Sunday, June 10, 2007

Zorro: Capítulos 79-82 (June 4-8) (Updated)

It's not nice to fool Mother Nature! (Valentina Acosta as the One the Only the Great Selenia)

Olmos demanded that Selenia demonstrate her powers before they completed their transaction for the love potion. The One the Only the Great Selenia was not happy. But she waved her new magic ring so that it sparkled three times, which let her hypnotize Olmos so that he would see himself in her mirror as dashingly handsome, the way she promises that Mariángel/"Mangle" will see him once the potion takes effect.

Cathy at Caray, Caray! was also reminded by this scene of Selenia and Olmos of the old TV commercial where Mother Nature gets grimly threatening at the end because some shampoo or other is imitating her work too closely.

A common scene in telenovelas is one that I think of as the "bitch face-off". Maybe someone can tell me if there's a standard trade name for it. But it's where two female characters, usually rivals in love and/or business, confront each other with nasty looks and barbed words. Sometimes the face-off is followed by another hallowed convention, the cat-fight. We saw that progression this week when Mangle visited her half-sister Esmeralda in the basement where el Comandante Montero is holding her.

The bitch-face-off is a good way of establishing the power hierarchy of the moment, and it's also a way of establishing character. In the Mangle/Esmeralda one this week, Mangle was obviously in a more powerful position at the moment. But Esmeralda responded with tragic dignity. Mangle recognized that she'd lost the face-off when she jumped Esmeralda.

There are face-offs between men and women, too.

Diego with his adoring wife

Diego had one with Mangle when they got back from Esmeralda's (presumed) grave. Diego doesn't trust her and knows she's bad. He just doesn't realize yet how bad. This week he offered to make sure she was taken care of and that the child is educated. But he says there's never going to be any romance between them. Mangle's trying hard because, well, that's just what she does. Anyway, this expression of dignified and restrained but unmistakable contempt pretty much sums up Diego's attitude toward Mangle.

The men don't always win the man/woman face-offs, by any means. For instance, the Queen had a face-off with el Duque Jacobo and told him, in a polite, regal kind of way, to cut out the stalling and set up her trip to the New World.

La Reina straightens out el Duque

Then there are guy-to-guy face-offs, which in Zorro often involve weapons. We had a few of those this week, including Alejandro almost killing el Gobernador Fernando, Fernando almost killing some guy in the tavern who was daydreaming out loud about María Pía and Zorro facing down Pizarro and one of his thugs, each of them holding pistols. But Zorro had two pistols, and his were revolvers and theirs were single-shot. So they had to lower their pistols and acknowledge that Zorro was the alpha-dog of the moment.

Two-gun Zorro shows he's the alpha dog - or alpha fox, as the case may be

But somehow, in the telenovelas the face-offs between the women are often particularly dramatic and ferocious. At the end of the week, Mangle was ridiculing Olmos with her madwoman cackle and demanding that he set up an appointment for her with Selenia. The Mangle/Selenia face-offs are going to be fun. If Mangle is out of her depth in dealing with Diego and his family, she'll be deep down in the pit confronting Selenia! [Update:
Margarita pointed out at Caray, Caray! that it was actually the old blind Indian medicine woman that Mangle was demanding to see. I checked the tape, and she's right. Darn! I had a Freudian mis-hearing on that one, because I really wanted to see Mangle and Selenia have a showdown. Too bad.]

Selenia has had only one of that kind of face-off so far, with the barmaid at the tavern. It was no contest. Mangle is going to wind up feeling as small as Tarsisio, Selenia's magic dwarf. I assume he's magic, but so far all we've seen him do is serve her table. Tarsisio set up Selenia's triumphant line of the week by praising her brilliant sorcery. To which she replied that she was "la única, Tarsisio, la única, la Gran Selenia", (the One, the Only, the Great Selenia).

Separated at birth? Selenia's magic dwarf slave Tarsisio and the Mad Hatter

Selenia's appearances have become the highlights for me. But plot-wise, the most important development of the week was Esmeralda having her second "resurrection". As I mentioned in an earlier summary, her mother Sara Kalí/Mercedes Mayorga de Aragón was presumed dead but was "buried" in the dungeon for 20 years, then she was literally buried and dug up by Agapito the surgeon and general jack-of-all-trades. Like Elijah the prophet, he can even raise the dead! (For the godless heathens out there, that's Elijah from the Old Testament.)

