By Rosy Cordero
August 29, 2019 at 11:23 PM EDT
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Warning: This article contains major spoilers for the season 4 finale of Queen of the South.

As the lights go out one final time on Queen of the South’s fourth season, the only thing fans can be sure of is that things will never be the same. Teresa Mendoza (Alice Braga) has lost all her ties to the innocent young woman she was at the start of the series, finally becoming the queenpin she was destined to be.

“This is the season the Teresa discovers that there’s no getting out,” co-showrunner Ben Lobato tells EW. “It’s now impossible for her to hold onto her moral code while running a drug cartel. One of the things we wanted to do early in the season was play with some of the thematic elements of like The Godfather. Teresa Mendoza started on this journey just trying to survive. What we wanted to do coming into season 4 was to create more stakes for her. That’s why we brought Tony [Julian Silva] back and Kelly Anne [Molly Burnett]. We wanted to surround her with family. That’s why we also brought in Alfonso Herrera’s character, Javier Jimenez, and even King George [Ryan O’Nan] in close — creating this family around her. We were raising the stakes for her. Most importantly was Tony, because of his connection to Brenda [Justina Machado].”

He adds, “Tony’s death really is a catalyst and a turning point for her. This is now arching for her towards the one thing that we’ve all been waiting for, which is for her to become queen.”

With Teresa ready to ascend, the series lines up her breakup with current love interest Eddie Brucks (Bailey Chase) just as a familiar face tumbles into her arms injured. Fans have been hoping to see James (Peter Gadiot) return all season, and they finally get their wish in the show’s biggest cliffhanger to date.

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“We wanted James to be in season 4, but Peter had some other things that he wanted to explore creatively, so he went off and did that,” Lobato says. “What that was done, he came back around and told us he was available. We decided to get him back in and set him up for season 5 and let’s go. Things weren’t completely planned out this way, it was something that happened through the season. We’re so grateful that it did, and we’re so happy to have him back.”

It was a homecoming for Gadiot to slip back into the role of James, and he was aware all season long how much fans missed the character. While he isn’t sure about what his character has been up to while he’s been away, he’s extremely excited for fans to see James’ big return.

“It was so great to hear about how much the fans missed James,” he tells EW. “I’m really so grateful that they love the character so much. For me, since I spent so much time on that set and in that world, it felt just like jumping back on a bike — very natural. As an actor, I’ve always been interested in finding the opposite color from what’s on the page. From the very beginning, this character could’ve been this one-dimensional kind of tough guy. But I was always looking to explore what was his psychological journey. Where is his humanity? What are his regrets? What are his hopes? Throughout the seasons, we peel away all some of these things.”

Also, he says, “I think it’s a great opportunity going into his return to discover and explore where he was and why he was doing what he was doing. It’s more a window into his soul, I guess, and his journey. I think next season is going to be fascinating to uncover the reasons he was away.”

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And just as James returns, Javier’s time on the show comes to an end in a blaze of glory. Alfonso Herrera, who joined the cast during the show’s third season, admits that he always knew how things would end for the character, and he thinks it was the perfect way to see him go.

“I always knew that my time on the show would be for one season,” he says. “Ever since I shot the first episode in Dallas, [I knew] that Javier would die in season 4. There was a moment while shooting episode 11 that I thought to myself, ‘Javier has committed so many errors. He doesn’t use his head, instead he acts from his gut.’ He tried different ways to do the right thing, much different than he did things while he was in Mexico. But while he was in the United States, he really ended up in the exact same place as before. Each episode, Javier got closer and closer to his demise. I, as an actor, was in agreement that he had to die.”

But that doesn’t mean Javier would go quietly. He had vengeance on his mind after finding his beloved Emilia’s (Sofia Lama) dead body. While he was resigned to the fact that he would pay for his sins with his life, he was not going to go alone.

“We wrestled so much this season with knowing that Javier was going to die, because we loved the character so much and of course Alfonso, too,” Lobato says. “But we really wanted to find a way to redeem him. The reality is, when you peel back the layer on Javier, what he did he did for love. So we gave him this wonderful moment where he tells Teresa that she has to do what she has to do, which is his moment of surrender that makes him heroic. Even though we are furious at him, we love this guy so much and we hope she doesn’t hand him over. So we’re playing with this hope versus fear. At the end of the day, we’re all romantics. Randall [Cory Hart] killed Emilia, we have the guy that killed her, and there has to be a comeuppance. And because Javier is who he is, we want him to die a heroic death. And if he’s going to hell, he will just have to take Randall with him.”

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Meanwhile, Judge Lafayette (David Andrews) has proven to be a worthy adversary for Teresa. As much as their paths intertwine, they’re also very parallel. A lot of thought was put into the character coming into this world, especially with New Orleans serving as the show’s new backdrop.

“My family is from Mexico and my co-showrunner and partner Dailyn Rodriguez and I have been very conflicted, in a way, about running a show about Mexican cartels right now,” Lobato says. “Just because of the current political climate. So we’re looking at the story and asking, ‘So what’s behind the cartels?’ Why do they exist? It’s because of historical systemic corruption. So we thought with us setting up this new world in New Orleans, let’s look at the real corruption in that specific city.”

As for his antiheroine, Lobato adds, “The audience loves Teresa because they understand her plight because she’s a survivor. But also because she maintains this strong moral code. She’s not a sociopath. She’s not like El Chapo where she’s killing people just to kill them. She only draws blood when she has to for survival. Teresa Mendoza exists because people in power like Judge Lafayette president exist.”

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