By Julian De La Paz
Warning: Interview contains spoilers
As one of Hollywood’s most talented and well-respected Showrunners, Natalie Chaidez is the powerhouse behind Queen of the South. With an impressive resume that includes Heroes, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and most recently, 12 Monkeys, Natalie has continuously demonstrated her talent for sophisticated storytelling. We had the opportunity to speak with her about the jaw-dropping season two finale and her plans for the highly-anticipated season three.
USA Network: At the end of season one, we saw the beginning of a partnership between Camila Vargas and Teresa Mendoza, and at the end of season two, we saw the disintegration of that partnership. Was this a natural evolution of their relationship, or had you always intended for conflict to emerge?
Natalie Chaidez: Season two was about Teresa learning what it takes to run a drug cartel from Camila Vargas. Camila is a complicated, dangerous woman, and Teresa learned that she could not fully be trusted. Camila taught her some good things, and she taught her some bad things. Now, Teresa has reached the end of the season ready, armed with all of the lessons Camila has taught her.
I think the conflict was somewhat inevitable. I think anybody who gets in bed with Camila has to know who they're dancing with, and what kind of games she's playing. Pitting them against each other was the plan from the beginning of the season.
USA: You mention that she learned some good things, but often witnessed a more sinister side of her boss. What was the fall from grace in her eyes for Camila Vargas?
Chaidez: I think that you always think you're special and that you're not the one that's going to get bit by the scorpion. Right? You're not going to get bit by the crocodile, but Camila is someone who will kill, lie, and do whatever it takes to gain power. I think it was realizing that Camila would have done that to her, and when push comes to shove, Camila would use Teresa to save herself.
USA: There seems to be an inner struggle within the mind of Teresa. Her character is intrinsically good, but as we know, in order to run an empire, sacrifices must be made. Will she sacrifice her humanity in favor of the ruthlessness often associated with a drug lord – even perhaps that of Camila?
Chaidez: Oh, that’s an amazing question. I think that’s the story of Teresa Mendoza's rise. Is there a different way to run a drug business? Is there another way to be a cartel boss? And she's a character with a lot of heart, she's a character who we've seen over and over again has a concern for the underdog, a concern for the oppressed, releasing the maid, and other things that she's done this season.
Is that something you can take with you and still rise into power in a brutal, corrupt, and vicious business? I think it's the question of the series. She has a different philosophy than Camila. In 212, she told you we can do this a different way. Whether she'll be able to or not will be the stories to tell for seasons three, four, five and beyond.
USA: Six, seven, eight. I'm there for all of them. Now, the death of Epifanio Vargas was quite unexpected. Do you think Camila is the one to blame for his death? The only reason I say this is because Epifanio insists on getting rid of Teresa to save Camila from herself, and in the process, is shot in cold blood.
Chaidez: I think Camila is to blame in the sense that Epifanio had, by the end of season two, become a changed man. Right? He has legitimately seen the damage that the business has done to his daughter, and was willing to walk away, to some extent or another. In those final moments, Camila isn't ready to walk away from the power, and it is in that hesitation that leads to him getting shot. It is Teresa who pulls the trigger, but Camila is going to have to face what she did to bring Epi to that point, her contribution that led to the love of her life dying in her arms. That's something she's going to have to wrestle with in season three.
Most obviously, she's going to blame Teresa Mendoza and seek her revenge on that, so it may take a while for Camila to get there. That, I think is certainly something that her daughter will point out, and Isabela will turn the finger on her mother at some point for the way her father died.
USA: There's so much to unpack in that final scene. Why do you think it's so difficult for Camila to give up the business, when all her family wants of her is her time, attention, and presence?
Chaidez: In a really practical analogy, it's like the working woman's struggle. This is her career and she's good at it. She's good at running a drug cartel. Of course, she's good at being a parent as well, and she's a loving mother to the extent that her business doesn't get in the way. But, to walk away from your skill and your power and your control, to give that up even for the most important thing in your life, is a lot to ask for anyone. She is a flawed character. We'd all like to think we'd all put our family and our loved ones first, but I think we all know that ego and greed and selfish desires get in the way. I think this is just an example of that writ large in the cartel world.
