Episode two of Queen of the South; “Cuarenta Minutos” (forty minutes) follows Theresa Mendoza’s faltering steps towards becoming the Queenpin of drugs in the US. The journey is a gut wrenching and white knuckle experience this week. While not as adrenaline fueled as the pilot, it has enough suspense to make up the difference.
Mendoza is still in a caged area surrounded by women being injected with drugs. Despondent, Theresa is not hungry and another woman stops by to offer help. She is a mule waiting to make her delivery. As the young drug trafficker is speaking to Theresa she collapses. The mule is dead as the balloons inside her have started to dissolve.
Theresa shouts for help and the men outside the cage collect their dead mule. The balloons are retrieved from the dead woman’s stomach. The urgency of gathering the drugs overtakes security precautions and the gate to the cage is left open.
She is caught and Camila asks the young woman once again why Epifanio is so keen to get her back. Mendoza explains that she does not know what Guero did and Camila sentences her to be drugged and used as a prostitute. Theresa desperately offers to deliver the shipment the dead girl could not and Camila agrees.
James Valdez is the “go to” man who sorts out Theresa’s identity, passport and helps her to down the 23 balloon wrapped parcels. Watching Mendoza shove the balloons down her throat is almost as stomach turning as seeing her expel the packets later.
Time is running out and James must rush Theresa, and the drugs, to the airport. Once there they get through passport control and head past airport security. An accomplice opens a janitor’s cupboard door and the two head inside.
Theresa begins ejecting the balloons and James gives them a quick rinse. There are still three balloons left to expel and Mendoza cannot vomit them up. James squirts liquid hand soap down Mendoza’s throat. Two more packets land in the sink.
Valdez grabs the two balloons in the sink and begins wrapping the packets for delivery. One of the balloons lands on the floor and James does not notice (more about that later). The drugs are handed off the Han.
Back in Sinaloa, Mexico, Brenda and her son are on the run from Epifanio’s thugs. They head to her grandmother’s shop only to find two of his men waiting. A deliveryman that Brenda has known since childhood stops and picks the mother and her son up, saving their lives.
Late the delivery driver is tortured to give Brenda up but he holds out against the vicious Batman. The coldblooded enforcer for Epifanio shoots the man. Brenda’s cell phone has been pinged once and when it surfaces again the godfather’s men will kill her and the boy.
Camila has big plans. She is divorcing Epifanio and planning to increase her drug intake. The current queenpin of Texas is also moving assets and reinvesting. Her husband calls again inquiring about Theresa.
When James reports on how well Mendoza did on the drug run, Camila orders him to talk to her and use Theresa again. She will be valuable, Varga says. James appears to be taking a personal interest in Mendoza. At first it seems that Valdez may be the new Guero.
There is one problem however. At the airport terminal, James was counting the packets of drugs that came out of Theresa. Expecting 23, he began wrapping the product when only 22 had been vomited up.
Theresa leans over after giving her stomach such a severe workout and finds the last packet. Handing number 23 to James he puts it in the bag. Earlier Valdez insisted that Mendoza force the balloons back up as they are late to the airport. He says that she will die as the balloons are dissolving and he cannot face that again.
Yet he does not bat an eye when he believes that she still has one dissolving packet inside her. This alone would sentence her to death as it is a pure uncut version of the drug. So at this point it does not seem likely that he is the new Dallas version of Guero.
Mendoza is visited by her “future self” a couple of times. In the first visit successful Theresa tells a bemused and bedraggled Mendoza, “I said welcome to America. I did not say it was going to be easy.” The last time she drops by it is to tell her younger self that she is heading in the right direction.
Braga is killing it in this remake of a popular telenovela. The stunts are impressive even when they are not that spectacular. The car sequence where James and Theresa are rushing to the airport terminal is nail bitingly good.
Veronica Falcon is suitably icy and aloof as Camila Varga and de Almeida is superb as the godfather going into politics. Machado is spot on as the new widow on the run.
This is drama/thriller is great entertainment. Regardless of the subject matter, we are behind Theresa Mendoza as she struggles to survive. While not on par with Walter White in Breaking Bad we do like Theresa and feel comfortable rooting for her.
Queen of the South airs Thursdays on USA. Looks like Mr. Robot will not be the only addictive series on the network in 2016.