REGULAR CAST, GUEST CAST & CREDITS
TV GUIDE PROMO
AIRING AND RATING INFORMATION
SYNOPSIS 1 by Linda Crist
SYNOPSIS 2 by James Ott
COMMENTARY 1 by Carmen Carter
COMMENTARY 2 by Linda Crist
REVIEW 1 from Variety by Ramin Zahed
REVIEW 2 from Hollywood Reporter by Michael Farkash
REVIEW 3 from SciFi Wire by Kathie Huddleston
MY THAT'S A SHARP SWORD
Anthony de Longis as Torres
Antonio Mayans as Carlos
Enrique RodrĄguez as Fernando
Teresa del Olmo as Rubia
Jos Sancho as Don Alvarado
Jaime Palmer Colom as Corporal Leandro
Garcia Santos Villodres (Gabriel)
Written by James Thorpe
Directed by John Cassar
Filmed on location in Spain between May 3 - December 2000 (season one).
TV GUIDE PROMO
Tessa Alvarado, a Spanish aristocrat, returns home to avenge her father's death and finds her people oppressed by a military dictator.
She's not Catherine Zeta-Jones, but she plays her on TV. Tessie Santiago bears more resemblance to the Mask of Zorro star as a 19th-century sword-wielding Spaniard. Entertainment Weekly.
A young Spanish aristocrat takes up arms to avenge her father's death. Zap2It.com
Awaiting her father's return from California, a young Spanish aristocrat, Tessa Alvarado, is shocked when she learns of his death. Sailing for the New World to assume control of the family hacienda, Tessa and her confidante and servant, Marta, find the once beautiful country in the hands of a military dictator who rules with an iron fist, taxing his subjects to the point of starvation. Amidst rumors of her father's murder, her last bit of strength crumbles. In her desperation, a mysterious destiny is revealed. Tessa will take up arms to avenge her father's death, to protect the weak and to punish the unjust - behind the mask of the Queen of Swords.
AIRING AND RATING INFORMATION
1st RELEASE: 10/01/01
An AA average of 1.6
Competition from Action Hours:Andromeda 4.3 ER 3.4 Xena 3.3 XF 3.1 SG 2.9 BM 2.5 VIP 2.4 EFC 2.2 Sheena 1.9 B2B/Profiler 1.8 RH 1.7 BH/IM/Queen/LW 1.6 Immotal .9
This synopsis is by Linda Crist.
We open in a courtyard in Madrid, in 1817. Tessa and a man are engaged in a sword fighting drill. They banter as they fight. The scene switches to California. Soldiers on horses are riding through someplace that reminds me of West Texas more than California, and are shooting at a rider up ahead of them. The scene continues to switch back and forth between the sword drill in Madrid and the riders in California.
The man is shot once, but continues to ride. Back in Madrid, Marta, Tessa's servant/companion, approaches her. Tessa has been expecting her father but Marta gives her a sealed message. Back in California, we now see the riders in slow-mo. The rider out front is obviously in distress and already dying. Just as they shoot him again for good measure, Tessa opens the message.
It now becomes clear that the man who was shot is Tessa's father, as Marta tells her, "They say he died in a fall from a horse." Tessa says, "It's time to go home." Here is our first subtext moment. Marta is standing awfully close behind Tessa. [Hey, give me a break on this one. I've had five years of training to look, nay dig, for these moments. Just indulge me a bit.]
Okay, now we get the opening song and credits. It turns out to be very nice Flamenco-style music performed by Jose Feliciano, entitled "Behind the Mask." Nice out-takes, too. If those are scenes from upcoming episodes, I'm excited already. Then we break for commercials.
After commercials, we are at a beautiful beach area, with a curved long cove surrounded by hills on three sides. Tessa walks up and looks toward the hills and says, "Home." Marta looks around and says with disgust, "This is the new world. Savage country."
Tessa and Marta are in a horse-drawn buggy and Tessa tells Marta that her papa used to take her riding in the hills, and they would race toward the sun trying to catch it before it set. They continue to travel and come upon a broken down wagon. Oh no, it's not a real broken down wagon at all, it's a bandit. He runs over and waves a gun at them and demands that they hand over their purses. Tessa recognizes him and he recognizes her. He was her father's man servant (I think that's what she says), and "trusted friend."
The bandit and Tessa continue to talk and he tells her his family is starving and a lot has happened since she's been gone. She gives him some gold and then some soldiers ride up and the head honcho shoots the bandit. The shooter is identified as Captain Grisham. The bandit isn't dead, just injured. The Captain leads Tessa and Marta home. We switch scenes and Tessa is looking at a large mansion that has been completely trashed, sort of like Tara from "Gone with the Wind" meets "Twister." The Captain tells Tessa that when Alvarado, her father, died, there wasn't enough money to pay the taxes. He invites her to an afternoon celebration in the square. She is about to decline when Marta jumps in and says they would love to attend.