Esmeralda is presumed dead and was "buried" (it was actually a body substituted by el Comandante), but she was really "buried" in the dungeon, too, just like her mother. She was moved to another "grave", the basement room in the cabin in the forest. And this week she escaped.

Esmeralda resurrected

The visuals of Esmeralda escaping in the night running through the woods hiding from el Comandante's thugs, tinted in blue as in this screenshot, were some of the best of the series. In this moment, Marlene Favela gets to combine the tragic adult Esmeralda with her intrepid Nancy Drew girl-adventurer side. This combination has been one of the appealing aspects of her character all along.

And it's worked well in the story. For instance, at the end of the week, she has made it to the edge of the De la Vega hacienda, where she would be safe. But she sees Diego's carriage right at the moment that Mangle is throwing herself at him yet again. She impetuously decides that the smooching is voluntary on Diego's part and let's the carriage go right by her without calling out. Instead she stands there feeling sorry for herself like a jealous teenager. Now, since she was being held in a basement with her family and her True Love thinking she was dead, being tortured and starved by her sadistic husband el Comandante Montero, feeling sorry for herself is understandable. But the more mature Sara Kalí or María Pía would have done a double take for a second or so, then called out to Diego for help, whether he was smooching her rival or not.

As we see in the previews, el Comandante catches up to her just after that. So it's potentially a fatal delay. It won't be, of course. Having been resurrected, I'm guessing she won't even wind up back in her "grave" in the basement.

Zorro Hood: Zorro distributes Montero's fortune - which he liberated shortly before - to the poor

Zorro had some good action this week. He saved the Marquesa on her way back to Mexico City from being assassinated by Pizarro and some hired thugs. And he robbed el Comandante Montero's treasure stash from the El Callao prison,leaving a big Z behind slashed on a blanket on the wall. Montero does not take this well.

Zorro steals Montero's fortune - Montero responds by nearly allowing his head to disintegrate

Here we get to see Zorro in his Robin Hood role that makes him so popular among the poor of la Ciudad de los Ángeles. In the scene where he hands out Montero's treasures to los pobres, he thinks to himself that this is money and valuables that el Comandante essentially stole from Esmeralda through her forced marriage and torturing Diego. So he's doing this particular action for her, getting revenge on el Comandante and also making sure that the money goes to help the needy, because that's where her sympathies lie, as well.

One of the things I find appealing about telenovelas is that they give more serious attention to social issues like immigration (for the ones set in the present day) than the typical American TV series does. Not that they are didactic social dramas, far from it. The issues often arise in the stock romantic situation of a poor woman falling in love with a rice man, or a rich man with a poor woman, etc.

In Zorro, the condition of los indigenos, the native Indian tribes, gets a lot of emphasis. Of course, the notion of a Spanish priest like Padre Tomás and the convent being strong advocates for protecting the Indians and sheltering escaped slaves is a romanticized version of that period in California history. Despite the Pope's ill-considered pronouncement in Mexico last month, the Church not only forced conversions but enslaved many Indians outright. There were individual dissenters, and there may very well have been individual characters like Padre Tomás in the 1810-1820 period in which Zorro is set. But his character seems to owe more to social-activist priests of the last century than to the actual Californio priests of the 19th.

As I mentioned in
comments atCaray, Caray!,the Isabel Allende novel El Zorro gives some background that I think is helpful for the telenovela. For instance, "limpieza" (pure blood) was a big theme in Spanish life going back to the days of the Inquisition. And in her novel, the various distinctions between "pure blood" Spaniards, local-born "pure" Spaniards, mestizos and native Indians is discussed quite a bit. In the telenovela, it comes up explicitly in the discussion of why Toypurnia/Regina went back to her tribe while Alejandro went to Europe. And Diego's mixed blood was mentioned a couple of times in connection with the suitability of his marriage to one of Fernando's daughters. The intense contempt that Mangle showed for Yumalai/Guadalupe in Friday's episode could also be understood in that context.

