El Rey Network
Episode Air Date: July 22nd, 29th, August 5th, 12th 2014
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
Matador (The Naked and the Dead, Idol Worship, Code Red Card, Enter the Worm)
Starring: Gabriel Luna, Nicky Whelan, Neil Hopkins, Alfred Molina, Tanc Sade, Yvette Monreal, Elizabeth Pena, Isabella Gomez, Eve Torres, Christina Ochoa
Welcome back to this week’s review of the series Matador on El Rey Network, one of the most recent networks to order scripted series. A lot can happen in 4 weeks- good guys can become bad guys and vice versa, romances can heat up or break down, and new characters can be introduced, or new storylines added. In the case of this new show, which does not rely on viewers’ ratings as it has already been renewed for season 2; there are tons that have occur, including a betrayal, a team initiation, a intense kidnapping and blackmail situation, and brutal killings. But let’s first recap what happened in the pilot first, shall we?
When we last saw Matador a little over 4 weeks ago, CIA mole Tony Bravo (Gabriel Luna) had implanted himself into the soccer team the LA Riots, and was working with his handlers Annie Mason (Nicky Whelan) and Noah Peacott (Neil Hopkins), as an inside man investigating Andres Galan (Alfred Molina), the owner of the team. And though there was some doubt to the legitimacy of Noah’s allegiances to the CIA at the end of the first episode (I personally thought he was covertly working for Galan, as he threatens to shoot Tony in the legs after the first mission succeeded as ‘he knew too much’), Noah’s temperament seems to change to maybe being jealous of Tony’s success. Nonetheless, Noah’s bravery and loyalty across the 4 episodes changes my opinion of him.
When we left Tony, he was smitten by his handler Annie, made a deal with the CIA to get his brother acquitted from jail, and also he infiltrated the Riots, and crashed a party where he retrieved a USB flash drive, preventing it from falling into the wrong hands. In these past 4 episodes though, Tony is braver, and the missions are slightly more complicated, although storyline-wise there seems tr be multiple major plots in parallel, presumably going to come together near the finale, and will hopefully make sense as the weeks progress. Plot wise in the first episode we are introduced to a mysterious party in the jungles of the Amazon (or another jungle that I am not aware of), who was collecting players’ blood samples, for an unknown, possibly nefarious purpose. In the next few episodes however, that storyline is not followed up. Instead a few more interesting plot lines are introduced (spoilers are ahead!).
In “The Naked And The Dead”, a famed hired assassin, called the Apothecary (brilliantly played by Ryan Cartwright from Alphas, complete with an Eastern European accent), is hired to kill a woman, and throughout the episode, Tony and Noah try to find out who the woman is. By chance they stumble across a woman having an anaphylactic shock, who dies in the arms of her friend. Assuming that she was the target, Tony gets close to the friend Margot, by initiating a relationship with her. By the episode end, we find out that the Margot is the target, not her friend who died, and is a art collector working in a museum, wanting to bid on an expensive artefact that Galan wants to bid on (this art auction is held in the 3rd episode “Idol Worship”). Fittingly titled, this episode delves a little bit into the reasons why Galan wants the artefact, and further explores the character of Margot, who has a few secrets of her own. Tony aligns himself with Galan for show, and becomes his ‘lackey’, telling Galan that he can do what needs to be done to succeed, and from there Tony is embedded into his boss’s life. The Apothecary meets his demise in episode 3, and at the end, Margot betrays Tony in a shocking way (hint, it has something to do with the artefact), and it’s then that I think that we are getting more serialised. I’m thinking- good we’ll know that Margot’s angle is and why Galan really wants the artefact.
No such luck. Because there are two separate A-style stories n Episode 4 (“Code Red Card”) and Episode 5 (“Enter The Worm”), seemingly unrelated to the artefact and the blood samples storylines introduced earlier. Episode 4 deals with a hostage situation, where the man Galan is working with has his own agenda, and kidnaps Galan’s daughter Senna (Yvette Monreal) as leverage. What happens next is an all out war where people are killed, blood is shed, and Tony has to save Senna from some unsavoury characters (while he is playing on the field). Hence Tony tries to be sent off with a red card, which isn’t so hard when he deliberately punches players and trips them up when they don’t have the ball. The next episode brings Tony and two other players to Nicaragua with Galan on an illegal match between three popular Nicaraguan players, over a coke plantation that Galan and the head of a drug cartel in Nicaragua both want. The winner of the games turns out to be Tony and his two team-mates. Then the field is given over to Galan, and he just burns it anyway. Weird, huh, to go through all that trouble for a coke plantation, and then to burn it down when you have it. But there’s a reason for it (I’m not saying what it is), and the way it ties back to one of the previous storylines is neat and clever, making me like this series more and more. What I thought was sloppy writing turned out to be ingenuity all within the last 20 seconds, and this proves that Tony Bravo’s missions can only be more dangerous from here on out.
