Matador: Code Red Card Review

Alfred Molina steals the show as Andrés Galán while an African warlord steals his daughter. Cue suspenseful music.

‘Code Red Card’ belongs to Alfred Molina. Though his character, Andrés Galán, is in many ways a classic comic-book bad guy (think Kingpin, with soccer), he skillfully outmaneuvers his more square-jawed counterparts from the good guy side and steals this episode with great aplomb. But then again, if the actor playing your villain cut his teeth on films like Raiders of the Lost Ark before racking up more career awards nominations than Titanic, wouldn’t you want to give him as much screen time as possible? 

Yet it seems Molina’s Andrés Galán is emerging as more than a menacing business mogul with a shadowy criminal streak – he is looking more and more like a flesh-and-blood human being: a loving and concerned father, an up-by-the-bootstraps barrio kid, a    passionate sports fan… well, perhaps I’m being too kind. After all, this is the guy who tried to poison the coffee of his principal competition at an art auction. But it is refreshing to see a show that traffics so often in one-dimensional caricatures take a moment and dig a little deeper into its characters.

Of course, that’s not to say we’re talking about Frank Underwood-level complexity here, but Molina does manage to stir genuine sympathy for his character as he spends half the episode pacing about and fretting over his daughter’s future. We see a softer side of the man when Bravo implausibly barges in to Galán’s office, mother in tow, while he’s in the midst of arranging for a mercenary army to do his evil bidding. Galán simply smiles, embraces Mrs. Bravo and showers her with compliments before reflecting on his own daughter’s bittersweet quinceañera (something like a latino sweet-sixteen).

We also get the sense that Galán is merely a minor player in this nebulous global conspiracy, beholden to far greater powers and determined to make the best of impressions on his more influential friends. But it seems we are still not anywhere closer to understanding what the hell is actually going on. Last episode a little green Mesoamerican statue disappeared, this week Galán makes good by hiring a bloodthirsty African warlord and his mercenary army. The connection is beyond me, but Matador’s writers continue skating figure eights around our heads, packing each episode with moments unbearable suspense, and introducing just enough complexity to keep the big picture out of our grasp.

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Meanwhile, Bravo’s soccer subplot is beginning to take on life as Tony rediscovers a the passion he once had for the game along with the connection it symbolized with his now deceased father. While Luna’s acting continues to be a glaring weak-spot in the show’s style, the director and post-production team don’t seem to be doing him any favors. The opening dream sequence, with it’s bleary, overexposed oneiric style, seems taken straight from the book of undergraduate film-school clichés and is only trumped by the uninspired soccer sequence that follows later in the episode. If the producers’ goal was to make converts out of soccer-averse American sports fans, they would be advised to at least make their montages as entertaining as a closed-circuit telecast of suburban peewee matches. In Matador, the players stomp around, flatfooted, knocking into each other with great care not to ruffle their jerseys. In true soccer style, the Riot’s coach throws an “i can’t believe we’re losing”-hissy fit and chucks anything in his path, though in truth it seems like he was looking for a lost contact.

But we somehow let these things slide and keep coming back for more. Matador’s team seems to know it’s doing something right, I just wish they would aim a little higher.

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