‘Queen of the South’: The Russians Are Coming in Kinetic Final Season

With its splashes of melodrama and lots of ammo to spare, “Queen of the South” nears the end with both style and inevitability. At a time when we’re being constantly flooded with true crime shows and docuseries, this one always stayed true to classic guilty pleasure gangland romps. Because of the nature of its world, it was only a matter of time before the storyline became too entangled for its own good. So now season five kicks off with lots of unresolved business from season four while pitting its key player, drug lord Teresa Mendoza (Alice Braga), against her biggest competitor yet: the Russian mob.

The season opens with a nightmare as Teresa dreams of running down a dark street, gun in hand, to music that sounds inspired by Giorgio Moroder’s electronic dirge for “Scarface.” She reaches a rooftop and faces another Teresa. It makes sense this is what would haunt Teresa’s dreams since this final round of episodes promises to be one of double-crosses and ties without trust or basically the expected climax of any crime show. But it’s a wicked that has been spun. Season four ended explosively as Teresa had attempted to branch out to do business with the Russian mob. It all resulted in her godson being killed and Teresa vowing revenge against Judge Cecil “The Judge” Lafayette (David Andrews). Also reeling from the aftermath is James Valdez (Peter Gadiot). Teresa and her own crew are still not sure if they can trust James, who they suspect of being an infiltrator from their rivals. As Teresa gives James a chance to prove himself, she also seeks to continue expanding her business. She makes contact with Oksana Volkova (Vera Cherny), who runs the business of her cousin, a major Russian crime lord. But when real estate issues come up requiring Teresa to come up with lots of cash and fast, she also looks for other clients, including  Dominican runners. This won’t go down well with the Russians, who threaten war.

If you’ve been following “Queen of the South” from the beginning then the final season begins with a fitting dose of adrenaline. And as convoluted as the plots can get on these shows, the writing team still manages to keep it quite lean. Teresa is now reaching the point of many a crime Don in grabbing more than it seems she can handle. Now that she has moved into the big market of the United States, there’s even fiercer competition. But it’s a fitting clash of crime kaiju. Teresa is one of those TV criminal anti-heroes who manage to survive everything that’s thrown at them. She began the series as the wife of another drug lord, now she’s the boss and when Volkova’s cousin gets angry there’s no one to turn to except her own muscle. While one grows tired of the Latinx characters TV offers, who range from biker gangs like “Mayans M.C.” to Miami drug gangs like “Queen of the South,” Alice Braga, who also serves as executive producer, has at least played this character with some admirable strength. At its best the show has telenovela flair but doesn’t make the Latinos the only villains. 

But back to the main plot of this show as it nears the end. There are several threads running throughout. Pote (Hemky Madera) doesn’t trust James until they both get ambushed by Russian assassins and it becomes clear James is loyal to Teresa. Of course he is, the two have initiated a love affair that takes off every time they’re in a room alone. Meanwhile Boaz (Joseph T. Campos) is desperate to kill The Judge to avenge his role in the death of Javier last season. But Teresa holds him back. The Judge continues to make life hard for her New Orleans operation, so Teresa has to wait for the right time to hand him over. This results in a scene of great tension where Boaz holds in his rage in a bar where the Judge is getting plastered. No one is pleased with anything associated with this guy and in the second episode of the season Pote unleashes some brutal rage on one of the Judge’s colleagues when a scheme is uncovered where teenagers are purposefully sent to jail without any chance of a proper defense. Speaking about Pote, his storyline takes a real sharp turn when his love affair with another Mendoza crew member, Kelly (Molly Burnett) results in her being pregnant. That’s right, Pote is going to be a father. 

By the end of the third episode the plot takes yet another turn when Teresa finds out she might actually be caught in the middle of an inner war amongst the Russian crew. How this plays out promises to give “Queen of the South” a fitting finale where Teresa’s saga has no other way of closing than with a big send-off. This show has always gone big, including when Pote makes sure the mansion is entirely guarded by former Mossad troops.  And with Braga always giving a memorable performance, Teresa Mendoza became one of those characters you like to watch ascend. Like the original Spanish-language show that inspired it, which starred Kate Del Castillo in the lead role, Alice Braga proved gangster shows are not a man’s game. Similar to Salma Hayek in “Savages,” Braga has owned the role, capturing that sense of ruthless underworld figure and sharp business mind. As a producer, she has shown how well she can fashion stylish entertainment that defies a genre’s stereotypes while still having a sense of fun. “Queen of the South” is about to settle scores, and we can be certain there will not be a single dull moment.

The fifth and final season of “Queen of the South” premieres April 7 and airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on USA.