Thursday, June 22, 2017

REVIEW: 'Queen of the South' - Teresa and James Try to Stop Epifanio's Drug Plans in 'Un Pacto Con El Diablo'

USA's Queen of the South - Episode 2.03 "Un Pacto Con El Diablo"

On a mission to destroy Epifanio's drug smuggling tunnels, Teresa and James come face-to-face with a group of American border vigilantes.

"Un Pacto Con El Diablo" has a very critical flaw to its main story. The show robs it of any dramatic tension and uncertainty because the audience is already aware of something the characters don't know. This episode is suppose to play as Camila delivering a crushing blow to Epifanio's new drug operation. James and Teresa are able to blow up the underground tunnel that he was planning on using to bring drugs into Texas. He will not be able to flood the market and push Camila out before she even has a chance to get her own operation up and running. It's a story with life-or-death stakes to it. Will Teresa and James be able to complete this task? Or will members of the border patrol or Epifanio's own men stop them? First, it's a little nonsensical that a cartel would only have one smuggling route into the country. That just seems like a poor business plan. It would prove crippling to the operation if law enforcement ever discovered it because it's literally the only one. That's something the audience is just suppose to accept. But more importantly, it's inevitable that Teresa and James succeed in this mission. But it's also inevitable that it's not going to make a bit of difference. Even before that explosion happens, Epifanio is already putting a new strategy into place. He's intrigued by the prospect of using drones to smuggle drugs into the United States. That prospect is introduced long before all of the complications at the border. So, it robs most of the story of its dramatic potential. The audience is never in fear that these actions will ultimately do anything to hurt the other characters. Instead, it's largely just something for the characters to do this week.

Of course, the show is trying to be very topical with its subject matter as well. Border security and drug smuggling have become crucial issues in real life. So, this hour does set out to show how the two sides are evolving. The tactics in border patrol are changing while the ways cartels are getting drugs across the border are getting more imaginative. It shows that someone in the creative team is thinking outside the box. The show in its first season was very conventional with its cartel story. It depicted these characters and their actions in the same way that many stories have across the years. It echoes reality so it's not completely surprising or boring. But it is smart to recognize that this story takes place in 2017 and the rules for all of this stuff are changing. Cartels are using new technology and laws so that they don't have to use tunnels in order to transport drugs into the country. Meanwhile, there are vigilante groups that have sprung up on this side of the border that will do anything to combat illegal immigration. These are strong ideas in theory. In the execution though, it's very wonky. The border vigilantes especially are too one-note and cringe-worthy bad. It's the appeal of anti-immigrant rhetoric without any kind of nuance or subtlety. As such, it makes that story drag even more. Meanwhile, the Epifanio side of things is just a tease of something more inventive in the future while reaffirming that Epifanio can be menacing and lethal as well.

All of this essentially means that the main story of this episode doesn't really work. As such, the personal dynamics needed to be more exciting in order to liven up this hour. That part of the narrative does work better. It's all building to the choices that Teresa and Guero will have to make in the immediate future. They are two lovers on opposing sides of a war. Teresa is standing with Camila while Guero has become a part of the DEA's investigation into the cartels. The hour opens with a reminder to the audience of the life they used to have together. It's an important glimpse of the fantasy they used to be in. It's them aspiring to a life that will never come true for them. That's the tragedy of the situation. The fact that it was their last conversation is a little melodramatic and manipulative. It's nice to see that day from Guero's perspective as well. The DEA saved his life and he was able to warn Teresa to leave. But he hasn't been all that cooperative to them in the time since. And now, there is still that fantasy element to their relationship. They believe they can sneak away and be with each other without their respective bosses knowing. Of course, the DEA were smart enough to be tailing Guero. That means Teresa gets approached by them with an offer. That means they'll have to be wiser and smarter in the future. Something that is possible with Teresa because she has proven just how smart and cunning she can be. With Guero, it's still a little unclear what his motivations actually are. Is he just trying to reunite with Teresa? As of right now, that's about it.

Teresa's gaining the loyalty and trust from Camila as well. Her actions this week actually help her with the business. Blowing up the tunnel and making sure that James survives proves that to Camila. She has always been a woman who values actions over words. She's appreciative of Teresa for what she has done even though she's still skeptical about her overall and where she may go with her newfound freedom. And yet, Camila still gives that to Teresa. She is free to roam this world. It's a risk because she could be talking with the DEA. She has already been approached by them. So has Camila's new lawyer, Cole, who has proven his loyalty as well. Everyone is a little suspicious of Teresa at the moment. James knows that she wants to do right by and protect Brenda's son while Pote knows that Teresa lied about her car overheating. However, those two men are still loyal to her. Pote has actually been the one ensuring her protection while still warning her about the danger her actions could have if not careful. Meanwhile, James has been the one teaching her more about the criminal operation. He frequently pulls her into danger. She almost dies from a rare scorpion bite. But she's still loyal to the cause. She has made that decision to keep fighting because this is the life she wants. She doesn't want anything to change or compromise that.

Of course, Guero may be nothing more than a physical reminder of the past. He wanted out of this life. He wanted to be on a beach enjoying some drinks with his beautiful wife. That was the life he wanted. It's still the aspiration. But now, Teresa is aspiring for more power and control in the drug trade. She wants to be the queen of the cartel. It's a life that the audience knows will actually happen. So how does Guero fit into all of this? Will he be able to change and continue to be a part of her life? That's the decision he has to make right now. If so, it means he has to stop working for the DEA. He would have to come into the fold with Teresa and Camila. He would have to start working in a cartel once more. Is that a life he wants? He's going to have to make that decision very soon. Teresa basically tells him as such. She has made her choice. This is what she wants. She still has so much love for Guero. She's happy that he is still alive. She thought she lost him. And now, she has a second chance with him if things haven't changed too much. A lot has happened in the three months since she had to go on the run. But they've still found a way back to each other. Is that romantic? Or is it just twisting of the knife even more? It's purposefully ambiguous. It would be wise of the show not to linger in the uncertainty for too long. Right now, it's effective. But Guero needs to make his decision soon so the narrative can actually embrace that moving forward.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Un Pacto Con El Diablo" was written by Dailyn Rodriguez and directed by Eduardo Sanchez.
  • It definitely feels like more time is being spent on Isabella this season. She's in the middle of the war between her parents even more now. Last season she was off at school far removed from everything. She just needed to pop up for occasional phone calls. But now, she's actually living with her father and actively ignoring her mother's calls. That makes her seem more important.
  • Plus, the events of this episode happen on Isabella's birthday. Epifanio is still conducting business. She believes her father to be a respectable politician now and not a cartel leader like her mother. She thinks he's legitimate now even though he's threatening people just a few feet away from her. That naivety will get old very quickly.
  • Colonel Cortez has been an intriguing new addition this season. It gives Epifanio someone to talk to about his criminal enterprise. And yet, the two of them aren't friendly at all. They are very threatening to one another. That's engaging. It shows the difference between the two cartels at war. Camila's doesn't have strength but it has unity while Epifanio's has strength but bickering leaders.
  • Last season it was problematic for Teo that he was spending so much time and attention on Camila as a client when the firm didn't like her reputation. And yet, Cole was his boss and is now the man in charge of her legal representation. He's more than fine blurring the line of what's legal and what's not. It's him ensuring he has as many powerful friends as possible.
  • This show really doesn't have a whole lot of humor to it. It's very consistent with its tone. It's a perfectly fine tone. It just doesn't vary much which can be annoying in an episode where the main story doesn't work. And yet, the beat where Pote tries to eat healthier is very amusing. Perhaps the show should have more moments like that in the future.