Alice Braga as Teresa Mendoza, Jon Ecker as Guero  in "Queen of the South."

Alice Braga as Teresa Mendoza, Jon Ecker as Guero  in "Queen of the South."

BENEDICTE DESRUS/USA NETWORK

The heat is always on in Queen of the South

After her drug-running boyfriend is killed for skimming from the cartel for which he works, Teresa Mendoza runs for her life. She skips from the frying pan to the fire and back again in a taut, tense thriller that plays like a movie, with muted colors and interesting camera angles. The series, which was shot in Dallas, premieres June 23 on USA at 9 p.m.

If there's such a thing as a slow thriller, this show fits the bill. QOTS takes the time to build relationships and characters; the audience isn't left unscathed when it all hits the fan. And it does. It seems that the success of Breaking Bad made people want to tell it like it is. QOTS is the latest in a line of successful narcos, including Narcos on Netflix. 

Alice Braga (I Am Legend) plays Mendoza, who is at turns scared witless and extremely resourceful. Mendoza is her own spirit guide through twists and turns that lead her to an unexpected destination in the first episode, "Piloto." 

She's sweet, if hardened, when we first meet her as a money changer on the streets of Sinalao, Mexico. It's there that she meets Guero, "a Chicano from Texas,' whose first words to her are a compliment. And then he pays a kindness to her that none have matched before. Of course, that leads to being hopelessly in love.

"So what if he was a drug runner," she says in voice-over. And so begins her descent -- or ascent, when you look at it through her eyes. And that's what you'll end up doing. The power of the story will compel you. Mendoza is just someone who finally finds love, a home and a life. Isn't that the dream of everyone?

But as fast as things go up for her, they go down with the same quickness. What she found was a forever love, until it wasn't. (True to form, she's watching Scarface when that happens.) The first flight scene is intense and includes the best argument I've seen for turning down the volume when you're wearing headphones.

Before the episode is over, she's both the trembling deer and the hunter. There's not one bad casting choice: Joaquim de Almeida (24) plays Don Epifanio Vargas, the avuncular cartel head on his way to becoming governor; Verónica Falcón (Days of Grace) is his former wife Camila, a well-coiffed and well-dressed woman of steel; Jon Ecker (Narcos) plays the ill-fated, chivalrous Güero; and Justina Machado (Six Feet Under) imbues Brenda, the brassy, sassy best friend, with pathos.

Viewers learn early that Teresa, indeed, has become the Queen of the South and she's running "the biggest drug empire in the Western hemisphere." There's something freeing about knowing the end of a story, for the viewer and the creation team. 

Teresa's entire life is about to flash before our eyes in the series based on the popular novel by Arturo Pérez-Reverte, La Reina del Sur. A previous adaptation was a wildly popular telenovela for Telemundo. 

USA's Queen of the South has the goods to make it a trifecta.

For more TV news, views and reviews, follow @DawnBurkes on Twitter.

What's Happening on GuideLive