Review: “Queen Sono” Season One Is a Flawed But Fresh Spy Thriller

Queen Sono Pearl Thusi in Queen Sono. (Netflix)

Netflix’s new spy series is more than a little uneven, but it’s an original thriller that blends cultural specificity and mainstream appeal.

Whether you can’t wait for James Bond to return in No Time to Die this April or you’re sick of the same old spy routine, you’ll probably find what you’re looking for in Netflix’s newest series, Queen Sono. It’s the streaming service’s first original African series. It’s also front-loaded with mass appeal.

Pearl Thusi stars as Queen Sono, a hard-living South African spy on a quest to solve her mother’s murder and protect her country from corruption, terrorism, and the puppeteering hands of outside interests. Things start to go haywire when her actions catch the attention of Russian heiress and military contractor Ekaterina Gromova (Kate Liquorish). Meanwhile, Queen tries to balance her unresolved grief over her mother’s death with her eagerness to step out of her mother’s shadow. Why? Because Queen’s mom wasn’t just a mom. She was a revolutionary that fought for the freedom of everyday Africans who, since her assassination, have been lionized.

First-time showrunner Kagiso Lediga understands from the getgo what a unique opportunity Netflix has presented him with. Queen Sono isn’t just a story to be told; it’s Lediga’s chance to show off modern-day Africa to the world. That means he makes a lot of deliberate and even bold decisions. Every part of the show feels distinctly African, from the casting to the soundtrack to the dialogue. 

The show features no less than nine languages, only one of which is European (French). The rest are mostly languages and dialects Americans have likely never heard of, from isiZulu to Shona to Xitsonga. The language, perhaps more than anything else, roots Queen Sono in its sense of place. Lediga wants to make it very clear that Africa is not a monolith and the tactic gives a beautiful sense of reality.

Queen Sono isn’t just a story to be told; it’s Lediga’s chance to show off modern-day Africa to the world.

Where the show struggles, however, is in the strength of its cast. Pearl Thusi is often great as Queen, but she can come off as a bit wooden. She struggles to make some of the character’s breezy nihilism believable. However, this fate befalls many of her castmates, with Sechaba Morojele being the worst offender in his role as Dr. Sid. He’s a side character, which makes his performance less distracting, but if Thusi can occasionally be wooden, he might as well be concrete in all his stiffness. That said, there’s real potential for the cast to grow into these characters. It wouldn’t surprise me to find them more comfortable come season two.

But like how the actors have their shortcomings, the plotting suffers from some roadblocks as well. The scripts struggle to hit the right beats at the right moments, which can leave dramatic reveals falling flat—or worse, leaving you with some confusion. (Lack of clarity leads to a few “wait… what?” moments when they should be full of shock and awe.) But again like the cast’s flaws, the writing is something I could see Lediga will iron out with enough time.

Overall, Queen Sono is a colorful, exciting romp of a spy thriller that deserves a second season. It definitely deserves more of a chance to find its footing than much of the dreck Netflix has produced in its ever-growing need to create a constant flow of content. If the design and style of Black Panther caught your eye and you want a spy story that truly feels fresh, then Queen Sono is for you.

Season one of Queen Sono sneaks its way Netflix this Friday, February 28.

Queen Sono Season One Trailer:

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