Tessa walks closer to the house and begins freaking out over her mother's dead weed-infested rose bushes. Tessa is crying and Marta comes up behind her. [Oh goody. More subtext.] Marta hugs her and tells her it will be beautiful again. Tessa asks, "Promise?" Marta shakes her head affirmatively. They touch heads while Marta comforts Tessa. Awww.
Next scene, according to professional reviews, is supposed to be 1817 Los Angeles, but I never got that directly from anything said during the show. Anyway, thebandit is tied up to a post in the town square and Rubia, his wife, tries to give him a drink of water, but a soldier slaps the dipper out of her hand. Tessa walks up and says he is thirsty. The soldier says he has orders. She gets in the soldier's face and says, "Obey them then, shoot me." She gives the man water. She doesn't get shot. This is the first of several times that Tessa just happens to walk up at a key moment. Oh, and each time she has on a different outfit.
We go next to a beautiful courtyard. A violinist is playing slow somber music for a small group of people. A blonde vixen and some stud-boy exchange meaningful glances. The stud is eating a peach or an apple or something. The vixen tells her male companion she is going to grab "a quick bite." She leaves his side. Tessa and Marta walk up. Tessa is dressed in a black off-the-shoulder dress and is looking pretty darned good. The violinist quits playing and everyone claps. The vixen's companion (husband?) introduces himself, but his words were totally unintelligible. I had to look him up. He's Don Hidalgo. I think "Don" is a title rather than his first name.
The violinist turns out to be Col. Montoya, and he asks Tessa to dance. He's smitten. He expresses his condolences at the death of her father. She asks him of his feelings for the bandit. She makes an appeal for his family. He says the bandit's family will have one less mouth to feed tomorrow. She says surely the colonel is as humane and noble as he is handsome. He says it is possible he might review the situation as a personal favor to her.
The dance ends and some very good Flamenco dancers take the stage. The colonel tells Tessa she has more pressing matters to think about (than the bandit) -- paying taxes. He says he would hate to see her forfeit her family home.
A squadron of soldiers is marching outside while the Flamenco dancing goes on. Uh-oh I smell trouble. Yep, outside the courtyard, they're blindfolding the bandit boy and the soldiers aren't just any squadron, they're a firing squad. Tessa walks out just as the dance ends and they shoot him. She screams "no" but it's too late. He's dead. She says he was murdered. The colonel says he was executed. He says out here he is the law. The bandit's widow is weeping. The camera pans out as Tessa looks around the area in sadness and confusion. Commercial break.
Back again. Tessa is in the family home, working off her aggression with some sword drills. Her face is all sweaty. There are close camera shots like in the beginning of the episode to compensate for her awkward sword work. Marta steps into the room and brings in a tray of something. Marta tells her it's not her fault. She says death gives the colonel pleasure. Tessa says she's sending a message back to Spain to tell them what's going on in California. Marta says Spain is recovering from Napoleon's wounds, and doesn't care about some primitive outpost.
Tessa says the Dons should care. Marta asks her if she expects them to be different. Tessa says her father was different. Marta says yeah, but he died. She reminds Tessa that her father was a fine horseman and insinuates that he didn't die from falling off a horse. She says people talk, especially around "servants with no ears." She tells Tessa they tell her he died at the hands of another.
We switch scenes and the blonde vixen is in bed getting some rather vocal nooky along with some b*tt grabbing and shoulder biting. We get a good look at her partner, and oh my God, it's not stud-boy, it's Capt. Grisham. I am shocked! The is no clue as to what happened to stud-boy. The colonel walks in on them and greets them. He says he needs to talk with the captain. He greets the vixen as "Senora Hidalgo." Ah-ha! Just as I suspected. Her companion during the violin concert was her husband. The colonel comments that there is nothing like an execution to fire the blood.
The colonel and the captain talk while the vixen gets dressed. The colonel asks if the men searched Alvarado's hacienda. The captain says they searched it and found nothing to pay the taxes with. The vixen leaves. The colonel notes that the captain has a way with "the fairer sex" (of course, I'm thinking almost any man could have their way with that particular specimen of the fairer sex). He says it may be useful.. He says even if Tessa can pay taxes there are ways to control her land, "marriage for example." He threatens to blackmail the captain if he doesn't go along with his plot. The captain calls the colonel a "son-of-a-b*tch."
Tessa rides out on a Palomino horse to visit the Bandit's family. His son is there and insults Tessa, saying it's her fault his father died. His mother slaps him on the face and he stalks away. Tessa asks Rubia, his widow, if her father was murdered. Rubia says two men are dead and nothing they do can change that. Tessa asks her what she knows. She clams up and says she knows nothing, and please don't ask her any more questions. She tells Tessa to talk to the Dons. "They know."
Tessa talks to Don Hidalgo in a landscaped garden. He asks her who would say her father was murdered, and that there is nothing to tell her. She asks why he can't talk in his own garden, where no one can overhear. He tells her questions make enemies. He tells her she is beautiful, but "only a woman," and without means. Tessa says she wants the truth. He tells her the truth is that she should go home and find a husband. "There is nothing like married life." Big snicker. Don't forget, this is the blonde vixen's husband talking. A messenger interrupts them and says Capt. Grisham has summoned Tessa.
