While Camila makes her final move to take control of the cartel, Teresa and Brenda face a life-or-death situation
Queen of the South is hurtling towards next week’s season finale, and this week’s penultimate episode is quite the setup. It’s a tense, game-changing hour of television, one that sees Teresa and Brenda in a spot that’s somehow worse than any other they’ve been in over the last 11 weeks.
But before we get to that…
“Quinientos Mil” opens on Teresa and Brenda driving to the coordinates written in the notebook. They believe it’s the stash house for Epifanio’s money cleaner, meaning the guy will probably have a bunch of money lying around. The plan? Give him the book of coordinates and other information in exchange for $500,000. It’s what Brenda and Teresa need to start a new life, one free from the violence of the drug-trafficking world.
When Teresa and Brenda arrive at the location, they’re puzzled. There doesn’t seem to be much around. There’s a house off in the distance, but not much else. Then, Brenda spots a number of cigarette butts on the ground and figures there must be something close by. She stumbles upon a tunnel locked behind a gate, and Teresa tells her to grab a tire iron so they can break in. Maybe that’s where the money is stored and they can just take off with it.
Of course, that’s not how things play out. When Teresa and Brenda crack open the vault inside the tunnel, they make a gruesome discovery: A pile of dead bodies so big it reaches the ceiling. The two recoil in horror, puking from the smell and freaking out about what to do next. It’s a stunning sequence, shot primarily in close-ups so as to make us feel the same way Teresa and Brenda do: scared, alone, and running out of options. Moments later, two men show up with guns and lead Teresa and Brenda to the house in the distance. Things are about to get much worse.
While Teresa and Brenda are scrambling to save their own lives, Camila is finalizing her plan to take control of the drug empire she helped build. In a violent, disorienting scene, James and a number of henchmen are seen beating the hell out of a DEA agent named Don. They want him to give up the location of the safe house where they’re holding the lieutenant of the Jimenez cartel, the one Camila is eager to help escape as an act of goodwill. DEA agent Don won’t budge, though, because his wife is assigned to the safe house and he doesn’t want her to get hurt.
Again, Queen of the South does a good job of putting us in the position of these characters and allowing us inside their heads. Where we can feel Teresa and Brenda’s fear in the previous scene, here we can sense James’ reluctance to move deeper into this violent world. There’s no sense of pleasure when he’s forced to kill Don. It’s something he doesn’t want to do, but he’s resigned himself to this life. He’s defeated, complacent. The show draws yet another contrast between James and Teresa: Where the former is in too deep to get out, Teresa may still have a shot of leaving this life behind (if, you know, we ignore the whole Future Teresa thing).
NEXT: To the future
Meanwhile, Camila’s plans are coming together. The race for governor is tight, with Epifanio’s past coming back to haunt him, but he’s powerless to do anything about it. That means Camila holds all the power, and you know damn well she’s going to use it. She organizes a meeting with all of the cartel’s partners, most of whom are unhappy with how Epifanio has been running things and are especially unsure about his foray into politics.
So, while James and his crew hit the safe house — seemingly killing everyone inside and making off with the higher-up in the Jimenez cartel — Camila makes her pitch. She tells the partners they’ve been mistreated under Epifanio, that he’s done nothing but treat them like lesser employees. She’s here to change that. Everyone will be equal under her rule, and more than that, she can provide safety from the Jimenez cartel because of her recent move. There’s the potential for lasting peace here among the drug runners, if only everyone gets on board.
Sure enough, Camila’s pitch works. Everyone is ready for a change. But, of course, this move comes at a cost. Camila has long said she’s doing this to set an example for her daughter, to show Isabella a woman can be strong and in control. But when her plan means bringing Isabella home from school so Epifanio won’t harm her, their relationship becomes strained.
Isabella rips into her mother, accusing Camila of using her as an excuse in her own selfish quest for power. She says she was only moments away from becoming the daughter of a governor, of being part of a legitimate family. But now, she’s just the daughter of a drug dealer…again. It’s a heartbreaking scene, largely because we see Camila cry. Her confidence and toughness is broken in this moment, because she’s lost something dear to her, at least for now. It’s yet another example, of how Queen of the South insightfully subverts the traditional, masculine perspective of the antihero/drug-empire drama.
So Camila gets what she wants, but it comes at a cost. The same can almost be said for Teresa. She and Brenda, after encountering a truly frightening man at the home, manage to extort their way out of the situation. Teresa offers up the book for $250,000 and the man accepts. He tells them to leave and never come back. It seems to be the end of the threat, but then Brenda makes a crucial mistake.
She goes back to the house and says the man, who earlier threatened to kill Victor, needs to leave Victor alone because her son, Tony, is with him. She just wants to know they’ll be safe once she and Teresa leave. This is a hardened criminal we’re talking about, though, and he sees an opportunity. “You have a son? I guess I don’t need to pay you to stay quiet.” He grabs Brenda and drags her into the house as Teresa tries to flee in the truck. She doesn’t get far before the truck flips and lands in the woods, with Epifanio’s men approaching the wreckage.
For a moment, Teresa got what she wanted. But now there could be consequences, for her and for Brenda.