to make the full transition into a great show. The potential was there. However, "El Cuerpo De Cristo" largely feels like the same exact thing instead of something demonstrably better.

The audience also knows that Teresa is destined to become the head of an international drug operation sometime in the future. The very first moments of the series were her enjoying that comfortable life but it also being her destiny to be killed because of it. It set her on this tragic trajectory. This is the life she is determined to chase. She chose to remain with Camila at the end of the first season. And now, she sees herself as a full partner in this criminal operation. So, it's onward and upward for her despite everything she lost last year. This season begins with another trip to the future as well. It's not a continuation of her ominous death from the series premiere. Instead, it's her monologuing to the audience about needing to choose business over love. It's not all that wise or insightful. That quality has always been a part of this particular genre. It's important that it's a Latina woman saying it in this moment. But it offers little more than that. Plus, her sex scene is a little too confusing. Is the audience suppose to believe that the man she is with is either Guero or James? His identity is kept a mystery. Is that a tease that things will become romantic for Teresa in the near future but she'll eventually need to turn on him as well? It's a similar story to what's happening with Camila and Epifanio. And yet, the audience actually gets to see their marriage and its nuances. With Teresa in the future, it's just another tease that there may be something more going on but probably not.

Back in the present, the action picks up immediately where Season 1 ended. Epifanio has burned Camila's criminal operation to the ground because she kicked him out. As such, things are tense. And yet, they may not be as intense as you may expect. It's a big deal that Camila, Teresa, James and Pote have to go to a safe house that Epifanio doesn't know about. James even says they may be there for awhile. And yet, the rest of the premiere sees these characters moving about this world with very little concern about their safety. It's weird. It essentially plays as the show wanting to set up its various new plot threads as soon as possible. It does that in this premiere. As such, it's a little awkward and forced too. Plus, the addition of Ryan O'Nan as an eccentric gangster, King George, is just incredibly silly. It's already so difficult to take that character seriously. He is literally only wearing skimpy swimwear the first time the audience sees him. And from then on, he's just one-note in his sexism and misogyny. Those qualities can still be a part of the character. But right now, he's just kind of a stereotypical gangster who will only do business with the Vargas Cartel if they bring someone to him. Teresa and James have to rush through a kidnapping and subsequent murder in this premiere as well. It's a lot to handle and makes it so none of these events really land in an emotional or grounded place that will have ramifications for the characters.

Yes, it's important that Teresa is given a moment to mourn Brenda's death. That twist wasn't all that surprising either because Justina Machado had already booked the lead role on Netflix's One Day at a Time remake before it aired. So, it was only a matter of time before she was killed off. Her death needs to mean something because of all the time the first season gave to her. It could force Teresa to look out for Brenda's son, Tony. And yet, it seems like she has completely forgotten about the kid. He just isn't important to her at all. So, the show could just be cutting out this entire portion of the narrative and pretending that it's no longer worth caring about. Again, that's very weird. It wants this loss to be emotional and important for Teresa's character arc. It's because of it that she commits herself to Camila and hands over the book with all the cryptic information that literally no one understands. That book has become such an annoying plot device because it could reveal something completely ridiculous and unexpected at a moment's notice. That could be a lot of fun. The anticipation could be exciting. But right now, it's simply something the characters talk about a lot with very little payoff. Camila has it now. She's not really doing anything with it either. She's too focused on trying to rebuild her empire and deal with Epifanio's betrayal.

Of course, the dynamic between Camila and Epifanio continues to be great. They really are going to war with each other. That seemed clear at the end of last season. But right now, it's presented as a choice. It's a really twisted choice that describes their dynamic. They can either stay married and go to war or get a divorce and return to peaceful co-existence. It's presented as Camila not having the strength to sign the papers because she does love her family. But she doesn't because she wants to fight a war to prove to Epifanio how all of this is rightfully hers. Epifanio has always had these political ambitions. He left the cartel but always saw it as his. He felt betrayed whenever someone did something that went against what he wanted. He saw Camila's actions as her doing stuff just to rile him up. It worked but Camila did them because she loves being in the drug business. She wants to be the head of the cartel. On some level, she does care what Epifanio thinks about what she's done. But he's just one part of her life. She has so much more going on. Epifanio does as well. He gets into a questionable situation in this premiere as well with a new partner who is willing to kill Batman just to prove his strength. All of this could be enticing in the future. Right now, it's just purely in setup mode.

Some more thoughts:
  • "El Cuerpo De Cristo" was written by Natalie Chaidez and directed by David Boyd.
  • I cared so little about Batman that I didn't even know that his nickname was Batman. In hindsight, it's weird that the show named two characters Batman and Birdman. That could have been really confusing. And yet, Batman didn't really do anything. He played the sides with Camila and Epifanio but ultimately chose Epifanio. After that, he was just another body in that corner of the world. He won't really be missed.
  • Similarly, Pote wasn't an important character last season. He was the man who stood to the side as Teresa was getting raped. His partner got a bullet to the face. And now, he's aligned himself with the woman who pulled the trigger. However, he seems like he'll be more important this season because he's still a part of Teresa's life in the future.
  • Does Guero still care about Teresa? He left her behind for this horrible new life. She got pulled into the world he was escaping from. He's cooperating with the DEA though the agents wish he was more forthcoming with information. He does lead them to the main warehouse from last season. He knows Teresa was there. But his motivations still seem too murky at the moment.
  • Teresa is earning Camila's trust though. She is now loyal to her. She is willing to survive for her. It's because of Teresa that they are able to make this deal with King George. She has her doubts later on but she's putting in the effort now as a full and complicit partner. However, it's still important that Camila doesn't trust her fully quite yet. She still believes she's hiding something from her.
  • The inconsistencies with when the characters speak English and when they speak Spanish is still very annoying. It's still completely random. It makes no sense at all and really does take me out of the story a little bit. It makes it so it doesn't have that layer of authenticity to it.
  • The framing device with Teresa seeing the Queen version of himself is still incredibly pointless as well. Seeing that version of the character is important with the glimpses of the future. But when Teresa sees her in the present, it's presented as the voice in her head to keep her aspiring for more in this world. But she largely just delivers cliched lines about needing to do whatever it takes to survive.