QUEEN OF THE SOUTH blasts across the southern border with a promising “Piloto.” I’m not familiar with the original show but USA’s version is off to a great start. This drama is built around spectacular on screen talent and a fertile storytelling garden of crime.
Teresa Mendoza, a poor young woman is swept off the street of Sinaloa by a charming and respectful drug runner/pilot named Guero. Teresa never had much of a family and takes to Guero, his cousin Chino and Brenda. Brenda is friendly and Chino is likable, but a little daft. “Piloto” zips through time a little to abbreviate Guero’s rise in his organization. There are just a few elements important from these lost years.
Movie and television criminals rely on two major elements; motive and empowerment. Bad cops may be motivated by power and empowered by their badge. Hired guns might be motivated by greed but empowered by a big gun, violence, or terror. Often times, baddies are shorted one of these elements on screen. We know Teresa loves Guero and we agree he’s worthy of that love. Setting aside the drug dealer occupation, he treats Teresa well and they build a life together. Her motivation to escape her rape and execution is revenge for destroying the good part of her life.
Teresa’s drugs world splits into two important teams. Guero’s initial boss, Don Epifanio, runs for Governor and hands day to day cartel operations over to his aggressive first choice, Cesar. Epifanio’s wife, Camila leaves him during the transition. She helped build his Cartel and has no desire to dance around the Governor’s mansion. Good for her and better for Teresa. When things go bad, Camila empowers Teresa, resourcing her revenge. This is what we’ll be seeing this season.
“Piloto” employs two devices. First, there is a pointless voice over narration. Nothing against voice over, but here it fuels those who argue VO isn’t necessary. We don’t learn anything Alice Braga isn’t showing us on screen. The other device is visits from the future Teresa; fabulous, drug lord, Queen of the South. This phantom is great for no other reason than we get to see Braga play the same character at two points in the same journey. Future Teresa guides beaten and bloody Teresa where they are going.
Guero is killed in an ambush because Chino is caught skimming product and selling on the side. Chino is also executed, but Teresa gets to Brenda and their son, Tony in time for an escape. Guero had prepared a bug-out bag and a leverage book for Teresa in case she ever needed it. Teresa remembers and grabs it when she goes on the run. It’s supposed to buy her protection with Don Epifanio, the Governor, but he turns on her. Teresa escapes Epifanio’s driver and SUV. She leaves him wounded in the desert and limps off to an ancient service station where she is abducted by Camila’s men. Again, thinking on her feet, Teresa hides the book full of dirty secrets in the women’s room before Camila’s men get to her.
Camila quickly surmises that a living Teresa is an embarrassment to Don Epifanio. This is reason alone to keep her alive for now. Teresa started in the streets of Sinaloa and ends up in Dallas, a pawn in Camila’s cartel and a danger to Epifanio’s new life.
Season 1, Episode 01 (S01E01)
Queen of the South airs Thursdays at 10PM on USA
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.
Eric Rodriguez | Contributor