Sharpen your stakes, because it’s that time of year again: From Dusk Till Dawn is back again for a third season, and if these first two episodes are any indicator, it promises to be bloodier than ever.
Tonight was a double feature, premiering both Episode 1 “Head Games,” and Episode 2, “La Reina,” on El Rey. Episode 1 was released on August 29th for live streaming, picking up where season 2 left off. The Gecko brothers (Zane Holtz as Richie, DJ Cotrona as Seth), have killed Lord Malvado (portrayed in season 2 by Esai Morales), and as such, have gained control of his empire. The Nine Lords follow Klingon rules, and the fact that no one makes a reference to that is a goddamn shame. Now, faced with the responsibility of ruling a piece of the Culebra underworld, the Nine Lords have decided that no, actually, this is a terrible idea, and have demoted the Geckos to be the official “collectors” of the realm. As Seth puts it, they’re bagmen.
Episode 1 follows the brothers six months after their meeting with the Nine Lords, and from there, well, it wouldn’t be Dusk if everything didn’t immediately go to hell in a handbasket. If you thought the Nine Lords were going to be major players this season, think again: A power play by one of this season’s major villains, Brasa (Maurice Compte), leaves all but Lord Vengaza (Ana de la Reguera) and her right hand, Ximena (Emily Rios), as fleshy, bloody piles of goo. So much for bureaucracy, it seems. Looks like all the law and order of the culebra world will be up to Ximena and Ranger Freddie Gonzales (Jessie Garcia), a man who deserves a nap and a hug more than any other person ever has or ever will.
In previous seasons, Dusk has followed a more crimeshow formula in their season premieres; a gig (so to speak) is lined out, with the Geckos seeking money, escape, or both, and the rest of the cast being forced to fall in line with their shenanigans, whether they want to or not. And while that pulp element is still strongly interwoven into the Dusk world, this season, the show will be playing more with the idea of a “monster of the week,” since the destruction of the Titty Twister’s sort of kind of accidentally opened the Labyrinthian prison beneath it. Accidents happen. We’ve all been there.
The villain for episode 1, a monster that I’m going to call “Skull Demon,” is able to possess the body of another being by, you guessed it, stealing their skull out straight out of their head. I know what you’re thinking, and I agree. Romantic! It’s also a smart way for Dusk to introduce the idea of possession, and supernatural beings outside of Culebras. It’s beginning to seem a lot like the Culebra world is a lot smaller in the grander scheme of the supernatural, and the world of the unknown is as enticing as it is horrifying.
“Head Games” is unexpectedly hilarious; it’s a level of funny we don’t usually get until mid season. Holtz’s Richie is a cheeky, self-refferential delight, and he’s balanced perfectly by Cotrona’s dryly apathetic Seth. Balanced by the overwrought Freddie, three of our six main characters come out swinging in the opening episode. Worth noting is Cotrona’s dedication to portraying Seth as a perpetually recovering victim of abuse; his ever-fraying nerves are bound to give the viewer both sympathy and anxiety, and the scene where Seth cowers before his once-equal baby brother is heart-wrenching. Rios and Compte are welcome additions to the show; Ximena is fresh culebra voice and a welcome female addition, whereas Compte plays a villain with all the dramatic, mustache-twirling flourish that we’ve come to expect from our favorite pulp show.
Oddly enough, episode 1 feels a bit like we’ve already been dropped into the middle of season 3. And as we progress into “La Reina,” the pace doesn’t slow or falter. If you came into season 3 expecting to be let in easy, you’ll be disappointed. There’s very little explanation of past seasons, so be sure to catch up on Netflix before you dip your toes into the third season.
“La Reina” sees the return of our two female leads, Eiza Gonzalez, who plays Kisa (formerly named Santanico Pandemonium), and Madison Davenport, who’s character Kate seemingly died at the end of season 2. Davenport portrays Amaru in “La Reina,” the queen of hell who is currently inhabiting Kate Fuller’s body. There’s no sign of Kate to be seen in Davenport’s performance; Amaru holds herself differently, speaks differently, and seemingly holds no fondness in her heart for anything but blood and power. Relatable!
Where episode 1 brought the humor, episode 2 is the gut punch fans have been waiting for since the end of the second season. Amaru’s presence in and of itself is enough to drive both Geckos into collective freak out mode. And Kisa, who is just trying to run an underground fightclub and be a lesbian, is unwillingly dragged back into the underworld by the Gecko brothers. Who, as we all know, ruin everything. Plus, Freddie hasn’t been allowed to see his baby daughter in six months, and at some point in the episode, you’re going to start to wonder just how dark this season is going to get.
If “La Reina” is any clue, it’s very, very dark. Pitch black dark. Darker than Brasa’s sunglasses, which he insists on wearing at night. I cannot stress this enough: do not let Brasa drive after dark. He can’t see.
While “Head Games” reminds us that Dusk doesn’t shy from dark comedy, “La Reina” is the other half of that equation: Dusk hurts. From Seth’s slack-jawed face as he sees what he thinks is Kate in the audience of the arena, to Kisa dropping to her knees as Amaru slaughters her girlfriend, the theme for this season of Dusk seems to be “make them laugh until they cry, and then really, really make them cry.”
Worth noting is my utter disappointment at the immediate introduction and then death of Kisa’s girlfriend, Manola (Gabrielle Walsh). Dusk is rather infamous for introducing new characters only to immediately kill them off, but the immediate sigh of disappointment in knowing that any woman romantically linked to Kisa will be meeting a deadly end. While it’s nice to see the show confirm that Kisa is romantically interested in women, it shouldn’t have to come at the cost of Manola’s life. In a television year where gay women are being killed off left and right, and considering the justified backlash, the Dusk writers should just know better.
While “La Reina” is a well-written, well-acted episode, Manola’s death will leave a bad taste for many. Especially considering Eiza Gonzalez, though a series main, was shooting several other projects during the filming of the third season, and thus will not be on the show as regularly as the rest of the cast. Manola’s death feels like a dead end to Kisa’s storyline, which could’ve been given more potential despite Gonzalez’s absence.
If “Head Games” and “La Reina” are any indication, there’s no rest for the wicked in season 3. And whether the wicked are the brothers, Amaru, or all of us at home enjoying the blood bath; Well, that remains to be seen. This season is going to be an absolutely wild ride, and it’s only going to get darker and meaner from here. Bring your tissues, because Dusk does not skimp on the pathos. Most looking forward to seeing where Madison Davenport takes Amaru in all her twisted, cruel glory. Kisa never wanted to be the queen of the culebras, and is more of a woman fighting for her freedom than anything else. Contrasting her to the power-hungry Amaru was a wise move, and sets the stage for the rest of the season.
Also, someone please tell Tatiana Maslany that Davenport is coming for the queen of multiple characters title. The girl is good.
From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series, airs Tuesday nights at 9/8c on the El Rey Network.