USA: What influenced your decision to have Epifanio killed at the hands of Teresa?
Chaidez: We had built Epifanio up this season and really, we had fallen in love with him as writers. I think we wanted to take someone away from the audience that they, along with the show’s characters, had an emotional connection with. We wanted to take the underpinning of what Camila takes for granted, and she definitely takes that relationship for granted.
Sometimes it's not until you've lost something that you realize how much you wanted it and how much you needed it, and we really wanted to pull that out from under Camila. What better way than to put that in the hands of Teresa, who has every reason to think of Epifanio deeply for not protecting her when she was on the run and going after her the entire first season? We wanted to set these women up against each other for our season three.
The former mentor and mentee are now enemies and rivals, and that was just such a great dramatic set-up to push us forward into series. As much as we were brokenhearted to see Joaquim go, because he was great this season. He made us all fall in love with his charm and his humor and his compassion for his daughter and his wife, but that's what made losing him from the show so powerful and moving.
USA: In last night’s episode, Epifanio said that “love and business cannot coexist.” With this in mind, will Teresa ever find happiness with Guero or, for that matter, James?
Chaidez: The opening of the season showed Teresa as the queen and making a choice between love and business. I think that the answer is going to be no. I think her not waiting for Guero and choosing to walk away shows that she knows her relationship is doomed. It's doomed because the business was a huge choice for her. It would have been easy just to bring him along or easy just to leave or walk away from everything, but she's a different person than she was two seasons ago when she went on the run and her only hope was to find him and be safe. She's grown, she's changed, she's realized what she's capable of, and I think that's going to be one of the challenges moving forward -- what place other relationships, romantic or even friendships, have in the world of a queen pin.
USA: I’m reminded of the fact that Camila once identified Guero as one of Teresa’s weaknesses. I wonder if she has realized, "Guero is a weakness of mine. Now, it might be best that I purge myself of him."
Chaidez: I believe that is absolutely why she made that decision for both of them, because if he comes along, she will always be weak. She will always be vulnerable, and he will always be at risk, even if he's with her by his own choice. He tells her earlier in the season, I forget the exact line, but it's something to the extent of, "If I die tonight, there's no place else I'd rather be than next to you." Even though he may be willing to make that sacrifice, she's not willing to have that blood on her hands.
And she knows that Camila was absolutely right in that assessment of Guero as a weakness. She over the course of the season, made some pretty foolish decisions to go visit the man she loved even though he might have been a snitch. Over and over she made herself vulnerable, so I think by the end of the season she had grown to a place in her power where she was willing to walk away from that. That's a pretty huge decision, to choose business over love, and Teresa did it.
USA: Looking ahead to the next season, you've already dropped a few hints, but is there anything you can tell us about season three that we should expect?
Chaidez: Well, expect Teresa to be on her own two feet. She's operating as a drug boss away from Camila Vargas, but with Camila out to get her, set for revenge for her husband's death. We'll see an even more empowered Teresa, trying to find her feet as a queen pin.
On Camila’s side, she will have made an alliance with the sociopathic, but powerful Colonel Cortes. I think we all know that's not going to end well. There's going to be challenges with her daughter and her continued involvement with the Jimenez family, Boaz and Kique. That's going to cause trouble between Camila and Isabela. There will be more enemies and the DEA is not going away either, so we’re really excited for season three. We shot in Bogota this last season, and we're going to shoot overseas again. I don't want to say where because it could spoil the story.
USA: Finally, what are you the queen of?
Chaidez: I think I answered this question before on camera and I said I'm the queen of speed, because I like to do everything very, very quickly. I think it's kind of a touchstone. I'm a derby skater. I skate roller derby, and speed is my strong point as a skater. I was just actually speed skating this morning and I like to move fast. I like to have the world moving as quickly around me as possible. I like to share that momentum with the show and with our audience, in a quick moving, action packed plot. I think the personality sort of comes through in the way we tell the story.
See photos from the Queen of the South season finale episode, "La Ultima Hora Mata":