Emilia has left the building. That much is clear.
Netflix’s new political drama, Ingobernable, begins with a little domestic tussle. You know how it goes. You’re Emilia Urquiza (Kate del Castillo), the first lady of Mexico, and your hubby, the charismatic and once-popular young President Diego Nava (Eric Hayser), is a little upset because you’ve served him with divorce papers and caused his ratings to plummet. You know how charismatic and popular young Presidents can have a dark side the public doesn’t see? Well—that. So you’re in your hotel suite and the guy bursts in in a towering rage. He’s beside himself. There are accusations. Someone has screwed someone and/or screwed up everything they’ve worked for, someone’s betrayed someone, someone has in fact betrayed the entire country—holy backstory, this is one freighted tiff! A viewer might be forgiven for developing the impression that the title, “Ungovernable,” is a multi-layered one.
You’re leaving with the kids. Like hell you’re leaving with the kids. Things get blood-drawing physical, a gun is pulled and you end up out on the balcony in a furious storm, and your rage-crazed spouse is coming at you again, and then it all goes black. When you come to, you’re holding the gun, which makes no sense, and the President has toppled over the balcony and landed on your SUV with a bullet in his head.
You know you didn’t shoot him, but obviously, it looks bad, and members of his security detail are high-tailing it to your suite.
So you bolt. And now things get tricky.
The title sequence, which owes more than a little to James Bond, clearly telegraphs that we’re in for some intrigue and some melodrama, and the first episodes deliver. Del Castillo’s dramatic performance is very strong, and the supporting cast likewise. The frying-pan-to-fire leaps are paced to keep you on the edge of your seat—this woman is trying to flee a world where everyone knows who she is, half of them are looking for her, and almost no one turns out to be very trustworthy. She’s like Harrison Ford in The Fugitive, except that we’re only mostly sure she’s been framed. An unreliable-narrator one-eighty would not surprise me a bit right now, even though I’m pretty sure we’re supposed to believe Emilia is a principled, ethical, high-minded person. She’s not entirely acting like one, though.
There are aspects of this story that do not make a lick of sense to me. First of all, what the hell happened? Three episodes in, I still have no idea what Nava did to prompt Emilia to divorce him, which makes it very hard to follow her own decision-trail. There’s way too much story detail that’s left to the devices of, well, devices: We get so much information from ambient newscasts that just happen to be playing everywhere, it makes you kind of wonder. Emilia’s daughter is having an affair with an older and partnered woman, and by the end of the third episode one’s left wondering why this subplot has any meaning whatsoever. It likely does, but I’m getting a little impatient to find out how this complicates (or un-complicates) something.
Oh! And Emilia’s father (Fernando Lujan) is conducting some business in L.A. when the shit hits the fan, and there’s a really weird moment where he announces that he will make the United States side of the table “understand him better” by speaking Spanish. I speak Spanish, and if you’re an executive in an industry making mega-deals with Mexican corporations, you probably do, too, so I had zero problem with Lujan speaking Spanish and the other guys replying in English. That made complete sense. Lujan’s announcement that he would be speaking his own language stuck out like a… well, like a random announcement that one will be speaking one’s own language so the people who speak another language can better understand him. I hope there is a plot-related reason for this that went over my head. It’s a small scene and all, but it was one of several moments that baffled me at the story and script levels.
Most importantly, on my planet, fleeing the scene of your President-husband’s murder is a really super-crazy thing to do if you’re innocent. The woman was knocked unconscious and had glass embedded in her face and bleeding wounds all over her from the Ol’ Man beating her up before his untimely death, and his security guys witnessed him banging down the hotel suite door in a screaming, seething rage. Even if she had shot him, it’d be a pretty straightforward self-defense scenario, so is this a lost in translation thing that I don’t get about the Mexican government? Why does she have to organize her defense from Panama, leaving her children in harm’s way, if the people close to the family are in fact that dangerous? I’m sorry, but I’m struggling. Yes, she appears to have been framed, and she isn’t sure by whom or for what reason, and sure, that’d make you kind of nervous. But the decision to flee, which drives the whole story, at least so far, just feels weird in the absence of a little more clarifying information about why she has no other choices. And I think it’s a logic problem or an editing problem or a story problem rather than a culture problem, but I’m not 100% sure.
I’d definitely keep watching because the acting’s good and I want to find out what happens—in fact, what I really want to know is what happened to start this fire in the first place. By the third episode we’re seeing some potentially informative flashbacks—soon, perhaps, everything will become clear.
But it’s asking a lot of viewers to wait this long for some “why.” I hope it’s on the way.
Ingobernable premieres Friday, March 24 on Netflix.
Amy Glynn is a poet, essayist and fiction writer who really likes that you can multi-task by reviewing television and glasses of Cabernet simultaneously. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.