Tony Bravo is a man being pulled at from all sides. Since his forced recruitment into the CIA, nothing seems to be going smoothly for the guy; but then again, this is genre television and the writers seem to know a little something about conflict.
First, there’s his big-old East-LA latino family. Sure, being an undercover DEA agent wasn’t easy for maintaining family ties, but now that Tony has officially given up his days as a narc things should be settling down, right? Little does his family know that Tony has actually gone from narc to spook (the CIA kind), while still juggling an undercover day job as a soccer celebrity.
Episode two brings this conflict front and center as Tony spends the majority of the episode’s 45 minutes trying to make it back in time for his brother’s homecoming party. Along the way, there are assassinations, an impromptu one-night stand (or one-hour, to be precise) with a suspect, a kidnapping and a frat-style initiation party that ends with him streaking through the lobby of a fancy hotel before spending the night in jail. Of course, Bravo’s disappointed mami only catches wind of the last bit, proving the old adage: parents just don’t understand.
His cover as new-recruit for the fictional L.A. Riot soccer team also seems to be bumping up against his responsibilities for the Company, and while his Agency point-people are desperately trying to track down the woman who he had bedded only hours before, Bravo is half-naked mastering the art of drunken jumprope with his new ball-kicking buddies.
Indeed, all the ingredients are in the pot and simmering as Matador sets itself up for a season of plot-heavy, conflict-driven thrills. Alongside the work versus family bit, episode two further brings our arrogant, british-accented antagonist Alec Holster into relief as a relentless asshole hell-bent on taking the interloping “car mechanic” (Bravo’s previous cover for the DEA) out of his sphere of influence. Mr. Holster, played by Australian Tanc Sade of Gilmore Girls fame, further complicates things when he puts a sports journalist (Eve Torres) on Bravo’s tail. It’s a devious trick that nevertheless threatens to compromise the CIA’s operation when Ms. Flores gets a hold of Bravo’s missing cell phone in the episode’s closing moments (dun dun dun).
And finally we meet the love interest, Karen Morales: an around-the-way girl who’s been Bravo’s platonic best-bud since high school, although they seem to be the only two that don’t see where this script is heading. As friends turn to lovers, Bravo will undoubtedly be faced with ever more complicated decisions regarding his sentimental life and his high-octane career.
It’s clear at this point that Matador isn’t a show that traffics in subtlety, and the acting remains it’s most pronounced weakness. With a few notable exceptions, most of the performances seem to follow in the great tradition of Latin American soap-operas, with the actors showing rather than actually feeling. In fact, Gabriel Luna’s Tony Bravo seems to suffer from a permanent contraction of the eyebrows that we can only assume is a facile substitute for finding more complex emotions.
Of course, it’s not fair to put of all the responsibility on the poor actors. Matador seems to be secure in its identity as a show about plot twists, chase scenes and cliffhangers rather than deep characters and big ideas. Take it for what is, and it’s a hell of a ride.