Speaking of danger and being in life threatening situations, Tony’s family life and friends around him keep him grounded, and it is the B and C plots here, the family drama that gives this show another layer, and keeps me interested. There is also drama with his two handlers, which is interesting too. Put it this way- while there are so many storylines and parallel ‘main’ plots (most not involving soccer) going on that it may seem confusing, it is what happens off the court and away from the spy life, how Tony evolves as a person that draws me into every episode.
As Tony is romancing Margot, his brother, the fun, sometimes irresponsible, and carefree Ricky (Jonny Cruz) is thrown a party at home as he received parole (due to the events in the pilot episode where Tony completed a mission in exchange for his brother’s release), but Tony doesn’t show up to the event as after his ‘date’ with Margot, his teammates ‘kidnap’ him, and throw a party/initiation for him, where there are strippers and drugs. After a wild night, Tony’s star profile rises and drama ensues as a result. Ricky is on board as Tony’s campaign manager and Annie masquerades as his agent (with Nicky using her natural Australian accent) just to keep up appearances and not to arouse suspicion. Tony’s step dad is also eager to help him in his soccer career, and his team mates also warm up to him, especially during the match in Nicaragua. But while there are a lot of people in Tony’s corner, the ruthless reporter Reyna Flores (Eve Torres) is on the hunt for Tony’s secret, after acquiring his first burner CIA phone (that was broken in the pilot) and asking her assistants to find everything out about Tony Bravo.
Romance is also in the air for Tony- after his fling with Margot, he rekindles a romance with an ex-partner at the DEA (Natalie Martinez) who is deep undercover for a year in Nicaragua scoping out the coke plantation that Galan wanted to acquire. There are also moments between Tony and Senna, not to mention the slow burn relationship Tony has with Annie. A platonic childhood friend, Karen (Christina Ochoa), is introduced in the second episode, but we all know how dramas go- it’s inevitable that either Tony or Karen will have feelings for the other… So Tony has 4 women in his life, and the tension of which one the writers have in store for him to end up with will surely be interesting as the show progresses.
As far as acting is concerned, each actor holds their own, but I must devote a few sentences to Alfred Molina, who is absolutely captivating and moving as Andreas Galan, the crafty, manipulative owner of the LA Riots. Completely transformed into the role, it is his presence over these 4 episodes that make Matador what it is. Maybe in time, other actors will have their turn in the spotlight to shine, but for me the series has highlighted Alfred’s performances as the star to match or beat. As usual, it’s great to see Nicky, Gabriel, Neil, and co. on screen and working well in harmony together, as it is this chemistry that the actors have that makes the show believable, as they are immersed in their roles. As time progresses, maybe I could say that this show is Emmy nomination worthy (it is not there yet), but I think Robert Rodriguez has a hit on his hands. The shooting locations of Tony’s apartment, Galan’s office, the CIA base, the dressing room, and the soccer field doesn’t really change in the first three episodes, but this past episode in Nicaragua is welcome as a change of scenery. Never have I been happier for a first season show to be renewed than I am for Matador, and I am positive that the next 8 episodes of season 1 will be thoroughly enjoyable. I am not sure when season 2 will debut, but I am already looking forward to what is in store for Tony Bravo and whether another sport will be explored besides soccer. Let’s just hope that everyone survives the season, which I highly doubt though given the enormous regular and recurring cast.
Did Matador leave a lasting impression on you in the past 4 episodes? Which themes spoke to you the most? What elements of the show did you enjoy- the soccer, the romance, the family drama, or the espionage parts? Will you be tuning in the coming weeks? Let us know in the comments.
RIYL: Chuck, The Bridge, Gang Related, Covert Affairs, soccer games on FOX Sports or ESPN
Rating: 4/5 (based on 5 episodes)
Matador airs every Tuesday at 9/8c on El Rey Network.