Review: ‘Queen Sono’ is Only Good in Parts

The allure of the world of espionage will never run out. While the likes of ‘James Bond’ continue to attract the audience, making more money with every instalment, television, too, has had its fair share of spies. Be it the CIA agent Carrie Mathison, or the pair of KGB spies posing as an American family, the viewers have always found their stories fascinating. So, when it came to creating their first South African original series, Netflix adhered to the tried and tested formula of secret agencies and brave but reckless spies.

It does not come with the daring extravagance of its cinematic counterparts; neither does it follow the grimness of ‘Homeland’ or ‘The Americans’, nor does it fall into the comic tone of shows like ‘Chuck’ or follow the edge of the seat urgency of ‘24’. ‘Queen Sono’ is not like any other secret agent television you have seen before (though the lead, Pearl Thusi has previously appeared in ‘Quantico’), but that is not necessarily a good thing.

Queen Sono Season 1 Recap

‘Queen Sono’ follows the story of the titular heroine who works as a spy for the Special Operations Group, a clandestine agency, the existence of which is unknown to most people. We first meet her on a mission to collect intel that will help the agency pinpoint the foreign source for the arms that are being supplied to terrorist organizations. There is also a hint of government corruption, which is what is leading to unrest in the country.

We soon find out that Sono doesn’t play by the rules but gets the job done. It is also revealed that she is the daughter of a national figure who is celebrated for being a revolutionary and is one of the leaders, in league with the likes of Nelson Mandela, that the country fondly remembers. She was assassinated 25 years ago, and though the perpetrator is serving his sentence in jail, some speculate that the conspiracy went further up the government and the matter was covered up before it could be properly investigated.

Queen Sono Season 1 Review

As someone who loves spy movies and TV shows, I was looking forward to ‘Queen Sono’. Set in a continent which is brimming with political and cultural conflicts, and yet, has not been as frequently depicted on the screen (not internationally, at least), this Netflix series had so much to work with. From corrupt governments to civil rebellion brewing on the streets, from the terrorist groups that are upending whatever stability the continent can have to foreign forces meddling with their affairs, the sheer extent of material available for the show is overwhelming, and the makers know that.

Almost all of these factors have been used in the story, while also keeping it connected to the personal struggles of the protagonist. At no point, does the show shy away from commenting on the adverse effects of foreign involvement and the white saviours who think they can set everything right for Africans but do nothing more than satiating their own sense of self-worth. The divide between rich and poor and the fact that the governments try to show to the world that they are developing nations but don’t do anything for the people on the streets are also woven into the storyline. The series also makes a note of extensively using different languages of the continent, like Afrikaans, Setswana, IsiZulu, and others, mixed with English.

As great as all of this sounds, it never really fleshes out as impactfully as it had the potential to. Despite the strong themes, the show fails to make a mark because it lacks the flair needed to completely draw in the audience. There are a lot of reasons for that, but the main culprits are writing and direction. Even when there are many twists and turns in the plot, even when there is enough mystery to keep us around, it is not condensed enough for six episodes. Overall, the story goes a long way from the first episode to the finale, but the journey in between gets rather dreary.

The characterisation is another thing that needs work. Queen Sono is portrayed as a badass harbouring trauma from childhood. There is a mix of action and emotion, and Thusi gives her best to the role. However, a number of times, the way her character gets into trouble is rather frustrating. We get that mistakes are made by spies, and there have to be some blind spots which keep the danger going in the story. But this could have been achieved differently, in a way that makes us worry for the well-being of the characters, not drive us to be apathetic towards them. Same goes for the villains as well. There is a morally grey ground for one of them, and that section is handled well. But the one that is supposed to be pure evil is not convincing enough. We never feel as threatened as we should.

Overall, ‘Queen Sono’ is good, in parts and sometimes. There are some great action scenes, but they can’t make up for the lack of excitement due to a fragmented, if not slack, plot. There are seams in the narrative that don’t allow us to enjoy the series as much as we want to.

Rating: 2/5