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Unimas Begins Airing "Ruta 35"

Ruta 35: The Escape Valve is finally airing on Unimas (with English captioning.) It's about the snitches recruited by the DEA and ICE to rat out the drug cartels in exchange for leniency for their own misdeeds, and is based on the career of long time ICE agent Dylan Wilkins .

This dramatic series is the story of Dylan Wilkins and the criminals he recruits to assist him in his relentless pursuit of drug lords and other wanted felons. These criminals become informants for ICE and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in exchange for reducing their charges and avoiding prosecutions.

However, Wilkins’ informants are not your typical criminals- he introduces an array of men and women who, all driven by different motives such as fear and revenge, risk their lives everyday on a dark and risky mission. Among his informants are a 75-year-old grandmother who transports drugs, an IT engineer who has close ties and unparalleled access to a Mexican cartel, a “professional” informant who has been living a perilous double life for years, and the cousin of a ruthless mafia king, thirsty for the reward over her cousin's head.

[More....]

All together, these sources provide Wilkins insight into the complex activities of brutal crime organizations and their cold-blooded leaders, who will stop at nothing in their quest for wealth and power.

Featuring a distinguished cast of Latin American actors, while being filmed using innovative visual effects and camera angles in the dynamic city of Miami, Route 35- Escape Valve will deliver thrills and unexpected twists that are sure to captivate audiences and have them at the edge of their seats.

(Coincidentally or not, Rule 35 is a federal rule which gives prosecutors up to a year after someone is sentenced to move for a cooperation reduction.)

I wonder why post-production took so long. It has been "coming soon" since at least 2014.There are 55 episodes (down from 70 that were filmed) and will air 5 nights a week. (In Denver, it airs at 8 pm and repeats at 11 pm). Tonight's episode was 2 hours long.

I don't expect Ruta 35 to be as good as the dramas about the drug lords. I hope it doesn't glorify the snitches and ICE agents. I'm hopeful because it was written by Andres Lopez-Lopez, the former narco who wrote the book "El Cartel de los Sapos" from prison (Cartel of the Snitches.) The narcodrama "El Cartel" was based on the book (Lopez-Lopez participated in Season one but not season two.) Lopez-Lopez also wrote the book "Senor de los Cielos" (Lord of the Skies) about Amado Carillo Fuentes. The Telemundo narcodrama based on the book just wrapped up filming Season 4. I think it airs in April.

Lopez-Lopez' latest book released in November is "Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán: El Varón de la Droga". It was announced well before his capture, because the intent was always to turn it into a Narcodrama.

That doesn't mean Univision and Unimas won't capitalize on the recent capture of El Chapo. Indeed, Unimas just announced it will air this fall.

“Our team has been hard at work the past several months developing a story that takes our audiences deep inside the dark and fascinating world of one of the most feared outlaws of all time.”

In addition to including the developments of his most recent escape and capture, this unauthorized look at his life will delve deep into the man beyond his drug empire.

Unfortunately, Lopez-Lopez' books are available only in Spanish.

I'll update after the first episode.

Update: Ruta 35 has its problems. The first half hour was so contrived it was awful. The sets look so fake, it's hard to believe it's HD but that's what it says. (Most major network novelas have great sets down to the interiors of the homes where every detail seems so real it feels like things are right in front of you.) In this show, the editors have blocked out so much of the backgrounds to focus on closeups of people, the scenes are fuzzy and plastic looking. Even the screenshots of Mexico look like they were plucked from somewhere else. The colors are washed out. The leaves on the trees are out of focus. The bushes are blurry, the sky is more white than blue. The only realistic images are those of vehicles, but they look like they were super-imposed onto fake scenery.

Apparently this is considered ""innovative" camera work. The production company brags about its filming technique. (80% was filmed outdoors, and 20% on the set.)

The visual approach consists of a lot of hand-held cameras to simulate the way these informants would record events using their mobile phones. Consequently, that look maintains the aesthetic of what can be achieved today, capturing shots with various techniques and characteristics.

The beginning of the story is pretty weak. The agents turn one snitch after another in Miami with minimal effort. The principal agent (who seems to work for the DEA rather than ICE) promises them "the offer of a lifetime." Then he sends the ones with cartel connections back to Mexico to snitch on his confederates.

It strains credulity that the main female star, Dani Garcia, would be so hypocritical. She espouses an anti-gun and violence fanaticism while carrying on a long term passionate affair with one of the higher ups of a violent cartel (named Domingo), right under the nose of her husband, who also works for the cartel. She b*tches to her husband about his showing their 18 year old son how to shoot a gun, and desperately tries to keep her son from joining the business, but all the while she's passionately making out with cartel guy Domingo.

On the positive side: The 75 year old grandmother may be the most interesting character. After getting caught with a few kilos in her purse during a traffic stop, she's told her choices are snitch or spend 10 years in prison, which the agent informs her would be a death sentence. She clearly doesn't want to snitch and feels terrible and cries after a young man she rats out get captured and killed "resisting arrest" during the process, but she's very good at manipulating her victims. She even visits his grave, crying and apologizing to him.

