‘Special Ops: Lioness’ Episode 1 Recap & Ending, Explained: What Is Manuelos’ First Mission?


Paramount’s favorite writer, Taylor Sheridan, is back with another thrilling drama, Special Ops: Lioness. The espionage series revolves around a CIA operative named Joe (played by Zoe Saldana), who is part of a special operation called “Lioness.” It is a classified program that recruits women as soldiers to infiltrate a target’s closed network. The operatives are tasked with locating and befriending the wives, girlfriends, or sisters of high-value targets and killing them to finish the mission. The CIA had been running the Lioness program in Syria to eliminate ISIS leaders, who had become a fatal threat to American soldiers in the Middle East.

Special Ops: Lioness Episode 1 mainly focuses on a new recruit named Cruz Manuelos (Laysla De Oliveira), who joins the Marines after being assaulted by her boyfriend. The narrative focuses on Manuelos’s backstory until she finally comes across Joe, who appoints her for the Lioness project. So, without any further ado, let’s explore what happened in the first episode and how it will lead to the events of the second one.

Spoilers Alert

What Happens To Isabel?

The Americans had been fighting the Middle Eastern war on different fronts. Special Ops: Lioness follows the CIA’s secret operations conducted to quietly eliminate the target without much collateral damage. However, as we enter the first episode, we find out that one of Joe’s operatives in Kobane, Syria, has accidentally blown her cover. Joe and her team were waiting 17 kilometers away from the ISIS outpost for Isabel’s signal to extract her.

Inside the enemy base, Isabel hides under the floor of one of the houses and connects with Joe, who reveals to her that her target has seen the “Cross” tattoo on her ribs. In the radical Muslim community, getting any such tattoo is forbidden, especially if it is a symbol belonging to another religion. Joe and her team prepare to extract Isabel from the enemy camp before ISIS kills her; however, near the outpost, an explosive cord is detonated, thereby creating a diversion and confusion. In the end, Joe is left with no other option but to call in a drone strike to bomb the entire camp, killing all the ISIS members along with her own operative. She didn’t want Isabel to suffer at the hands of ISIS, or they would have filmed her in the most inhumane way possible and made a demonstration of making her life a living hell.

Who Is Cruz Manuelos?

The first episode of Special Ops: Lioness moves back four years, where we come across a woman named Cruz Manuelos. When we first met Manuelos, she used to flip burgers in a joint in Oklahoma City, trying to earn an ethical living. She had lost her mother in junior high and never knew her father. After her mother’s death, she had no real family to rely on and thus, lost her way. She perhaps became a stripper for the time being but didn’t really want to make money through such means. However, during her job as a dancer, she met the most toxic guy of her life. Her boyfriend had given her a roof to live under in exchange for her peace and sanity. He would try to tame her and even assault her if she refused to follow his orders. But Manuelos had enough. She fought back and hit her boyfriend with a frying pan. While running away from him, Manuelos ended up in a Marine Recruiting Office, where an officer not only protected her from her abuser but also showed her a new path to follow.

Manuelos decided to sit through the military recruitment examination and ended up passing her aptitude test with flying colors. Even her physical assessment had been quite remarkable. Manuelos’s performance in both physical and theoretical tests couldn’t be ignored, which is why her superior stated that she could become one of those armed personnel who could make a difference. He hinted at the fact that she was made for the Marines, which means she wouldn’t be able to have a steady life in the real world. Manuelos assured him that she had no real life so far and perhaps wouldn’t have any outside the military. The scene implies that maybe Manuelos will develop some personal connections in the upcoming episode that are going to create some conflict in her military career. We saw a similar dilemma in Joe’s case, who was not able to spend time with her family because of her job in the CIA. She had become distant from her kids, and they grew resentful, but there was nothing she could do to fix that. For a CIA operative, the country comes first.

Why Does Joe Recruit Manuelos?

After Isabel’s death, the head of the operation, Donald Westfield (Michael Kelly), briefs Joe to find a new recruit and commands her to make sure to check the tattoos beforehand. She ends up in Bragg, where she finds out about Manuelos, a woman from Mexico with a Syrian father and a Mexican mother. According to the briefing officer, Jack, Manuelos is well-versed in Arabic, which makes her the perfect fit for the Lioness program. And her past experiences increase her chances of getting recruited as a CIA operative. Joe had been quite unsure about Manuelos until she finally met her. In Manuelos, Joe saw a fighter who was willing to go to any lengths to finish the missions, and that’s all she wanted. After a heated tattoo check, Joe didn’t waste a moment to brief Manuelos about the special program and what her role would be in it. They soon boarded a flight to Kuwait City to introduce Manuelos to the rest of the team.

What Is Manuelos’ First Mission?

During the flight, Joe briefs Manuelos about their first target, Asmar Ali Amrohi, an important member of ISIS in Iraq. Joe informs Manuelos that her mission will be to befriend Asmar Ali’s daughter, Aaliyah, in order to get close to the target. According to the intel, Aaliyah is young and likes to spend her father’s money.

In Kuwait, Manuelos takes the identity of Zara Adid, who is a Muslim woman born in Boston, while her parents originally belonged to Abu Dhabi. She has come to Kuwait during her semester off and is currently staying with her uncle. With the information nicely fed to Manuelos, Joe quickly sends her to the battlefield to befriend Aaliyah. Manuelos finds Aaliyah in one of the jewelry shops in the Salhiya market and strikes up a conversation with her by complimenting a necklace that she is eyeing. The two get along pretty quickly while Aaliyah invites her to the Estée Lauder showroom across the street. With a band of bodyguards escorting Aaliyah, Manuelos is finally able to infiltrate the first security parameter, and from hereon, she will have to get close to Asmar Ali to kill him. However, as we have already witnessed in Isabel’s case, it won’t be an easy mission, and Manuelos’s safety is highly questionable. If any such dangerous circumstance were to arise, would Joe be able to save her new operative? Hopefully, the upcoming episode will give us the answer.

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Shikhar Agrawal
Shikhar Agrawal
I am an Onstage Dramatist and a Screenwriter. I have been working in the Indian Film Industry for the past 12 years, writing dialogues for various films and television shows.

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