The captain and Tessa have lunch on the beach at a nice wooden table with wooden upholstered chairs and a table cloth. They are drinking champagne from crystal glasses. Servants get supplies from a buggy. I'm impressed. That must be a heck of a buggy to have hauled that heavy table and chairs down to the beach. Tessa comments on his ability to serve champagne on a soldier's wages. She asks him who he has been stealing from. He tells her she is alone, with no home and no money, and needs protecting. She says she agrees, and she'll get a dog. The captain asks her if she's ever thought about marriage. She says yes, many times, and that she would wear a long red dress like her mother, and there would be music and dancing. She says on her wedding night, "My husband would be the happiest man in all of California." There is a pregnant pause while the captain watches her take a bite from a strawberry. She then says her heart is too heavy to give it to another. He says because of the taxes. She says no, because of her father's murder. He scoffs and asks her who said that. She says "people." He asks why they don't come forward. She says people are afraid to come forward because they might suffer a similar accident. She then asks him to take her back.
We switch scenes and Rubia's son is being chased through the town square by soldiers who yell "stop thief." They catch him and a merchant says he tried to buy flour with stolen gold. Tessa and the captain walk up. Tessa says no, she gave him the gold. The captain says he is a liar just like his father. I'm not sure why he says this right after Tessa says she gave the boy the gold. The boy spits on him. He tells the boy he has insulted the colonel's army and defaced its uniform in public. Tessa says a gentleman who would serve lovely champagne would also be a gentle man, and show mercy. The captain says for her he won't execute him. Instead, he tells the soldiers to give him fifty lashes at dawn. Tessa looks sad as we break for a commercial.
After the commercial, Marta is reading tarot cards. She gets the six of cups, which means "the past lives on." Cut to Tessa kneeling at her father's grave on the beach. She says she is confused. She misses him. She tells him she feels so alone. He speaks to her and tells her she is never alone. Cut to Marta, who lays down the king of cups, which means "the protector has come." Cut back to Tessa's father, who drinks some wine. Tessa slaps the glass from his hand. She doesn't believe it's him until he touches her face. She says he was murdered. He says one man held the gun, but many men pulled the trigger. She asks what she should do. He tells her nothing. He says his murderers will not go unpunished.
He shows her a vision, "Look. That's my avenging angel She will see justice is done." Tessa sees a woman with long black hair, dressed in black, riding a black horse, riding down a black beach. Oh wait. The beach isn't black. I got carried away there. The woman looks suspiciously like Tessa. Her father says, "Never alone my little angel." Tessa awakes with a start. It was all a dream.
Tessa walks in where Marta is reading the tarot cards. She tells Marta she had -- "The strangest dream." -- Marta finishes her sentence for her, and says she knows. It's all in the tarot cards, her destiny. Tessa picks up the card for the Queen of Swords. They go to the wine cellar. Tessa is looking for a specific bottle of wine her father mentioned. I missed this in the dream scape due to the Spanish accent. Marta tells her that the dead don't visit your dreams for nothing. Tessa finds the wine bottle in a floor-to-ceiling rack, and when she pulls on it, it's stuck. She pulls harder and the wall opens up to reveal a secret room full of the family jewels.
Her father hid everything valuable because he knew he had enemies. They look for the gold in a chest. She finds her mother's favorite black lace shawl. Marta finds a bag of gold. Tessa finds a sword that has been in the family for generations. She says her father was saving it for the son he never had. Marta pulls out a painting of Tessa when she was little. Her father had it painted before she left for Madrid. Here's an interjection. We are told nothing of what became of Tessa's mother, or what Tessa was doing in Madrid while her father was living in California. But this is the first episode, so maybe we will find out later.
Okay, back to the painting. The bottom says, "Tessa My Angel." Tessa thinks about her father's words, "Avenging Angel." Tessa says aloud, "Queen of Swords." She asks Marta if it (the Queen of Swords) is her. Marta asks her what she sees. Tessa has visions of a woman in black with long dark hair riding a horse on the beach. The woman in the vision turns around and it is Tessa.
Oh, here comes more subtext. Still in the secret room, Tessa is looking in a mirror. Marta walks up so that they are standing side-by-side looking in the mirror. Marta asks her what she sees. Tessa says "my destiny." She holds up the black lace veil in front of her face. Okay, so she was probably talking about her destiny as the Queen of Swords. Give this subtexter her little fantasy. It could go either way, really.
Night time. Tessa has been transformed into Zorro, or that is, the Queen of Swords (hereinafter "QoS"). She is dressed all in black with a mask that has been cut out of the black lace veil.
The QoS breaks Rubia's son out of jail. The captain walks in and they have a sword fight, which is still awkward, and the camera work still compensates for it. The captain corners Tessa against a jail cell. He says, "guess I'm a little more than you expected." She turns the table by sticking her sword between his legs. She says, "you could be a little less." She forces him into a cell. He seems to be enjoying himself and they are sharing some heated glances. He says "be good to me." She knocks him out with her sword hilt.
