Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Zorro update through Feb. 19th

Marlene Favela as Esmeralda (Photo: Telemundo)

El Zorro got off to a good start on Monday night the 12th, with love interests, greed, grudges, simmering hatreds and mystery parentages all over the place.

Zorro himself didn't do any real swashbuckling until the final scene. When we left him last night, he had just gotten his hat string tangled up with Esmeralda's magic Gypsy necklace while facing off against about ten soldiers with swords.

But it was Esmeralda who actually got the first swashbuckling scene. She's a heroine with a dark side: tough with a strong sense of fairness, but at the same time greedy, arrogant and self-absorbed.

The Zorro character and his civilian identity Diego clearly owe something to the dark Batman of some of the movies, who in turn was modeled on the Frank Miller "dark knight" Batman of the graphic novels. He's heroic but tormented and driven. Not unlike Batman, as a child Diego watched his mother (who may have been a Gypsy herself) killed in a raid organized by the new governor, Esmeralda's father.

When we first meet Diego, he's in the process of seducing the daughter of the corrupt local judge in order to steal some of the judges papers, making him a bit of what used to be called a "cad". In one of those over-the-top touches that are an indispensible part of the novelas, he escapes the judge and his daughter by jumping nekkid into a pig sty and hiding in the mud.

When he first appears in Zorro mode, we see Zorro in the dead of the night as a shadow on the wall holding his sword to the neck of the corrupt Spanish judge. When the judge assents to the offer he can't refuse, Zorro carves a little Z on his neck as a reminder.

Definitely off to a promising start.

In the five additonal episodes through Monday, Feb. 19, the novela covered quite a bit of ground. Here's the basic set-up.

The action takes place in Mexico, Alta California, presumably around 1810. Spain still rules Mexico but the American colonies have started a trend by breaking off from England.

De la Vega family: Diego de la Vega, aka, Zorro, is the heir to one of the largest haciendas in la ciudad de los Angeles. His father Alejandro de la Vega is still in charge. He's a former soldier but now concentrates on civilian pursuits. Alejandro is not one to make waves. But he shows more sympathy for the Indians than is expected of a "pure blood" Spaniard. Alejandro's sister is María Pía, a nun who is about to become Mother Superior of the local convent. She has at least one dark secret in her past. Parentage is flexible in novelas; somebody always discovers their partents are someone other than who they thought. We know that Diego's mother was an Indian who was killed when he was a child. It's unclear if Alejandro is the real father.

Moncada family: Fernando Sánchez de Moncada is the newly-appointed evil Spanish governor of Alta California, or maybe just la ciudad do los Angeles. Although LA was considerably smaller in those days than now. His sister Almudena directs the household and raised his two daughters. One daughter, Esmeralda, is already falling in love with Zorro, but isn't so much attracted to Diego yet. She has a mystery-parentage thing going too. She knows she's the daughter of a woman named Sara Kali who her father loved, but it's not clear if she's really his daughter. He says she not although he doesn't know that Esmeralda knows that he says that, and so far he's only said it to Almudena. The other daughter Mariángel is your basic ambitious slut, and has just set her sights on Diego. She's Papá's favorite and hates her supposed half-sister Esmeralda. Bernardo is Diego's trusted servant who doesn't speak and communicates with Diego through sign language; we haven't heard much about his background yet.

Other characters include Capitán Ricardo Montero is the evil comandante of the local Spanish army who has already been fooling around with Mariángel the slut, but Fernando has kinda-sorta offered Esmeralda to him to marry; Pizarro is Ricardo's evil right-hand man and head torturer; Padre Tomás Villarte is a good guy and the only one so far besides Bernardo who knows Diego is Zorro; Sor Suplicios is another nun who pretty crazy in large part due to having been raped by her brother, who we haven't met yet; Renzo is a young man who's a part of a group of gitanas (Gypsies/Romany) who have come to Alta California with Fernando; Sara Kali is a secret prisoner in Ricardo's prison who wears an iron mask because she's some kind of threat to the Spanish crown; Yumalai is an Indian woman who is apparently Diego's sister who was just rescued by Alejandro after he found her unconscious with a gunshot wound; Olmos is Fernando's humpbacked servant who has the hots for Mariángel.

