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'The Trade' Season 2 Episode 2 Review: Magda realizes she’s pregnant while fleeing from MS-13 gang member

The second episode of the docuseries shows how desperation frames the narratives of migration as a farming family in Mexico mourns the death of their young son, who drowned in the Rio Grande
UPDATED MAR 20, 2020
Rossni and Magda (Showtime)
Rossni and Magda (Showtime)

Filmmaker Matthew Heineman has the rare gift of presenting brutal realities but with an eye of an auteur. His docuseries 'The Trade', now in its second season tackling the issue of migrant caravans from Central America, boasts of a cinematic quality usually reserved for lush productions of fictional films.

The opening shots of episode 2 this season show the surface of the fast-moving waters of the Rio Grande River. After framing the natural beauty of this river crossing between Mexico and the US on the McAllen, Texas, side, the camera shows us what is hidden in the swaying reeds of marshes by the river bank -- a dead body. 

The Rio Grande river that acts as a natural border between Mexico and USA in McAllen, Texas (Showtime)

These kinds of juxtapositions are what make this docuseries stand out. Another winning feature is how invisible the camera is -- the scenes captured are so immediate, so intimate that it is easy to forget that someone is there with a camera and sound equipment to capture these brutal, 'slice of life' moments.

There are several highlights. The first one features the crush of bodies at the Guatemala-Mexico border where mothers threaten to climb the gates with their children on their back and a 5,000-strong migrant caravan topple the gates to rush into Mexico in a stampede situation.

The other scene is Magda realizing that an MS-13 gang member, who is in the same group of people trying to get on "the Beast" (a cargo train), has spotted her. She says tensely to Rossni, her brother-in-law,  to pretend they haven't seen him as they try to pull away from the group. Just the night before, Rossini speaks to his wife who tells him that the MS-13 members have been coming around to ask about Magda and him. When they manage to evade the gang member and still get on the train's roof, Rossni bursts into tears. 

Caravan of 5,000 migrants crash through the barriers at the border between Guatemala and Mexico (Showtime)

We also are right there in the moment when Magda is told at a Mexican health clinic that she is 11 weeks pregnant. Through the doctor's questions, we get to know the state of Magda's body that is in chronic pain because of the stress she has been under while being, unknowingly, pregnant. We are there when Rossni, blank-faced, replies to a shelter worker taking down their details in a migrant shelter in Tenosique, Mexico, about his brother being killed and being targeted by MS-13.  

While Magda's story is the most immediate and visceral, Heineman also follows Special Agent Ramirez, introduced in the last episode, as he takes down a human trafficking ring that is using trailers to transport immigrants. His team starts by arresting a low-level member, a driver named Paco, to the kingpin, known by his alias "Express", who is an ex-Mexican cop.

We also meet "La Coyota", a female coyote, who says her job is to smuggle migrants across the border in any way possible. "Some are bad, some are good. I help them all to cross the border, regardless," she tells the camera. Shot in silhouette, her voice-to-camera gives us an insight into the "business" of trafficking. She speaks at length of how many palms have to be greased, from cartels to officials at every checkpoint, at every gate, at every stop. Contacts with clout are everything in this game of life and death with enormous amounts of money involved in smuggling people in relative safety. 

'La Coyota', a female coyote, speaks about the business of trafficking (Showtime)

The other story we see is about a farming family in Mexico mourning the death of their young son Artemio, who drowned while trying to cross the river illegally into the United States. It is his body we see at the start of the second episode. As the forensics lab processes his body, first as a John Doe before then identifying him through his fingerprints, we see the family hanging on to the hope that it is not the body of their son since they can't ID him till they receive the body.

While they wait, they talk about the amount of money it took them to send him across the border and how the coyotes responsible for his passage are refusing to take their calls. In the end, though they get closure when they get the body, they still don't know if he was murdered by the people taking him across or if he lost his balance on the raft and fell into the river while crossing.  

The last shot is again of Magda, her child, and Rossni atop the Beast, on their way to make the same crossing Artemio tried to make and failed. 

'The Trade' Season 2's second episode aired on March 13 on Showtime at 9/8c. The next episode will be aired on March 20.