If the first two episodes of Queen of the South told us anything, it’s that life for women in the world of expansive drug cartels is difficult, what with it being run by men with huge egos and all — hey, it’s like so many other businesses! They’ve also told us that one day in the future, Teresa is going to overcome the odds and cement her place as a huge force in the world of drug trafficking. We may know the destination, but the journey remains a mystery, and the show’s job from here on out is to make sure the journey is compelling even when we know where it’s all headed.
Sure enough, “Estrategia de Entrada” can be labeled as the season’s most compelling hour thus far. It doesn’t have the feverish pace of the pilot, but it also doesn’t have to rely as heavily on exposition. Teresa is in the thick of it now, and we get to sit back and watch her ascent. Sure, it probably won’t be smooth sailing, but this episode proves it will be engaging.
With the drug run from last week’s episode complete, Teresa is holed up in the basement of the warehouse awaiting her next gig. While Camila is gathering more information about her, trying to piece together why her husband might want this woman so badly, Teresa is finally able to check her phone, having been promoted to new sleeping arrangements with the rest of the mules.
When she does, she hears all the panicked messages from Brenda. Not wanting to have her phone tracked, Teresa borrows a phone from another mule and calls Brenda. She tells her to destroy her phone, buy a burner, and then head to the “crazy green place.” It takes Brenda a minute, but she deciphers the code — it means head to the nail salon where she gets her nails painted a crazy shade of green — and hangs up just in time to escape the men coming after her and her son.
Then, when Teresa tries to get out on another job with James, he gives her a little advice. He tells her to keep her head down and just do small jobs, because it’ll be harder for her to get out if she makes herself too known or valuable. It’s solid advice, but it doesn’t seem to matter — Camila has other plans for Teresa. Watching from a number of surveillance cameras, she tells James to take Teresa on his next job, because she needs Teresa to trust him.
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That leads to an absolutely thrilling sequence. James, Teresa, and two other mules hop in a truck and head to the Savings Club — basically Costco, but with workers willing to be middlemen for drug trafficking — to pick up a shipment. Teresa’s left in the car to keep watch, and while James is in the warehouse loading up the coke, she’s snagged by the DEA. They throw her into the back of a van and scream questions at her about Camila Vargas.
Despite the pressure, Teresa doesn’t snitch, and it’s a good thing. When she comes out of the van, Camila is standing there with some of her men. It was all a test to see if Teresa could be trusted or if she would inform on her boss the second she got captured. Teresa passed the first test when she successfully transported the drugs through the airport, and now she’s passed the second.
NEXT: Pottery Barn, but you know, for drugs
With the second test behind her, Teresa gains some confidence and works to ingratiate herself to Camila even more. James is trying to keep her at arm’s length, but she’s having none of it. When they stop at a pottery shop to meet the man buying the truck full of coke, she insists she tag along, meeting everyone involved and watching the deal go down. She understands she needs to make herself valuable to stay alive, even if this isn’t the life she imagined for herself.
As it turns out, Teresa is more than valuable; she’s damn good at this job, too. When James takes the money for the drugs, Teresa asks to see it. She thinks something’s off. She flips through the bills and finds one she swears is counterfeit. She says her years as a money changer have taught her how to feel for fake bills, and she’s sure this one is off.
When the buyer comes back, he’s furious about the accusation. But Teresa is sure and tells James to weigh the bill and says it’ll be less than the typical gram. Sure enough, it’s light, and it’s not the only bill in the bunch that is. James pulls a gun on the buyer, who says he had no idea the payment was partly counterfeit. His right-hand man says he’d never steal from them, that Teresa and James can check his house if they want.
Teresa urges James to check the associate’s car, saying she knew guys who’d hide money in their cars so they wouldn’t have to go back home if they ever had to run. It doesn’t take long for them to find $50,000 stored away in the vehicle. Teresa’s instincts were right, even if James and Camila see her plea for mercy as weakness.
While all of this is happening, Camila meets with her newly procured lawyer, Teo, to discuss buying the charter company mentioned in last week’s episode. Teo realizes there’s more to the situation than Camila let on: As her husband controls most of the shipping in the Gulf, such a purchase would be competing with him. Camila assures Teo he’s on the right side of this impending war, and her offer of outrageous amounts of money is something he can’t turn down. A partnership has been formed.
Really, “Estrategia de Entrada” is about two expanding empires, about two women asserting themselves. There’s Camila expanding the scope of her drug trade, and there’s Teresa earning her respect — even while showing she’s not exactly thrilled to be part of the U.S. operation. After all, she’s not there of her own free will. As Brenda and her son hide on a bus destined for Dallas in the episode’s closing moments, Teresa breaks down crying, realizing she still has a long way to go before anything gets better. She’s proving herself, but at what cost? That will be the big question as the season rolls on.