Sunday, 24 October 2021

TV review: Queen of the South, season 1, Netflix (2016)

Most things are good in this efficient and beautiful show, which tells the story of a young woman caught up in crime. I don’t know where to start in rendering praise but I was impressed especially by the acting of Veronica Falc√≥n as Dona Camila Vargas, the businesswoman at the centre of the drug trade ferrying cocaine from Mexico to the US. 

Vargas has split with Don Epifanio Vargas (Joaquim de Almeida), her husband, a Mexican drug king pin who’s decided to run for governor of a state in the country that sits like a funnel south of the border. Don Epifanio, in turn, is searching out Teresa Medoza (Alice Braga), who is the girlfriend of a courier Don Epifanio has had killed because he was skimming off money on the side. But Mendoza has been picked up by Dona Camila’s henchmen and taken to Dallas, in Texas, where she is caught up in escalating events.

What’s so refreshing in this production is how the characters don’t lose their cool. The parallels with business or other institutional work are legion. Instead of ranting and gesticulating, actors talk rationally and calmly as they plot importation, distribution, death and torture, but thankfully the bland office interiors of ‘Narcos’ are avoided. 

The pace is fast, with short periods of black screen to separate some scenes from their neighbours. This periodic black-out adds drama by imposing a slower pace on some sequences, making them seem more momentous than would’ve been the case if the transition had been quick. 

Another periodic device is when, dressed in a white suit, a future Teresa appears in a scene to talk with captive Teresa about circumstances. She might sympathise with her on account of a trial that’s about to beset her, or counsel her so that she takes the right path as she works out what’s right and what’s verboten in a world of novel challenges and great opportunities. This teleological fictionalised ploy conscripts the viewer’s emotions in an attempt to downplay the importance of plot. Because we’re always reminded of Teresa’s (at least temporary) success, the particular qualities of each event as it transpires are given more moment in the watcher’s mind, allowing him or her to slowly feel what life must be like for this ordinary woman faced with extraordinary happenings.

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