Somehow going into its fifth episode Matador feels like a more mature show. Perhaps after “setting the stage” — to borrow the words of Galán — over the first few episodes with a series of impossible twists and turns, the show can now settle into a slightly less cartoonish version of itself without totally sacrificing its grindhouse roots.
Indeed, just a quick look at “Enter the Worm”’s new villain, Nicaraguan druglord Gaspar Calera, makes it clear that despite the episode’s more settled tone, Matador’s creators are in no way interested in sacrificing their shockingly over-the-top style. Calera’s introduction in the first few minutes comes by way of a series of nauseating close-ups of the man’s full-body burns being feasted upon by goldfish in what is apparently some obscure traditional remedy (hats off to the makeup team for putting together something so credible and so unapologetically disgusting at the same time).
Yet on the other hand, it seems after four episodes we finally have someone to sympathize with — and its not Tony Bravo. After Andrés Galán’s turn last week as the concerned father torn between business and family, it seems Alfred Molina is now carrying the weight of this show on his bulky shoulders. A glance at his warm, sincere eyes, his fatherly treatment of Galán, and one easily forgets that he wrapped up the last episode by discharging two rounds into a man’s head.
In fact, sitting beside the deformed, growling Calera in his beige linen-suit and pocket kerchief, Galán seems positively gentlemanly. And perhaps that’s what most endears us to him: Molina doesn’t ‘play’ the villain. He plays a pragmatic businessman with a soft side. And whether it was the writer’s intention or an inevitable product of pure acting chops, the show is more and more about him. Gabriel Luna’s Bravo, meanwhile, plays out as a two-dimensional plot device rather than a flesh-and-blood human being. And that’s just fine. The writers need to know what working for the show, and keep the focus there as much as possible.
As Matador comes of age, other characters are also beginning to step forth timidly out of the dramatic woodwork. The writers allow us a brief to glimpse behind the work persona of Bravo’s CIA contact Annie Mason and into the bedroom where we find her secretly sleeping with her boss, although behind closed doors, she seems to be the one calling the shots. Then there’s Senna Galán, who sheds her Mickey Mouse Club-femme fatale act long enough to give us a deeper window into her family life and tragic backstory.
Add to this increased attention to character a couple of new stylistic touches, including a classic Mission Impossible-style split-screen phone conversation, tasteful music choices, some impressive production design and a couple of soccer sequences that do a decent enough job keeping up the energy – and it seems Matador has more potential than it lets on. Let’s see if the Executive Producer Roberto Orci and the rest of the Matador team can continue juking, cutting and rolling their way through the season and take this show to truly unexpected places.