The colonel is outside in the square when the QoS and the boy ride away while soldiers shoot at them. They miss. The captain comes running out of the jail cell. I guess the QoS forgot to lock the door. The colonel asks who she is and the captain says she freed the prisoner. The colonel looks down and picks up a queen of swords tarot card from the ground. The captain says she'll be dead by morning. Commercial break.
The next day Tessa is dressed in a billowy skirt and walks up on Don Hidalgo and the colonel. They say they are discussing the night's events. She asks very innocently how one woman can outwit the colonel or the captain. The colonel says the boy the QoS rescued went home to say goodbye to his mother. Big mistake. They have captured the boy.
Tessa and the colonel go into his home, and she gives him the money for the taxes. He says he is surprised at the large sum. She says she has been saving for a rainy day. He says there are stormy days ahead. He shows her a gallows being set up outside. Tessa and the colonel leave the room and Marta is there. Tessa makes heavy eye signals to Marta and then feigns a near-fainting spell. Marta says Tessa is beautiful like a rose, but just as delicate. The execution upsets her. She asks the captain if there is a place where Tessa can lay down.
The boy is lead to the gallows. I'm not sure why his father was executed by firing squad but he is being hanged. I guess the colonel likes variety in his executions. Rubia is weeping. The colonel makes a speech and says he is not cruel, he is just. He says he sees violence and crime and he must take action. He says, "What kind of shepherd does not protect his flock?" The QoS appears on top of the mission across the square. She asks if that is before or after he leads them to slaughter. The QoS runs across the roof and dodges some bullets. She throws a rope over the side and repels to the ground. There is more awkward sword fighting. She is much better at punching and pushing.
The QoS suddenly runs away and disappears, and then a stampede of horses runs through the square, causing confusion and chaos. The QoS rides to the rescue with her sword raised. She cuts the boy down from the gallows just as they kick the box from under his feet. He gets on her horse and she carries him out into the countryside and tells him not to go home. His mother will come for him. She pauses on the horse in slow-mo. Then she rides away while the boy smiles.
The colonel and the captain walk through his home. The colonel wants the QoS' head or else he will have the captain's. He opens his study doors to find Tessa on a couch all covered up. Marta is caring for her. The colonel says Tessa looks flushed. Tessa says she has a fever from all the excitement. They ask what all the noise was. He says the execution has been postponed. Tessa feigns disappointment and says they were looking forward to it. He says there will be an execution, not even a queen can escape an execution. The colonel leaves the room and Tessa gets up from under the covers, still dressed as Zorro. She and Marta smile. Commercial break.
In the final scene, Tessa is at her father's grave, dressed in a white billowy skirt and a red off-the-shoulder top. She tells her father that the colonel is not a stupid man, and asks her father how long the mask will fool him. (I beg to differ on the colonel's IQ) Marta comes up to Tessa. She says the people in the village are praying for the queen to return. I guess this is the sign Tessa was looking for, because she looks heavenward and thanks her father. In our final subtext moment, Marta stands close behind/beside Tessa and asks her if she realizes where this path could lead. Tessa says "to my destiny." Then we hear her father's voice over, saying, "Never alone, my little angel will see that justice is done."
This synopsis is by James Ott.
Madrid, 1817. "A flick of the wrist and I could kill you."remarks the Master Teacher of Swordsmanship, Don Gabriel to his pupil, Tessa Alvarado. She out duels the Teacher fighting with her sword and dagger. She wins and announces, "I'll kill you the same time tomorrow."
California, 1817. Don Alvarado (Tess's Father) is shown being chased down by a group of armed lancers directed by Capt. Grisham. He is wounded by a pistol shot through the heart and later by a musket shot to the back of his head. After her lesson, Marta hands Tessa a sealed letter that explains her Father died due to fall from his horse in California.
ACT I :
Tess and Marta reach the shores of California and proceed home. Along the way, highwaymen rob their carriage but Tessa recognizes their leader as her father's trusted manservant, Fernando. He tells her of his desperate woes and Tess willingly gives him gold coins as a gift. Momentarily he is shot and captured by Capt. Grisham and his soldiers who were approaching from out of nowhere.
The Alvarado Hacienda is in shambles when Tessa arrives. She breaks down and sobs as many familiar items are smashed apart. Marta and Tess decide to go into town for the Governor's Fiesta for the powerful Don's of the countryside. Col. Luis Montoya plays a classical violin solo for his audience and Tess dances the first dance of the evening with him after much flattery is exchanged between the two. As they waltz, Montoya quizzes her as how she plans to pay the back taxes on her Estate. "I'd hate to see you forfeit your family home," he muses. While Tessa attempts to bargain for the family manservant's release, he is killed in the Square by a firing squad. Upon the arrival on the scene, the man's wife is clinging to her husband's lifeless corpse and Tess screams at the Governor, " You murdered him!" The cruel Montoya replies, "There is a difference between Execution and Murder, it's the Law and here, I'm the Law."
