QUEEN OF THE SOUTH Review: “Lirio de los Valles”

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packs a lot of action and character in “Lirio de los Valles.” Actors, directors, and editors shine through their choices. That’s the real “magic” of stage and screen and what differentiates writing or . It’s feeling and interacting with someone else’s contribution.

Queen of the South runs on high-octane action. “Lirio de los Valles” had two abductions, one escape, one shootout, two beatings, and two interrogations. That’s eight major action beats, plus all the plot exposition support scenes needed to move Teresa and Camila forward. Yet, in the middle of all this production value they still allow character choice to shine through.

QUEEN OF THE SOUTH -- "Lirio de lo Valles" Episode 104 -- Pictured: (l-r) Veronica Falcon as Camila Vargas, Peter Gadiot as James Valdez -- (Photo by: Bill Matlock/USA Network)

I’ll choose Brenda to illustrate the point. She’s been on the run with her son, Tony, since the pilot. Usually, she oscillates between anger and panic. This week she meets up with Teresa in Dallas, but we get to see her and Tony work a con for food money. It’s a hilarious bit that shows us a little of Brenda’s capability as a woman in need that also has to mother and deliver teachable moments. She describes her location to Teresa over the phone as being close to the biggest gringo supermarket she’s ever scene, “Lone Star Market,” and asks if Teresa knows the place. Teresa is following directions to her first solo drug deal and replies, “No.” We don’t see Brenda’s response, and the technical side of me thinks it was probably added in post, but we hear her say, “Are you shitting me?” that’s a great choice by all involved.

There are plenty of others. Camila has great moments throughout every episode and following her instead of Epifano Vargas is another great choice on a major story level. That isn’t a knock against actor Joaquim de Almeida, he’s been turning in great performances for decades.

Choices are also on display with the contrast between their abductions. The first abduction happens off screen. Teresa discovers Sandra, tied up by rival cartel members, through her reflection in a (convenient but artfully placed) mirror. Note: convenience is a terrible choice on the page, but art is a great choice in the scene. Teresa drops a wide kitchen knife to Sandra on the sly. Sandra uses it to cut herself free, spring to her feet, and hurl it into creepy bald-hench’s heart. Then, she grabs a revolver from the utensil drawer and pumps a few rounds into secondary hench’s center mass when he rounds the corner with his shotgun. Why is she so badass? Her son is in the house while all this is going on. We see the effects of her abduction, but we never see her victimized. It’s a great choice and a great scene for Sandra.

QUEEN OF THE SOUTH -- "Lirio de lo Valles" Episode 104 -- Pictured: Alice Braga as Teresa Mendoza -- (Photo by: Bill Matlock/USA Network)

Next, Teresa is tazed when primo-baddie Cesar spots her outside Camila’s club. This is a traditional ambush type abduction. Teresa doesn’t see it coming and she is very much the victim. Victim vs. empowerment is the engine Teresa’s character runs on, at least for now. She struggles to gain some level of control. However, when she is the victim, she makes heroic choices to curb panic. Her actions go way beyond survival, while being aware of its imminent need.

The third abduction is Cesar. He runs his mouth to Camila’s dirty cops and they unleash a beating. This is also a fairly traditional scene. Cesar is a tough guy and a baddie, he wouldn’t go peacefully. Camila sets shim free, but first she appeals to his need to go on hurting people in exchange for his life and a future alliance. She convinces him that when Vargas wins his election, one of his first acts will be purging Cesar from Sinaloa. This is a great move; Cesar already wants the narco-throne for himself and presses Teresa for the notebook.

Queen of the South is on its way to a great rookie season. The show is aware of all the fantastic competition available in different formats and makes a compelling case to watch and enjoy it in first position.

TB-TV-Grade-A
Season 1, Episode 4 (S01E04)
Queen of the South airs Thursdays at 10PM on USA

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Eric lives in a world where the television is great, the smiles are warm, the pizza is hot, the puppies are playful, and the zombies are slow and meander while he reloads.
Twitter: @Etom2012

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