‘QUEEN of the South’ is a crime-drama series on USA Network that stars mostly Hispanic actors. It’s an adaptation of the Mexican telenovela, “Reina del Sur”, shown on Telemundo, sister of USA Network, adapted from the Spanish novel of Arturo Reverte. It is an addicting guilty pleasure and so successful that it’s now on its 5th season.
The title role is played by Alice Braga, a Brazilian actress who was in the internationally acclaimed film, “City of God”, and has appeared in many Hollywood films like “I Am Legend”, “Predators”, “Repo Men”, “The Rite” and “Elysium”. She plays Teresa Mendoza and the show starts showing her getting off a helicopter as an elegant female drug lord in all white ensemble and gold high heels.
She’s the narrator and she says she controls the largest drug empire in the Western Hemisphere. This short introductory teaser ends with a stray bullet crashing in through a window, hitting Teresa on the head. We’re not sure if she died as the the show then goes into flashbacks.
We see her starting as a poor girl who works as a money changer in Sinaloa, Mexico (the seat of drug lords as shown in the TV series “Narcos”). She falls in love with Guero (Jon MIchael Ecker), a drug pusher, after he defended her from her abusive employer. She becomes his girlfriend and he meets his friend, Chino, and his wife Brenda (Justina Machado.) Teresa is introduced to the world of drug traffickers.
Guero takes him to the Christmas party of his boss, Don Epifanio Vargas (Joaquim de Almeida), who plans to run as governor of Sinaloa in the next election. Teresa accidentally hears a heated exchange between Epifanio and his wife, Camilla Vargas (Veronica Falcon), who claims she was the one who started all their business and drug empire.
Guero knows his day are numbered so he gives Teresa a notebook but tells her not to read it. He says it will save her life. He also gave her a phone and says if it ever rings, it could only mean he’s already dead. Things get even more complicated and Teresa is soon running for her dear life.
Epifanio manages to get hold of her as she knows too much, but she fights back and escapes, only to fall into the hands of Camilla in Texas, USA. Camilla treats her nicely and she has nowhere to go so she becomes one of her drug mules. She also manages to help her friend Brenda, whose husband has been brutally killed by the cartel. These three female characters eventually stand for women empowerment, queenpins who are navigating a world usually dominated by macho men.
The show is told with magic realism, as Teresa often sees a vision of her future self talking to her dressed as an elegant drug queen and telling her what to do in moments of danger and crises. As an action drama, the show works as it has a very sympathetic lead character. Teresa essentially has a good heart and she doesn’t want to see people getting hurt so you’d root for her. But circumstances force her to resort to violence, even killing people for her own survival.
There are plenty of action scenes where bullets fly, car chases, plus adequate plotting and the obligatory violent and bloody scenes making it an absorbing gritty show. Alice Braga (she’s a lookalike of Lucy Torres) is impressive as the main protagonist, never overacting but showing palpable intensity even in her quiet scenes. We follow her journey and struggle cheering for her.
She’s perfectly matched by Veronica Falcon who rules her scenes with quiet dominance as Camilla, a 3-dimensional character as the wife of a drug kingpin and politician who puts up her own drug empire, continues to care for their only daughter and becomes some sort of a mentor to Teresa. Season 1 ends with a big twist with one of the characters and it’s a cliffhanger that makes sure you are hooked and will watch out for Season 2.