ACT II :
Tess works out with her sword practice technique mulling over the questionable fact that her Father, the finest horseman in Spain, felled by his own horse. The questions about the incident to the family manservant and his grieving wife were not responded to seemingly out of fear. Tessa gives some money to the widow to help her along.
"Nothing like an execution to fire the blood", proclaims Col. Montoya, as he barges into Grisham's quarters. Whereupon he discovers a nude Vera in bed with the Captain who makes a graceful retreat. Montoya pays a compliment to Grisham that he is quite the "ladies man". He tells him that perhaps he can use this talent on the lovely newcomer from Spain to control her vast estate. Hinting at blackmail, he suggests that the Captain wouldn't want anyone to know about why he left the American Military so suddenly.
Tess and Grisham end up on a date together dining overlooking the Pacific shoreline. Tessa quizzes him on what he knows of her Father's demise. The Don's told her, "Questions make enemies." The conversation leads to talk about marriage and settling down. He could provide her protection in this remote area. Tess retorts that she'll obtain a dog for protection instead. She does talk of her marriage dreams in a red bridal gown like her Mother wore. While she sucks on a strawberry, she tantalizes him further by saying,"My Husband would be the happiest man in all California."
The deceased manservant's son is arrested for buying flour with gold pieces (assumed stolen). Tess petitions the Captain for mercy so instead of killing the boy, the sentence is 50 lashes at dawn.
ACT III :
Tess visits her Father's gravesite and his ghost appears to her. He speaks of his death that he was shot by one man, but in reality, many fingers were on trigger. Tess is seemingly in a trance-like state and as she looks to the shoreline, she sees a black clad masked woman riding past. "That's my avenging angel; she will see that justice is done." When he disappears after confirming his love for his daughter, Tessa realizes her destiny to avenge her Father's murder and help the unfortunate populace against this tyranny. Symbolically, Marta is turning over tarot cards and the Queen of Swords card is placed down. She awakens from the disturbing dream.
Upon returning to a drawing room, she tells Marta to follow her to the locked winecellar. Her Father told her to find a particular bottle. As she pulls it, a door to a secret, hidden room opens where they find the Family valuables that the vandals could not find behind the wine racks.
Dressed as the Queen of Swords from her vision, she attempts to free the boy from jail. She disposes of two guards but Grisham and her get into a swordfight. When she is momentarily overpowered, he chides, "I never killed a woman before." The Queen regains momentum and comes back with, "Your record's intact." Thinking he has the upper hand, Grisham says, "More than you expected?" As she taps his groin with her sword, she replies, "You could be a little less." Fighting with sword in one hand and dagger in the other, she eventually gets the drop on her opponent, turns him around, and knocks him out with the sword's handle. As Montoya exclaims, "Who or what was that?", the masked rider gallops out of town leaving behind a Queen of Swords tarot card in her wake. "She'll be dead by morning. ", proclaims the bewildered Colonel. The boy has escaped during the fray.
ACT IV :
Tess pays the surprised Governor the back taxes owed on the Alvarado Estate. Asked how she obtained such a sum, she relates, "I saved it for a rainy day." "There are stormy days ahead, I fear.", retorts Montoya. Followed by the announcement that the boy was recaptured when he returned to his mother's house and that the he will be executed soon. "Fifteen minutes to Curtain; you have a front row seat my Dear." Learning the masked intruder has eluded them, Tess feels ill and faints in his office attended to by Marta.
In the Town Square, the Governor addresses the populace before the execution of the young boy takes place. He explains he's an honorable man and their "trusted shepherd." At that point, atop the highest building's roof, the Queen of Swords retorts, "Is that before or after you lead your sheep to slaughter?" She then works her way through a number of soldiers, stampedes their mounts, rides up the gallows steps and cuts down the rope before the boy is hung. The two ride out of town amidst the confusion together with the crowd of peasants cheering her efforts.
After the day's excitement, the Colonel returns to his office to find Tess being attended to for a slight fever wrapped in a blanket. (This event allaying any link she might have to the Queen of Swords identity in Montoya's mind.)
An anguished Tessa struggles over her new destiny. She considers that she is only one person; the Colonel and his men are many. As she again tries to speak to her deceased Father's spirit after laying fresh flowers at the gravesite. She hears a reassuring voice, "You're never alone. My little angel will see that Justice is done." Marta joins her and leads her away.
This commentary is by Carmen Carter.
There's nothing dramatically startling in this repackaging of the familiar Zorro mythology, but the switch from the traditional male swashbuckler to a female Queen of Swords does provide the opportunity for a few entertaining novelties. In addition, the production's earnest sincerity in playing out the basic storyline holds out the promise that this series will avoid a cheesy self-parody of the genre.
Tessa Alvarado is a young woman who travels from Spain back to her native California when she hears of the untimely "accidental" death of her father. It doesn't take her long to realize that the corrupt local officials are oppressing the peasants and are probably responsible for making her a penniless orphan. But the judicious intervention of her father's spirit into her dreams reveals some hidden gold with which to save the family estate and an image of her destiny as his avenging angel, The Queen of Swords.
