Thursday, June 29, 2017

REVIEW: 'Queen of the South' - Camila's Cartel and the DEA Come to a Major Clash in 'El Beso De Judas'

USA's Queen of the South - Episode 2.04 "El Beso De Judas"

Teresa's loyalties are tested when she's ordered to hunt down and kill a DEA mole.

Queen of the South has been churning through a lot of plot so far this season. It has been moving very briskly with its story. It's not lingering in one moment for too long. It's not keeping secrets for as long as possible in order to drive the dramatic irony and tension. On one hand, that is refreshing. It keeps the narrative mysterious and full of momentum. But it also plays as plot twist after plot twist happening with nothing having much significance whatsoever. So, Teresa learned about Guero still being alive early in the season. She only had to keep that a secret for two episodes. And now, everything has come to a head. Camila and the DEA have their big clash in the fourth episode of the season. It's an event that does prove to be lethal. It also shakes up the status quo. Now, Guero being alive is no longer a major secret that needs to be maintained. Everyone is now aware of it while questioning where his loyalties truly lie. It's an exciting prospect for the future. One that works because Teresa was already failing to keep her relationship with him a secret from her co-workers. But now, it also leaves things uncertain for the future and how powerful each action will ultimately be for the narrative and characters overall.

All of this is essentially put into motion because Colonel Cortez who is continuing to make a power play. He's still flexing his muscles to prove to Epifanio just how controlling and powerful he really is. That ambition is largely the only thing that defines him as a character. Even Camila can sense it the moment she notices him. He's trying to create a strong cartel for Epifanio. One that shows he is still to be respected in the drug trade despite him now being Governor. He's still being targeted because of his connection to the cartels. Early in the episode, there is an assassination attempt made on his life. He watches as Colonel Cortez kills all of the men responsible - before learning who put the hit out on him. The events of the episode reveal that it was Manuel, who has been working with Camila after she freed his brother last season. Camila and Manuel have been a strong partnership ever since then. He's been a key ally for her as she has gone to war with Epifanio and tried to get her operation up and running again. And yet, it's dealt another blow here and it's entirely because of Cortez. He's not operating in the same way as everyone else. He's trying to usher in a new order. One that is scary to everyone including Epifanio.

Of course, it all feels like a bunch of random and chaotic events that are happening in order to create an intense and surprising hour too. Manuel is killed by his own brother. The brother that was broken out of his imprisonment. It turns out that that brother is actually horrible. Manuel isn't all that nice to him either - which is what ultimately fuels the double cross. It's just very surprising. It also plays as the show wanting the audience to be as surprised and stunned as Epifanio is in that moment. And yet, Manuel and his brother really aren't engaging characters whom the audience should be worried about. As such, it's a pretty lame twist. It does confirm a couple of things though. It proves that Epifanio really isn't running his cartel. Cortez is. They may cooperate when it comes to using drones to smuggle drugs into the United States. But that's about it. Epifanio was willing to work with Manuel while Cortez wanted to kill the problem right away. It also proves that Camila is more vulnerable now than ever before. She is at war with Epifanio and no longer has Manuel as protection. She's in Mexico at the moment being intimate with her family again. That still means so much to her. But it's still very dangerous for her to be in this country - especially out in the open like this.

Things aren't going so well back in Texas either. The DEA learns about the drug shipment that Camila is expecting. They know about it because Cortez convinced one of Manuel's men to hand that information to them. It's highly suspicious throughout the entire episode. Fortunately, an explanation is given after awhile. But it's largely a mystery of whether or not James will go through with this deal. He's very cautious right now. He doesn't think it's good to take on any unnecessary risk. That includes Camila going to Mexico for an unpredictable situation as well as making a drug deal knowing that the DEA has an informant. The show plays around with the idea of bad omens as well. Camila believes in them. She saw a black bird when she woke up and knew that something bad was going to happen today. James doesn't believe in that. He instead trusts his gut instinct. And yet, the show really hammers it home to the audience with a black bird being seen at the site of the deal right before the DEA comes in to make their bust. It's not all that necessary. Nor does it inform James' actions. He sees it. But then two seconds later is when the DEA starts to roll in forcing everyone to go on the run in the hopes of survival.

And yet, that final action sequence is the most exciting part of this episode. It all once again hinges around Teresa and Guero. He is there with the DEA because they believe this to be the bust that will finish Camila once and for all. This is the last job he'll have to do with them. But instead, he chooses to go with Teresa because he still loves her so much. He doesn't want to betray her. Plus, it's easy to turn against the DEA leader because he's being such an asshole about the whole thing. It's a role that John Pyper-Ferguson plays well. But it's also not that surprising when Guero ultimately kills him in order to save Teresa and prove his loyalty to her and James. Everyone is rightfully skeptical of Guero in the immediate aftermath. No one knows if they can truly trust him because he has been playing both sides. He's worked for the cartel and the DEA. He hasn't seemed very committed to either one. He's just done whatever he has needed to do in order to survive. That's what he continues to do here. He suggests a new line of product for Camila that will keep her business operational. Right now, that's the most important thing to her. All of her hard work has gone away. So now, she needs Guero's help. That's the only reason he survives. But he could still be killed at any moment. His return also means everyone will need to keep an eye on Teresa as well. She tells Camila and James she didn't know about Guero still being alive. Will she be able to maintain that lie moving forward? Or will she be outed for potential harming the organization? The DEA is still a threat even though they have suffered a critical loss as well.

Some more thoughts:
  • "El Beso De Judas" was written by Benjamin Daniel Lobato and directed by Ami Canaan Mann.
  • There is a completely unnecessary framing device to this episode as well. It opens on a tragedy that has hit a radio station because it played a song about Epifanio as Governor that he doesn't like. Then, the action rewinds to 36 hours later. But it's not an exciting tease. In fact, it's easy to forget about it until the song makes its appearance much later in the hour.
  • The song is only important because it depicts Epifanio as a cartel leader who started out young and is still going strong now despite his official job in politics. It's the thing that may finally turn Isabella against him. She looks at him with horror and disgust after listening to the lyrics. She's apparently the only person who doesn't see Epifanio for what he truly is.
  • Of course, it seems like the show is setting up for an epic rebellion by Isabella. That's boring and completely random too. She is seen flirting with another guest at the wedding. He's suppose to be charming because he's not annoying like his cousin is. And yet, that's not great character work. It doesn't make me intrigued to want more between them.
  • Pote discovers that Guero is alive and has been meeting with Teresa long before everyone else in Camila's cartel does. He learns it simply by following Teresa to the hotel room where she was suppose to see Guero again. He wasn't there but Pote demanded answers knowing that there was a rat somewhere in the organization. He's still keeping her secrets though.
  • There is a very prolonged sequence in which James and Teresa try to lure a DEA agent into a trap in order to learn the identity of the mole. Teresa is sending a bunch of texts to the woman in order for her to go away. It works in the end too. It just lasted for way too long for a conclusion that seemed very inevitable.
  • Detective Loya survives the failed DEA bust. So, that means the DEA will continue to have a presence on this show. That seemed pretty clear for awhile now since Nick Sagar is also a series regular this season. But now, he'll be personally motivated to get vengeance against Guero who double crossed him.
  • It looks like Camila's cartel may be traveling to Bolivia soon. That's where Guero's contact is who can help them get drugs into the country. That's a tease for the future. It will have to go well in order for Guero to prove his worth. If it doesn't pan out, he's dead. He won't bring Teresa down with him. But her reaction will be key as well.