The Rise of Camila Vargas and Teresa Mendoza
Credit: Bill Matlock/USA Network

Wow. Just wow.

Queen of the South has crafted one of the better debut seasons in recent years, but even a string of consistently thrilling episodes couldn’t prepare me — and, I assume, many of you — for tonight’s season finale. It’s a violent, intense, complex hour of television that not only moves many of the characters into new, interesting directions, but also ends with one of the more shocking character reveals in recent memory. So without further ado, let’s get to it!

Considering all the madness of the episode, the easiest place to begin is probably with the story of Camila Vargas. Look, at some point this show will largely be about Teresa Mendoza, but much of season 1 has focused on Camila Vargas and her rise to the top of the drug-trafficking business, something she’s been waiting years to execute. As “Cicatriz” gets underway, it looks like she’s about to make her final ascension.

Of course, that ascension doesn’t come without consequences. Specifically, Camila is at odds with her daughter, Isabella. Camila tries to explain it was Epifanio who drove her away, but Isabella isn’t buying it. She says her mother was more focused on being a drug dealer than a mother or wife. That’s when Camila brings the show’s feminist subtext to the forefront. She asks why Epifanio can be a businessman, father, and husband all at once, but she’s forced to choose just one. It’s a statement on the pressure and criticism often put on women who seek both careers and families, one that’s no different even in the world of illegal drugs.

Still, Camila must move forward, and as usual, Veronica Falcon delivers a devastating performance that gets at the complex emotions her character is feeling. She switches masterfully between caring mother and adopting an intimidating presence amongst her fellow dealers, knowing when to well up with tears and when to deliver a brutal, cutting stare. Falcon imbues Camila with fierce confidence, and that’s why Camila’s in control here.


But first, Epifanio has his own bargaining chip in his war with Camila. His men have captured Teresa. So, before he crashes Camila’s meeting, he threatens Teresa. He tells her she has one hour to deliver the name of whomever is holding the notebook. After that, there’s no telling what will happen to her or Brenda, who’s still being held at the farm.

Before Epifanio makes his way to the meeting, Camila is laying out her plan for the future of the cartel. She tells her partners she’s not only brokered a peace with the Jimenez cartel, but she’s also purchased a trawling company to handle an increase in shipment loads. It’s time to make this business bigger and better, and her secret meetings with the lawyer from earlier this season finally come back into play.

NEXT: Burn it all down

Everything changes when Epifanio shows up to the meeting, though. He orders his men to go home and to ignore Camila’s desperate plea for control, but he soon realizes he’s lost his empire — well, Camila would say it was never his to begin with. Camila stares him down with confidence, assuming she finally has everything in place. He’s won the election, meaning she can blackmail him with his past, forcing him to be silent and allowing her to run the business.

Alas, being Governor of Mexico comes with certain perks that run contrary to Camila’s goals — the big one being able to call in the military to deal with your problems. That’s right: Epifanio, being the ruthless bastard he is, decides that if he can’t win he’s going to burn the whole operation to the ground. He sends the military after Camila’s partners and even kills Juan Carlos himself, mere moments before delivering a speech about how the country’s cartel violence must be stopped. Oh, the hypocrisy!

While all this is going down, Teresa manages to escape the warehouse where she’s being held, and boy, is it a damn satisfying escape. She finally gets revenge on Gato, the man who raped her in the first episode, shooting him in the face without hesitation. As the first sign Teresa is truly hardening to the violence of this world, it’s an important moment, one that will again come into play during the episode’s final scene.

Plus, her escape snags her a friend: the man who tried to stop Gato from raping her. He says Teresa has shown him more loyalty than Epifanio ever would, especially as he launches an attack on his own people. Essentially, he pledges his loyalty to her. It’s another indication Teresa could build an empire of her own, an idea that calcifies by the time the credits roll.

Everything comes to a head at the farm. Teresa and her new partner raid the property and kill the men guarding the place, but it’s too late. When Teresa runs to the barn to rescue Brenda, she finds her strung up and lifeless. It’s a heartbreaking moment, but a necessary one in terms of Teresa’s character development going forward. She needed to experience this trauma to make her subtle shift into this world more understandable, and the death of her best friend serves that purpose. Still, we’ll certainly miss the quick-talking, charming Brenda in season 2.

This is what transforms Teresa. When Camila and James show up to take the notebook, Teresa is having none of it. “I don’t work for you anymore,” she says. She’s ready to determine her own path. The music cue underscores the formation of a drug queenpin; the score borrows a few notes from Giorgio Moroder’s opening theme for Scarface.

And with that, the stage for season 2 is set. Camila and Epifanio are at war, and Teresa is setting out on her own. Their lives are entangled, with potentially deadly consequences still to come.

But “Cicatriz” has one more surprise for us: Güero, Teresa’s presumed-dead boyfriend, is still alive. Not only that, it looks like he’s working for the DEA, FBI, or some other government organization looking to take down the Mexican cartels.

It’s a truly shocking bomb dropped at the end of an incredible finale. Now that’s how you deliver a freshman season.

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