Ratting has its downsides and the show brings them out. Grandma gave up her source and her contact, but one agent won't stop hounding her to do more. It's never enough for them. He tells her she either keeps ratting or she is back to square one, facing a 10 year sentence. He tells her the decision as to when she's done enough is his alone to make. She's miserable, she cries at home and when her grandson asks her what's wrong, she tells them she's a terrible person. It's good that the public gets to see this.

There are some unrealistic sides to the Grandma character. She doesn't look or act anywhere near 75, and her gray hair seems to be an ill-fitting wig. If it was another show, I'd think it was part of her character -- as if she chose a bad wig. But, given the production quality, I think it's a show flaw.

On the positive side: It shows the infighting between law enforcement. The DEA is stepping all over ICE and cuts them out of a raid it was planning on drug lord and cartel chief "Rafael Ruiz" The DEA does the raid and snares Domingo's dad (who also is in the cartel). The dad gets transferred to Miami. A lawyer who says he is hired by Domingo or the cartel tries to convince him to cooperate with the DEA. He says he isn't singing like a canary. Then the ICE guys slam the DEA and pitch the dad's lawyer. I didn't catch whether he finally agreed.

ICE/DEA remains convinced it can bring down drug lord and cartel chief "Rafael Ruiz" and sends one of the cooperators back to the cartel in Mexico. The cartel knows there's a snitch but not who it is. The snitch wires the place with so many cameras, the cameras even catch the female star making out with Domingo. Ultimately, Domingo figures out he's the snitch and goes off to torture and kill him. But the snitch tells Domingo that his brother or some other relative and higher up drug boss (Rafael Ruiz) are going to turn Domingo in, and he's alive and untortured when the episode ends.

Shorter version: The show portrays the snitches as more sympathetic than the drug agents.

Another example: There's a female Secret Service agent who authorizes a controlled delivery of fake currency using a guy who hasn't even committed a crime but was reporting one. The guy is arrested and she tells him there's nothing she can do, he has to go to jail and then she'll tell the judge he was working for her. But before then, she can't do anything because she had no authorization to implement the operation. She tells him to talk to his lawyer. He looks at her like she's nuts, he doesn't have a lawyer, he wasn't a criminal, he was reporting a crime. He tells her he has no money for a lawyer. She coldly tells him the court will appoint one for him.

He eventually gets sent back to Mexico, where the cartel will surely kill him since the money in the controlled delivery was for them. In Mexico, the cartel threatens his 9 month pregnant wife and forces the couple to sign over their house. Then the cartel tries to kill the husband but get the wrong guy. He finally gets the secret service agent on the phone and she gets the couple to Miami. When they tell her they don't have a cent, she tells them the Secret Service will put them up "for a few days" and they they are on their own. The wife appears to be days away from giving birth.

The secret service subplot really makes U.S. law enforcement look bad. The guy hadn't committed a crime and went to report the cartel guy who was asking him to traffic drugs or money. More than one agent talked him into carrying money as part of a controlled delivery and told him the custom agents in Miami would be notified he was part of their sting. He agrees (believing it will help them catch the drug dealer/money launderer who was pressuring him to make deliveries) and instead, the feds seize his suitcase with the planted counterfeit currency promised to the cartel, charge him with a crime, treat him like sh*t, send him back to Mexico without drugs or money and barely acknowledge his 9 month pregnant wife. The female agent finally tells him his only way out is to be an informant for the U.S.

Shortest version: The show portrays law enforcement trapping offenders at their most vulnerable, convincing them their only way out is to betray their relatives, friends, neighbors and people they don't even know. The cops can't provide sufficient protection. There seems to be no "end of the line" when their Faustian bargain with the U.S. is satisfied. They are just hopeless, desperate souls who started out small to mid size criminals and ended up as the victim of the excesses of law enforcement, which continuously uses its power to buy cooperation with promises of leniency.

What do the snitches really get law enforcement? At least as portrayed in this opening episode, the agents get to go up the criminal ladder one notch at a time in their hope of getting the snake at the top. But everyone knows if they take down the snakes at the head of one cartel, another cartel just rises to take its place. Then the futile process repeats itself.

Is the show worth watching? On the plus side, there's no narration (unlike Narcos, which I didn't like) and the ICE agent is not glorified or overly heavy handed so far (unlike other agents on the show.) He's pretty matter of fact, even as he's telling Grandma she's unlikely to live through her ten year sentence. So far, the stars of the show are neither the agents nor the drug lords: the stars are the informants, who are curiously portrayed as victims of both the drug lords and U.S. law enforcement. But the camera work, fake looking sets and scenery and production quality really suck, and I'm not sure the plot is credible (even though it is based on the career of an actual ICE agent.) Still, I'm inclined to give it a few more episodes before deciding.

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