Sunday, March 18, 2007

Zorro: Capítulos 21-25 (Mar 12 - Mar 16)

Marlene Favela as Esmeralda Sánchez de Moncada (Photo: Telemundo)

It was a satisfying week in ZorroLand, aka, Alta California. This week gave Marlene Favela and Luly Bosa, playing Esmeralda and Almudena, respectively, the chance to show off their abilities to achieve the right mix of melodrama and realism as they agonized over the plight of their men, Diego and Alejandro. And a whole satisfying story line played out to a dramatic climax in the last moments of capítulo 25, which further defined the levels of villainy among the various villains.

Since the Zorro story is so well established as a comedy-adventure series, any film treatment of the Zorro story is virtually obligated to contain a heavy element of that. But for a five-episode-per-week telenovela, having every episode turn on swashbuckling swordfights and wisecracking in improbable situations were get old very fast. Since telenovela fans expect a healthy dose of over-the-top dramatic reactions, that gives the actors and director a good opening to add a more serious element to the story. But that's a tricky thing, to maintain the right mix between action, comedy, romance and emotional tension, all in a period piece with familiar characters with a variety of story conventions that have to be respected to some extent.

The week started off on a happy, romantic note when Almudena snuck over to the De la Vega hacienda in the evening and she and Alejandro retired to his bedroom for activities not officially sanctioned by the Church for unmarried couples.

At the same time, Guadalupe decides that a few days of being a Spanish lady is too much for her. We don't see her observing Almudena's presence. But since she's always slipping around keeping an eye on Alejandro, it's not a strech to assume that. Also, Alejandro scolded her in the previous episode for using Regina's perfume which he had saved among his late wife's belongings. So she decides to revert to Yumalay mode, puts on her war paint and goes out to nail "the man with one eye", i.e., el Gobernador Fernando, who murdered her family and tribe.

This quickly leads to trouble when Yumalay takes a short with her bow and arrow at Fernando just at the moment Alejandro steps into the line of fire, so Alejandro takes the arrow. The soldiers go after her and at the end of capítulo 21, she's captured and being slapped around by el Gobernador. But Alejandro has asked Diego to save her, so he sets out as Zorro to keep his promise.

Some swashbuckling ensues, with Zorro beating back Fernando and five of his men and helping Yumalay escape. Yumalay sneaks into Alejandro's bedroom and does some native hoo-doo to help him recover. Almudena overhears a conversation between Guadalupe and Delores about how she was the one who shot Alejandro in the process of trying to kill Almudena's brother the evil Gobernador. Alejandro even tells Almudena that Guadalupe/Yumalay is after Fernando because he exterminated her tribe. So life becomes more complicated for Alumudena, because now she has to shield the woman who almost killed her true love as well as being determined to kill her beloved brother.

Intrigue abounds when el Comandante Ricardo Montero threatens Fernando with exposure of Sara Kalí's secret unless he goes along with Montero's plan to rule in dictatorial fashion. (Montero has spirited her out of the prison and is holding her in a pit in the ground somewhere.) Fernando alludes to a secret about Sara Kalí much greater than the ones he thinks Montero knows already. Whatever the Gypsy Queen's secrets are, they're going to have to be pretty impressive to match the hype!

Montero and Pizarro begin plotting to arrest Diego. We discover that Pizarro has been rolling in the hay - literally, in the stable - with Catalina. She spills the beans about her dandy husband Tobias' plan to smoke out Zorro. This gives Pizarro the idea to accuse Diego of being Zorro and Alejandro of being his accomplice, a plan which he proceeds to carry out. There are indications that Pizarro may have a game of his own going behind Montero's back. Alejandro mentioned at one point that Pizarro was more dangerous than Montero.

Pizarro begins flogging Diego in the torture chamber of the prison to make him sign a confession of being Zorro. El Comandante drags Esmeralda there and forces her to watch Diego being whipped. El Comandante wears a movie-serial-villain smirk while doing so. Esmeralda agrees to marry el Comandante in exchange for his realeasing Diego. But he  also orders Pizarro to kill Alejandro before he can recover from his arrow wound.

Carmen Marina Torres as Dolores (Photo: Telemundo)

But when the assassin comes to carry out the deed, Guadalupe catches him at the last moment, goes into Yumalay mode, beats the crap out of him and ties him up, and revives Alejandron. Then she and Dolores take the assassin outside and start burning him at the stake (actually there was no stake, but still) and force him to confess that Montero sent him, but just as the confession escapes his lips a second assassin plugs him with a rifle shot, possibly fatally wounding him.