The scrap of black lace which supposedly hides her features is as much of a conceit as Clark Kent's glasses, but Tessa cuts such a dashing figure in her black tights that it's easy to grant her this small concession and wish her well in her valiant protection of the abused and downtrodden peasantry. In another, welcome, departure from the original mythos, her servant and confidante Marta is a Gypsy who is far from mute. As she remarks dryly at one point, adroitly avoiding Tessa's plea for some guidance, "I say many things."
Also welcome is the production's oblique approach to Tessa's epiphany. Upon her arrival in California, her first instinct is to use the traditional arsenal of a beautiful, well-bred and unmarried young woman in getting her way. Appalled by the cruelty she witnesses, she tries to charm the wayward officials into acts of compassion and leniency. It's only when this approach doesn't work that she reaches for the sword.
Although the script is not rife with humor, there are the occasional flashes of wit. When the dastardly Captain Marcus Grisham attempts to woo Tessa and remarks that she needs protection, she readily agrees. "I'll get a dog." Later, when he fights the Queen of Swords and backs her against a prison wall, he sneers "There's more to me than you thought." Then he feels the cold steel blade between his legs and she says, "Or perhaps a little less."
With the exception of Marta -- who is played with quiet authority by Paulina Galvez, a well-regarded Spanish actor -- the other players are unexceptional, although adequate for the less-than-pressing demands of the script. In the lead as Tessa, Tessie Santiago is a little stiff and lacking in physical presence, but there is room for growth in the role of a young woman who is learning to be a hero. (Her features are conventionally pretty, but the true beauty in the series is the more mature Marta.)
Given the well-established backstory for Zorro/Queen of Swords, the first episode was practically a no-brainer, so it remains to be seen whether the writers can continue to find fresh ways of delivering on an old formula. Unfortunately, the fighting sequences were tepid and perfunctory, and the villains too shallow and lacking in moral complexity to provide sustained character drama. Unless both aspects are strengthened soon, the series will never rise above its premiere.
This commentary is by Linda Crist.
First of all, let me start by saying that I am an avid fan of Xena: Warrior Princess, and my main reasons for watching the pilot for Queen of Swords were simple. A dark-haired beauty fights for justice with a sword, with her faithful sidekick always nearby; add to that its setting in an interesting part of history (California under Spanish colonization), the potential for visually beautiful cinematography and a variety of story lines, and rumors of possible subtext. The plot sounded oh-so-familiar.
With the last season of Xena underway, and fearing major withdrawal when it ends, Queen of Swords has all the ingredients to potentially fill the void Xena's absence will leave behind. That having been said, I have not referred to Xena in this commentary, although I really had to sit on my typing hands a few times to refrain from making several comparisons.
1. Tessa's sword work is a bit awkward. Lcukily, close camera work usually covers for it.
2. After one group of commercials, we are at a beautiful beach area, with a curved long cove surrounded by hills on three sides. Now I must stop and comment on the uniqueness of this situation. So many shows are filmed in California, where they try to re-create places from all over the world. It is my understanding that this show is shot in Spain, but they are trying to re-create California. Go figure. It looks a little less green than California, to me, but generally the scenery works.
3. My biggest beef with what is overall a good program is the thick, heavy, swift Spanish accents. I found myself straining at times to understand all of the dialogue, both on the part of major and minor characters. It wasn't horrible, but I did miss some key things like names, that I had to look up because I couldn't understand them. Now, I grew up and live in an area where I hear Spanish and Spanish accents a lot, and I don't typically have a difficult time with them. If I was having trouble with the dialogue, I can just imagine the trouble people who aren't used to hearing Spanish were having. The actors need to slow their speech down a bit, and enunciate better.
4. This show, along with every other Zorro movie or show I've ever seen, has believability issues. I'm sorry, that little mask does nothing to disguise Tessa. You just have to go along with the fact that to everyone in T.V. land, the mask completely transforms Tessa's appearance so that they no longer recognize her.
Overall, a good start. As mentioned, the biggest problems are the Spanish accents and the poor sword fighting. I need the villains to be more villainous, and I would like more background on Tessa and Marta.
I have already come to like Tessa and Marta. The scenery was pretty, the costumes and sets were gorgeous and very authentic, the background music was good, and both action and slower dramatic scenes were well-done. There were small touches of well-placed humor as well. There is a lot of possibility for the future of the show, a lot of room for growth, and I care enough about it to tune in next week and see what happens next.
This review is from Variety, Friday September 29 2000.
''Queen of Swords'' a TV landmark
Queen of Swords (Mon. (2), hourlong syndicated series. Check local listings)
By Ramin Zahed
HOLLYWOOD (Variety) - Senor Zorro, it took a few decades, but you finally have a fine female counterpart. Her name is Tessa Alvarado, a.k.a. the ``Queen of Swords,'' and the action adventuress will be swashbuckling her way all over syndication this fall.