Interestingly enough, despite the number of tough and determined women in this telenovela - Esmeralda, Yumalai/Guadalupe, Toypurnia (in flashbacks), María Pía (off and on), Almudena (despite her physical weakness), the Marquesa, Selenia, of course - the story also depicts the Spanish women as being clumsy and inexperienced in things like horse riding and handling weapons. Actually, it was more the norm at that time for the colonial women in California to be very good on horseback, for instance. Even in the pulp serial
The Curse of Capistrano in which author Johnston McCulley first introduced Zorro to the world in 1919, Zorro's love interest, Lolita Pulido, is an expert horseback rider. Isabel Allende tells us in the last part of her novel that Diego would eventually marry Lolita Pulido.

Of course, this week there was a scene which was apparently inserted to show that Sara Kalí is also not someone who takes to being pushed around. Still disguised as a leper, she and a group of others from the leper colony are harassed by some soldiers sneeringly "flirting" with them. As one young guy addresses Sara Kalí individually, she slugs him in the face and he goes down on the ground. I guess she spent a lot of time doing pushups for those 20 years in the dungeon!

The Tobías comic-relief thread took another step this week, though it's getting darker. Tobías was playing around in his Zorro suit when Maestro Samaniego walks in the room and is (literally) scared todeath by the sight. But while trying to get approval for his burial - there's a bureacratic snag because el Maestro doesn't have family around - Tobías watches el Capitán Pizarro and Tobías wife Catalina doing the Wild Thang again. Pizarro this time talks about murdering Tobías to get him out of the way. Catalina objects, but proceeds to make love to Pizarro anyway. Tobías could be forgiven for thinking this was less than a whole-hearted defense on Catalina's part. At the end of the week, he's calling her a slut and choking her with his hands in the room with el Maestro's coffin. Could be ominous symbolism for Catalina's immediate future.

María Pía finally leaves the convent this week after fessing up to her undying love for el Gobernador Fernando. But she doesn't intend to marry him, with his being a serial killer and all. But she gets drunk at the tavern with Diego and then tells him that el Gobernador was the one who murdered his mother Toypurnia/Regina. As J.R. puts it in her detailed summary of the episode at
Caray, Caray!, Diego "is muy impactado".

And the Almudena death watch continues. She's accepted her near-term death as inevitable. But she's determined to complete her training of Yumalai to be a proper Spanish lady (Yumalai's Guadalupe mode) and expects her to take over as Alejandro's husband. Something Alejandro will no doubt solemnly agree to do, since he practically drools every time he sees Yumalai.

Almudena prepares Yumalai to take over as Wife #1

Silvia in
comments at Caray, Caray! poses a question that's crossed my mind, too, "I wonder if she would be so encouraging if she knew her beloved Alejandro boinked little sister [Yumalai] on his wedding night?"

Actually, I'm thinking that Almudena pretty much figures that something like that is going on. After hanging around with Fernando and a bunch of aristocratic Spanish types all her life, she probably figures a mistress is just part of the deal. Plus, she genuinely likes Yumalai. By training Yumalai to be Guadalupe, she bridges the gap between the best of Spanish culture and the best of native culture.

After all, in the native world whose rules Yumalai plays by (well, except when she doesn't), and which the De la Vega family generally honors, the tribal rules say she's Alejandro's wife and doesn't have a real choice. Alejandro has already said she would not be able to take a husband in her tribe because of the rule. So he's not going to do the Hagar routine on her. (Another Old Testament reference, Abraham kicks Hagar and Ishmael out to die in the desert because his wife Sarah is jealous.) And the fact that María Pía's immediate reaction in an earlire episode when Alejandro first told her that Yumalai was Toypurnia/Regina's sister was amusement because of the little-sister rule, tells me that Yumalai is going to wind up more as Rachel (another O.T. reference, Jacob has to marry to homely older sister Lea but works another seven years to marry his true love Rachel, too) than as Hagar.

Finally, the Zorro mystery of the week. El Gobernador Fernando keeps a picture of a woman on the wall behind his office desk. It doesn't appear to be María Pía and that's unlikely anyway. He hates Esmeralda and Sara Kalí/Mercedes, so it's not likely to be one of them. It could be Almudena or Mangle. I'm guessing Mangle's mother. But it adds a ghostly touch to Fernando's office.


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