Grade A+ - 95%
If we can live in a world of good and evil, then we know what it is to compromise – with God, with ourselves. But what do you do when your whole life is a compromise? The kind of compromise you find it difficult to live with. If you are Teresa Mendoza in “Queen of the South” you survive one day at a time. “In this world you don’t become what you want to. You become what you have to.”
Our heroine Teresa Mendoza has lived a hard life. Luckily for her, she’s beautiful and smart, but that’s where her luck ends. You would think those qualities would be enough, but not in Mexico. The world she lives in truly is a kill or be killed equation, and much like in The Godfather lll, it won’t let her go.
When she and her best friend witness a murder (of her best friend’s husband) at the hands of the Vargas cartel, she goes on the run and is hunted, mercilessly, by the cartel. Luckily, the estranged wife of the cartel leader is re-establishing her control of the business in Dallas, and ‘takes Teresa in’. Taking her in means using her as a mule to pass cocaine to other dealers. It’s a dangerous job, but to stay alive Teresa must make herself indispensable to the boss, Camilla.
And here’s where things get interesting…
The Story is King
Most likely, because this was a book first, written by Spanish writer, Arturo Pérez-Reverte , the premise of the story and the attention to detail, remain strong throughout. We know who Teresa is from the beginning, and as she gradually changes, in a way, so do we. Her decisions become our decisions. Her sadness, our sadness. As the true heroine of the story, we celebrate her victories and curse those who hurt her.
The other characters remain the same; “A leopard does not change his spots”. They revolve around the story of how the cocaine is trafficed, and how badly they can screw-up their lives. While Teresa didn’t have a choice to work for the cartel, Camilla, James, Camilla’s number 2, even the drug runner pilot, Guerro did. And now, they and everyone around them have to pay the price.
This story about the inter-connectedness of everyone in the world, of how lives are forever changed by one choice after another, some small, some great, this story reveals the very nature of human souls and the flaws therein. The sin of pride, the sin of greed figure prominantely as the underlying factors in murder and theft. Camilla cannot let anyone take credit for or control the business she started. James is jealous of Teresa’s relationship, if you can call it that, with Camilla. Both his pride and his heart are injured. Still, he can’t admit the truth.
Feminism and the Cartel
Let’s face it, the Latino culture doesn’t have a good record of treating women as equals. The idea of a woman ordering men around, is unthinkable, unless you are Camilla Vargas who sees herself as queen of all she surveys. While this is a point of pride which will ultimately destroy her family, she stands strong against all who would disdain her authority, and for that we can admire her. She and Teresa have that in common. They rebel against the status quo, and they inspire loyalty, even in some of their critics.
Everybody Needs Love
It’s true. Even the worse criminals need at least something that resembles love. In the cartel, the lines between friendship, loyalty and love get blurred. Camilla, so strong, so ruthless, fights the forces of machismo that depict her as “the good wife, the beloved mother” standing behind her man, while he runs the very business she started. Her daughter accuses her of abandonment because she left Mexico to run the business in Dallas, while her husband, Epifanio issues unacceptable demands to her from on high. Apparently, her destiny is not hers to decide, and she is torn between the love she feels for her daughter, and her need to be free of male domination.
Camilla’s loyal luitenant, James falls hard for Teresa, but is torn between his ambition and his image of manhood, and a woman he so clearly admires and longs to possess.
And Teresa is torn between two capable, smart, amitious (and gorgeous) men, both of whom compete for her, but only one of which deserves her. When El Santo, the crazy Bolivian drug dealer chooses Teresa as his distribution connection for Dallas he tells her, “You have a Judas among you”. We get to guess who we think it is, James or Guerro. My money was always on Guerro. But I might have been wrong. It’s a crazy, unpredictable world.
Watch all three seasons of “Queen of the South”, seasons 1 and 2 on Netflix. Season 3 on Amazon. Rejoice! There is a season 4 on the way! All the actors are stand outs. If the show were cocaine, it would be made in Bolivia!