The plotlines of this new series may rate high on the cornball scale, but the inviting Andalusian landscapes, the well executed action sequences and the swift pace of the series could earn this newcomer a dedicated fan base in the months ahead.
In the series opener, 19th-century Spanish aristocrat Tessa (Tessie Santiago) decides to pack her bags and go back to California, where she grew up. Accompanied by her Gypsy servant Marta (Paulina Galvez), who has a tendency to say things like ``The dead don't visit our dreams for nothing,'' she arrives in the U.S. only to find out that her dad has been killed by the shady characters who run the town.
Before you can say Catherine Zeta-Jones, Tessa has decided to wrap her mom's shawl around her face, jump on a majestic stallion and fight the bad guys with her quasi-supernatural fencing talents. This little corner of the world attracts a surprising large number of heavies: There's the nasty Machiavellian dictator Colonel Montoya (Valentine Pelka), the mustachio-swirling mercenary Grisham (Anthony Lemke) and the shifty spy Vera (Elsa Pataky), and these are only the ones we meet in the first episode.
It's only a matter of time before the town brainiacs will put two and two together and realize that Tessa and the speedy Queen of Swords are twins or something. But that's just one of the regular pleasures of this type of Saturday matinee fare.
Among the show's other guilty pleasures are Alwyn Kumst's top-notch photography (those Spanish skies never looked bluer), Philip Stanger's electric guitar-driven music, and Evelyne Correard Trompier's costumes, not to mention Santiago's modern California-girl-as-19th-century-Spanish-swordfighter line delivery. It's also nice to see a strong-minded Latina headlining a regular series. It may not be primetime, but it's still a landmark.
According to the colorful press kit, ``the crimes against humanity, oppression and misery that surround Tessa choke her youthful idealism.'' Something tells us Tessa will be choking week after week, but she'll do it magnificently, gracefully and photogenically. And for sweeps, maybe we can have her duke it out with Xena.
Tessa Alvarado ......... Tessie Santiago
Marta .................. Paulina Galvez
Col. Luis Montoya ...... Valentine Pelka
Capt. Marcus Grisham ... Anthony Lemke
Dr. Robert Helm ........ Peter Wingfield
Senora Vera Hidalgo .... Elsa Pataky
Don Hidalgo ............ Tacho Gonzalez
Filmed in Almeria, Spain, by Fireworks/Morena Films/Amy Intl. Prods. in association with Telefonica, and M6, distributed by Paramount Domestic TV in association with Mercury Entertainment. Executive producers, Jay Firestone, Adam Haight, David Abramowitz; producer, Ken Gord; director, Jon Cassar; writer, James Thorpe; director of photography, Alwyn Kumst C.S.C; production designer, Fernando Gonzalez; music, Philip Stanger; wardrobe designer, Evelyne Correard Trompier; supervising editor, T.C. Martin; ``Behind the Mask'' theme song performed by Jose Feliciano; special effects, Carlos Fernandez, Tomas Urban; art director, Carlos Suarez Bodelon; set decorator, Marta Agullo Laguna.
This review is from Hollywood Reporter, Friday October 6 2000.
Queen of Swords
By Michael Farkash
While living in Spain, Maria Teresa ("Tessa") Alvarado gets bad news about her father: He has been killed in an accident. Returning home to the primitive colony of California, Tessa learns that it was not mishap, but murder, a result of grim conditions in the Golden State. A virtual military dictatorship is in place, and the taxes on Tessa's family rancho are well past due.
This hourlong syndicated adventure is rendered as straight drama rather than tongue-in-cheekily. Unlike, say, "Zena, Warrior Princess," it's a series that wants to be taken, well, seriously. The title song, "Behind the Mask," performed by Jose Feliciano, adds panache.
The acting generally is decent but nothing to write home about, and the fight sequences could use some punching up. But the lead characters are somewhat engaging. One hopes the evil characters will display greater propensities for bad behavior, and that the title character, played by Tessie Santiago, will display even more derring-do (with the aid of stuntwomen).
As a weekly adventure with swordplay, furious horse chases, trigger-happy soldiers and the beautiful queen of swords playing Robin Hood, there's enough visual momentum to please action fans.
As for its source of inspiration, here's another hint: Think masked avenger.
That's right, "Queen of Swords" is an unabashed new take on "The Mark of Zorro," inspired by that film (and probably the Disney TV series as well). "Swords," however, carves out its own mythology and characters.
Alvarado, as Tessa, seems to be the only landowner in 19th century Spanish-run Los Angeles with the courage to stand up to the evil Col. Luis Montoya (Valentine Pelka).
But naturally, a solo "outlaw" needs discretion, and so Tessa dresses in black, which incidentally flatters her figure. She also wears a lacy mask, which is all but transparent. But hey, if we can believe that a pair of eyeglasses works for Clark Kent, we can believe the soldiers and gentry are baffled by Tessa's disguise.
And did we mention that Tessa defied convention in Spain by studying the art of swordplay? She's pretty good with a blade, and of course, she's going to play warrior outlaw princess in California.
