Colombian actor Gregorio Pernía joined the cast CORAZÓN VALIENTE (weeknights at 9 p.m. ET on Telemundo) this week as DEA special agent Javier Falcón, leading a guns ablazin’ rescue of Miguel (Gabriel Porras) after he was captured by men working for the mysterious Colombian drug lord known as “El Verdugo (The Executioner).” Later, Javier showed Miguel a photograph of “El Verdugo,” giving the audience their first look at the big bad of the Miguel/Fabiola storyline and we saw that “El Verdugo” sports a black mask befitting his name, like the villain of a Santo movie. It somehow seemed entirely appropriate to the silly universe this novela is set. Unfortunately, when “El Verdugo” took Fernanda (Aylín Mújica) to his bedroom and began undressing her, the black mask began to suggest something out of a sex shop. Thankfully, he removed the mask before doing to deed revealing Javier is “El Verdugo” to the surprise of no one. So, a mysterious hidden identity set up in Thursday’s episode is revealed by Friday’s, another example of the haste at which the story beats are played on this show.
It remains to be seen how Javier/”El Verdugo” is going to fit into this already overly crowded cast, but Pernía has proven time and again to be one of the most captivating and entertaining actors in telenovelas. His performance earlier this year on Telemundo’s FLOR SALVAJE was nothing short of amazing. Mariano, the character Pernía portrayed on that telenovela was extraordinarily complex and layered, a man utterly depraved and peverted, an obnoxious blowhard, frightening, predatory, covetous and murderous, yet, through Pernía’s charisma and consistent ability to find quirky, humorous little touches, Mariano inexplicably remained funny and even, at times, roguishly charming.
In a coincidence of scheduling, two earlier telenovelas starring Pernía, OJO POR OJO and LAS DETECTIVAS Y EL VÍCTOR, happen to be in the midst of their first U.S. showings.
OJO POR OJO
It may seem counterintuitive, but I think Pernía’s screen magnetism may actually be detrimental to the story OJO POR OJO (Monday through Thursday at 10 p.m. ET on Mun2) is attempting to tell as it is nearing its final weeks. OJO POR OJO is about an endless cycle of murderous revenge between two clans of warring cousins – the Monsalves and the Barragans. Manny (Pernía) heads the Monsalve clan, Nando (Miguel Varoni) the Barragan, and Alina (Gaby Espino) is the woman married to Manny and expecting his child, but who had a romance with Nando when they were younger and whom Nando still loves.
In a key scene, Alina speaks with Manny and Nando when they are locked up in prison and tries to convince them to end the war. Manny, aware Alina has been visiting his mortal enemy Nando behind his back, accuses Alina of having an affair and questions whether the baby she is carrying is actually his. The telenovela, through subsequent dialogue, music, and direction, clearly intended this scene to be the final straw that pushes Alina away from Manny and toward Nando. But Pernía wound up stealing the scene and what came through more than anything was Manny’s agony and distress over the possible betrayal of the woman he loves, a wounded man foolishly lashing out.
This peculiar dynamic in the Manny/Alina relationship has played out a few times, where it seems the show wants the audience to side with Alina, yet I continually find myself sympathizing with Manny. It’s not solely due to the performances, though I think that’s a large part of it, but also some missteps in the writing. An early subplot where Alina invited a woman named Melba (Paula Barreto) into their home to teach Manny etiquette, and Melba kept trying to seduce Manny and we later learned Melba was actually Alina’s friend who she brought in to test her husband’s fidelity may have formed an unfortunately poor first impression that Alina never recovered from. Another peculiarity of OJO POR OJO is Alina, ostensibly the female protagonist, spends the majority of novela isolated from the male leads. The bulk of Alina’s scenes are in the company of her awful mother and Melba. (Alina isn’t the only character to be frittering away time in isolation: the younger protagonists played by Gonzalo García Vivanco and Carmen Villalobos have also spent the majority of the novela separated from the other central characters making up their families.) So, despite this being a novela populated by a sea of loathsome characters – nearly everyone is a killer or insane – it is actually Alina who somehow comes off the least sympathetic character on the show.
LAS DETECTIVAS Y EL VICTOR
Pernía is equally adept at playing protagonist roles as is evidenced by LAS DETECTIVAS Y EL VÍCTOR (weekdays at 3 p.m. ET on MundoFox, no English friendly options), an interesting comedic noir novela from 2009. Pernía portrays Víctor García, a police detective who loses his job and perhaps his wife and kid after he wakes up in a compromising position with the novela’s femme fatale, a crooked detective named Jenny Rico (Nataly Umaña). (It turns out she drugged his drink, but Víctor doesn’t discover this until later so he believes himself guilty.) Víctor’s wife, Chabela (Paola Rey), uncovers his supposed infidelity using the detective skills she was taught by Víctor as they prepared to start their own private detective agency. After Víctor was kicked out of their home by Chabela, Pernía did a kind of dervish dance on his way to his car parked in front of the house, like a man sinking in a whirlpool or literally going down a drain, stopping and going, coming and leaving, pirouettes of indecision of a desperate man knowing he may be losing that which he holds most dear in the world but powerless to do anything about it.
Víctor tries to win Chabela back by singing a serenade outside their home (for a moment, tangentially bringing to mind Pernía’s role in LA HIJA DEL MARIACHI), which Chabela answers by tossing a suitcase of his belongings off their balcony which inadvertently lands on Víctor sending him to the hospital. When Chabela realizes she will need Víctor’s help with the first case at the detective agency and phones him to come over, Pernía’s natural hangdog features brighten into a beamish expression of such earnest hope at this small sliver of a chance back into the life of the woman he loves, made even more poignant by the fact the hope for reunion is conspiratorially shared with his adoring little daughter, you can’t help but be touched.
Visually, LAS DETECTIVAS Y EL VÍCTOR is more playful and inventive than most telenovelas. The film noir flashbacks the novela employs are not always straight replays of earlier scenes, but are often specially shot, with actors delivering key lines of dialogue directly to camera, faces in black-and-white but the colors of their clothing or the backgrounds popping vibrantly. The night scenes are stylized with a rainbow of colors: pale yellows and violets and blues illuminating the streets and buildings where the characters roam. A drunken brawl with Víctor and his best friend (Omar Murillo) quickly dispatching of some street thugs is depicted entirely through enormous shadows on the side of a building.
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R.G. Morin writes a weekly column for We Love Soaps, "Telenovela Watch: A weekly look at the world of telenovelas for non-Spanish speakers." For feedback or questions, you can email R.G. Morin at firstname.lastname@example.org.