Meanwhile, Fernando signs an arrest warrant for el Comandante Montero on charges of stealing money, and sends a group of soldiers under the hapless Sargento García to make the arrest. Not surprisingly, García can't go through with it. But Montero and Fernando wind up achieving an uneasy standoff for the moment.

The conflicts between Fernando and the cardinal and Fernando and Montero provide some interesting plot twists. Because Montero particularly hates the De la Vegas, it's to the Vegas' advantage to have Fernando win the upper hand over him. Fernando also reprensents civilian government (a very flawed version, no doubt!) over Montero's attempt to rule as a military dictator. Although Fernando's dealings with the cardinal are in bad faith, he's also asserting civil authority over the Church, which was very much an issue in the Spanish empire and in Mexico in the early decades of the nineteenth century.

Also plotting against Diego is Mariángel, who almost gets him to drink a cup of tea with her high-octane native love potion. But Esmeralda fortunately arrives in the room and surprises Diego from behind, making him drop the tea just before he drinks. But since he was obviously suspicious of what Mariángel was up to - he's a trained magician among his other talents and may have noticed that she was hiding some action from him when she poured the love potion into the tea - he may havedropped it on purpose. It would be a cute twist if Mariángel accidentally drank it and became smitten with the humpbacked household servant, Olmos.

Mariangel enlists Catalina's help to win over Diego.

Fernando was on his way to teach el Comandante an uspecified lesson in trying to defy him when he got all distracted by Yumalay's assassination attempt. (The lesson was presumably his inspection of the accounting books, which he does later with Olmos.) Before following his soldiers out to catch Yumalay, Fernando heads to the church and prevent the cardinal from formally establishing the nuns' community as an official Church order. He swears to María Pía afterwards that her God won't keep him from the woman he loves.

Sor Suplicios also alerts the cardinal that María Pía is Fernando's lover, which is not true but Sor Suplicios thinks it is. María Pía had a thoroughly bad week. Aside from her brother Alejandro nearly dying, her nephew Diego was in prison being tortured, el Gobernador turned down her plea to get Diego realeased, Mariángel's hostility to her increses and the cardinal is now questioning her suitability to be Mother Superior of the convent. And Sor Suplicios is vowing to make the convent hell, which promises to be an intriguing subplot. Bummer of a week for her. She did mention to el Gobernador, though, that she was going to appeal to their family's connections in Spain for help.

Although Montero managed to get Judge Quintana (Catalina's father) to marry him to Esmeralda legally, Diego makes a dramatic escape on his own and sets out to impede Esmeralda's church wedding. Although the escape requires the viewers to accept that a badly tortured man suddenly received a burst of energy on learning his true love is about to marry someone else under duress, the escape sequence was well done. Besides, Montero already told Pizarro he intends to murder Diego anyway, despite his agreement with Esmeralda.

Fortunately, Diego managed to make his way to the gitano encampment and they came up with a plan to prevent the marriage. Meanwhile, Bernardo rode in public as Zorro, which will place Zorro elsewhere while Diego dramatically appeared at the last moment in the church where the wedding was taking place and spoke out against the marriage.

Nicely done. Just prior to the wedding, there was an important conversation between Montero and Fernando, in which Montero declared that money and power were the most important things in life. Fernando notes with a mournful, nostalgic look in his eye that Montero didn't include love in his short list. Montero replies cynically. But this incident, along with a scene in which Fernando confronts Sara Kalí - who he calls by her Spanish name Mercedes - and complains bitterly that she betrayed his love, show us that love is Fernando's weakness. Montero and Pizarro, on the other hand, are so far totally evil and cruel.

Jorge Cao as Padre Tomás in the cowl used by La Cofradía (Photo: Telemundo)

A couple of teasers popped up this week. One was an allusion to Sara Kalí's identity in itself as being part of her mega-secret, possibly some blood relation to the Spanish royal family. Another was the anonymous helper who showed up at the church in a monk's robe to help Diego, prompting him to change his rescue plan at the last minute. Presumably he's from the secret society of which Zorro and Padre Tomás are members, La Cofradía (The Brotherhood). Padre Tomás has asked them to help Diego escape, though they apparently do not know that Diego is Zorro.

See also my previous Zorro post.

Web site: Zorro: la Espada y la Rosa (Telemundo)


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