Queen of the South is the USA network’s newest series and it stars Alice Braga as the fictional cocaine queenpin Teresa Mendoza. This is a remake of the wildly popular telenovela La Reina del Sur (starring Kate del Castillo) which in turn was based on the 2002 novel of the same name by Arturo Pérez-Reverte.
In a nutshell, the pilot follows Mendoza’s introduction into a cartel, led by Epifanio Varga (Joaquim de Almeida) and his wife Camila (Veronica Falcón). Her lover El Guero (Jon-Michael Ecker) is murdered by Epifanio’s righthand man “Batman.”
Before he dies, Guero is ambushed by Federales who destroy the Cessna. He gives Teresa a bag with cocaine, money, a passport, a book he says will save her life, and a gun.
If she needs anything else, Guero says, she just needs to ask. Mendoza picks up the gun and tells her lover, “Show me how to use this.”
Time passes and ironically Teresa is watching the 1983 film Scarface when she learns of Guero’s death. She tries to warn her friend Brenda (Justina Machado) who fails to save her husband Chino. The two women, and Brenda’s son, flee the house in a hail of bullets. Teresa does knock the gunmen, Gato and Pote, down with the car.
After getting caught in an ambush Teresa once again outsmarts the men who want to kill her, Brenda and Tony. She makes it to the safe house and grabs the bag Guero left her. Teresa starts looking at the book when Gato and Pote arrive. Gato (James Martinez) slaps Mendoza and then rapes her. Pote (Hemky Madera) leaves the room in disgust.
Teresa lays on the bed as Gato violates her. She sees herself in a vision. The future Mendoza tells her, “Go on honey. You know what to do.” She does, pulling the gun from the bag, she shoots Gato in the neck.
Pote renters the room and Teresa holds him off with the gun. Collecting her clothes and the bag, she flees the room naked from the waist down. She calls Epifanio, who is now governor, and forces him to help her.
As they are driving away, something changes and Mendoza realizes that once again she must help herself. The future Mendoza returns and tells Teresa to think of something fast.
Pulling two guns and aiming one at Epifanio and the other at the driver, she and the Don struggle. She shoots the driver in the head and the SUV crashes. Refusing to help Epifanio, she limps off into the desert and stumbles across a gas station.
After the proprietor treats her wounds Teresa uses the restroom. She can hear a vehicle arrive so she hides the book. Two men come in and capture her. Later she finds herself in a warehouse. She is put into a caged area and before Epifanio’s wife Camila arrives to question her she cuts the ties on her wrists.
When Camila comes in, she spots the broken mirror and the blood. Retrieving the shard of glass and wrapping Teresa’s hand; Camila and Mendoza talk. Don Epifanio did not die in the crash and Camila realizes she knows Teresa.
Mendoza is allowed to live and learns she is in Dallas, Texas, in America.
Queen of the South has Braga narrating the first episode and while this device is often overused or even distracting (or annoying) it works here. Not having seen the original telenovela with del Castillo it is not known if this was done perviously or not.
The episode starts with Braga providing narration as the future Teresa. As she snorts a little cocaine and turns to the window, a bullet comes through the glass. Mendoza flinches and the coke holder explodes. As the queenpin lay on her back, blood flows from the corner of her mouth. Braga, as Mendoza, then narrates us back to her humble beginnings.
Teresa Mendoza appears to be based, in-part, on real-life drug queenpin Sandra Ávila Beltrán. According to Braga Mendoza is 100 percent fiction. She also talks about how the new show is different from the Kate del Castillo telenovela; QotS does not faithfully follow the source material from the book.
Regardless of storyline deviations, the pilot was brilliant. Fast paced, cleanly edited and it had a main character that was easy to get behind. Braga is a personal favorite, despite I am Legend, which was not her fault. The actress specializes in playing strong women and hopefully Queen of the South carries on as it began.
USA has a cracking series on its hands. The show airs Thursdays and should be put on your calendar as new “not to miss” TV. 5 stars.