There’s a moment toward the end of “Mano a Mano” in which Tony Bravo finds himself standing outside of his mother’s house looking in at the closing moments of his sister’s quinceañera party. Moments earlier he had left the festivities without notice to save a CIA coworker from the grips of a murderous Mafioso, and his family was none the wiser. Now, arriving abruptly back at the party, Bravo stops for a moment outside the house’s large front window. In his reflection, cast against the image of his parents and siblings slow dancing to a melancholy Al Green ballad, we understand the deep gulf between Tony and his beloved family. The tension between his professional and family life has been palpable since the series’ first episode, and has continued being an important subplot in the ensuing weeks; but now, as Tony looks down at the blood spattered on the teal blue tie his sister picked out for her honor court, he seems to make a decision and reluctantly turns his back on that which he loves the most.
While it’s certainly not Shakespeare, this is an example of effective visual storytelling, and television is, of course, a visual medium. But then, staying true to their colors, the Matador writing staff hits us over the head with a cartoon mallet when Tony Bravo says, “I had this idea that maybe now I could be the person that they want me to be… But the only way I can protect my family is to stay away,” just in case we didn’t get it the first time around. Indeed, Matador is one of those shows that prefer to treat its audience as intellectually deficient rather than running the risk of leaving someone out of the joke. And while it’s a bit frustrating to have someone talking to you in the slowly enunciated syllables of a kindergarten teacher, that’s more often than not the case in television and even commercial Hollywood fare.
At least Matador has keen sense of writing as an artisan craft, hitting all the right buttons and precisely the right times, and even manages to elevate the series to something bordering on artful, if only in brief flashes.
Overall, “Mano a Mano” is a minor episode. There is a timid flirtation with disaster when Noah seemingly has his hands smashed off in a painfully gruesome torture scene, but the writers ultimately back off with the cowardly “it was all a dream” (or, in this case, “it was all a hallucination”) escape-hatch. Much like with their visual storytelling pretensions, the writers give us a brief taste of their capabilities only to throw it all away in order not to ruffle too many feathers. Nevertheless, Bravo’s portentous closing line in which, referring to Noah’s drug-addled interrogation, he asks “What if he gave me up?” might be setting up an interesting dramatic device that will open the door for plenty of intrigue in the coming episodes.