El Gobernador (Fernando) had been in Los Angeles years before. He led the massacre of a group of Indians, during which he killed Diego 's mother in front of the child's eyes. Diego doesn't seem to remember this event consciously. Fernando was married to the mysterious Sara Kali, who is Esmeralda's mother. Sara Kali is the queen of the gitanas, and the gitanas recognize Esmeralda as their princess, a role she is willing to accept, secretly for now. El Gobernador's story is that Sara Kali married him only to get close to the Spanish king, who she tried to assassinate. But the story seems odd, because now she's being held secretly in prison in Alta Caliornia.

El Gobernador had also been engaged to María Pía in his younger days, but she rejected him for reasons still unknown even to him. She did refer to him once in private as a "monstruo" (monster), so we assume she knows about the Indian massacre. Or maybe it's his treatment of Sara Kali, or both, or something else. Sor Suplicios adores María Pía. But Padre Tomás has warned her than Sor Suplicios' feelings may turn violently against her if something reverses her image of María Pía. El Gobernador didn't help when he came to the convent one night calling for María Pía. Sor Suplicios overheard him but María Pía had to deny it all. So she now thinks it was the Devil she heard. But his could come back to bite María Pía.

Zorro and Esmeralda encountered each other when he was saving a prisoner from being murdered by Ricardo's men. There was immediate chemistry. So Zorro stopped by her room the next night, coming in through the balcony like Dracula visiting Lucy Westenra. They made out a little and he went on his way. Esmeralda orginally thought Diego was a wimp, like everyone else does. But in episode six, Diego saves her from being killed and eaten by a group of cannibals who must have escaped from Mel Gibson's last movie, Apacalypto. Diego had to debate with himself a moment whether to go swashbuckling into the cannibals' camp without his mask: save the damsel in distress, or keep his tough-guy side secret like he promised Padre Tomás? Of course he saves her. But now Esmeralda is suspecting he might be Zorro. (That part's moving fast; it took Lana Lang until Smallville's sixth season before she got that close to Clark Kent's Kryptonian secret.)

Yumalai and her other brother Jacó tried to kill el Gobernador in retaliation for the massacre of their tribe years before. But they missed, and Jacó got killed and Yumalai wounded. Now that Alejandro has saved her, even though el Gobernador is trying to get her back to torture information out of her, the opening credit sequences let us know that he and Yumalai will also have some chemistry going. Much to the dismay of Almudena, who's also got some serious chemistry in action with Alejandro.

Renzo the hunky gitana is also smitten with Esmeralda. But he's in big trouble at the moment. El Gobernador, Comandante Ricardo and Pizarro murdered a royal official in order to cover up the exitence of Sara Kali. And they intend to pin it on Renzo.

As we left them on Monday the 19th, Esmeralda and Diego were out in the forest fleeing from Mel Gibson's cannibals, who have gone for reinforcments. One of el Comandante's soldiers appeared at the end at Alejandro's hacienda demanding that he turn over Yumalai to him. Alejandro didn't look inclined to oblige.

So far, Zorro's appearances in costume have been limited. One interesting twist is that when Diego is Diego, he really does seem to be kind of a doofus, not just pretending to be one. Zorro is his determined, driven avenger side. But Esmeralda is throwing that off. He first fell for her as Zorro and vice versa. Then when Mel Gibson's cannibals were about to kill her, Diego had to be as tough as Zorro. But the internal conflict will no doubt continue. At the end of the opening credits, we see Diego looking at Zorro's mask and saying, "Tú y yo estamos enamorados en la misma mujer." (You and I are in love with the same woman.)


texasarky said...

Fantastic review.  Hope you continue this!

It's a wonderful telenovela.

bmiller224 said...

Thanks.  I do plan to keep it up.  I'm enjoying the production.  They are maintaining a good balance between playing it straight and the purely fun aspects of the story. - Bruce