What's cool and refreshing about the series is that it takes its adventure seriously. It's not a period spoof, like "Xena." There are also Latinos in main and supporting roles, another authentic and welcome item. And to complete the look, Almeria, Spain, serves as a stand-in for early Los Angeles.
The nice touches include enjoyable character quirks and hints of complexity. Col. Montoya, for example, plays the violin superbly and enjoys the trappings of high culture, in contrast with his ruthless pirate heart. Paulina Galvez as Marta, Tessa's companion, is no retiring servant of the time period, but a supportive ally to the Queen of Swords. And Anthony Lemke, as Capt. Marcus Grisham, is a wild card who is cooly amoral.
There are sensual and sexual moments as well, although the one romantic coupling is accomplished energetically but discreetly under the covers.
Elements that could be punched up are more references to the politics of the time and to the lands held by the Spanish during that period. Additionally, it might be nice to focus on the details of living in Los Angeles then. The crowd in the town square seems a little thin, and the premiere doesn't focus at all on the Native Americans who lived in the area and who were drafted to work at the local mission.
What the series could use is a bit more humor to leaven the production. Not too much, now, or we slip into "Hercules" and "Xena" territory. And perhaps Tessa could be allowed to relax more in her role as avenger of the oppressed. We know it's life and death. And we hope her lace mask never slips and reveals her true identity.
QUEEN OF SWORDS
Fireworks/Morena Films/Amy International in association with Telefonica and M6
Executive producers: Jay Firestone, Adam Haight, David Abramowitz
Co-executive producers: Alvaro Longoria, Simon MacCorkindale
Producer: Ken Gord
Writer: James Thorpe
Director: Jon Cassar
Director of photography: Alwyn Kumst
Original music: Philip Stanger
Cast: Tessie Santiago, Paulina Galvez, Valentine Pelka, Anthony Lemke, Peter Wingfield, Elsa Pataky, Tacho Gonzalez.
Airdate: Saturday, Oct. 7, 3-4 p.m.
This review is from The SciFi Wire, #181, 10/12/00.
Queen of Swords Wearing the mask and wielding a sword looks like a job for a woman
Queen of Swords
Starring Tessie Santiago and Paul Wingfield
Premieres the week of Oct. 2
By Kathie Huddleston
Tessa Alvarado (Santiago) is a beautiful, 19th-century Spanish aristocrat. While her father's been away in California for the last five years, Tessa has been a busy girl. Rather than wearing dresses and attending dances, she's been wearing pants and taking fencing lessons. She looks forward to her father's immanent return, but is devastated to hears that he's been killed in an accident.
Tessa journeys to California, where further unpleasant discoveries await: Her family's estate is in a shambles, and her father's death may not have been accidental. Colonel Luis Montoya (Valentine Pelka), with the assistance of Captain Marcus Grisham (Anthony Lemke), holds the area in a tyrannical grip. Montoya kills any who oppose him and taxes his subjects to the point of starvation.
When Tessa witnesses the cruel murder of her father's former manservant, she can stand the injustices no longer. In a dream, her father tells her of an avenging angel who will bring justice to the land. Tessa realizes her true destiny. With the help of her gypsy servant, Marta, she will pose as a spoiled member of the nobility but, when necessary, she will become the Queen of Swords, protector of the innocent and avenging angel who will bring down tyranny.
Zorro with a twist
Queen of Swords joins the growing ranks of shows with female action leads. Produced by the creators of Relic Hunter, the two shows share a similar style and tone. But viewers must be willing to suspend more than a normal amount of disbelief to make this adventure show work. For example, the Queen wears a peekaboo lace mask but no one can figure out who she is. And, boy, the Colonel's guards are some bad shots.
The burden of carrying Queen of Swords rests primarily on the slim shoulders of newcomer Santiago, who won the role in a nationwide search. She is quite lovely and, for the most part, does just fine as Tessa. However, she is not convincing as the daring, sword-wielding Queen of Swords. One of the reasons shows like Xena: Warrior Princess, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and even Relic Hunter work is because the leading ladies are believable action heroes. If they hit a god, demon or even just a bad guy, he, she or it is going down for the count. However, at this early stage in the show's development, Santiago's Queen doesn't give off that butt-kicking aura.
The rest of the cast offers fine support, especially Lemke as evil hunk Captain Grisham. Peter Wingfield (Methos on Highlander) joins the cast after the first episode, and there are other Highlander connections as well. Pelka, who played the popular baddie Kronos, and Producer Ken Gord are both Highlander alumni.
Queen of Swords has an order for a full season, so there's plenty of time for this series to gel. Let's hope Santiago can pull this one off. We need all the female action heroes we can get.
MY THAT'S A SHARP SWORD
10-04-00. Director Jon Cassar has also directed numerous pilot episodes, including La Femme Nikita, Amazon and Sheena.
Episode synopsis from the Manzana Core website.
Anthony De Longis has now published this Behind The Scenes And on The Set for Destiny at:
Official Website Episode Synopsis