Cruz Manuelos In ‘Special Ops: Lioness,’ Explained: Did Cruz Leave CIA In The End?

Laysla de Oliveira stars as Cruz Manuelos in Paramount’s Special Ops: Lioness, where she plays an undercover agent as part of the task she’s assigned as a marine. As luck would have it, Cruz falls in love with the woman she’s about to betray, and that’s what makes her story so painful. After being misunderstood, hurt, and humiliated her whole life, the first time she’s treated with kindness, her mission dictates that she betray the person who showered her with all the love. Here’s a detailed look into the character of Cruz in Special Ops: Lioness.


The first time we met Cruz, she was barely surviving in a toxic relationship, where a slap across the face and insults were all she received from her boyfriend. However, having been slapped one too many times, Cruz, a lanky and bony young woman, woke up one morning and got herself a frying pan. The moment the jerk that was the center of all her unhappiness woke up and tried going after her, she bashed his head with the utensil before spitting away, screaming for help. This was how she landed herself in a marine’s office and chose the path she’d take for the rest of her life. Having been neglected, unloved, and hated her entire life, the uniform gave her a purpose, and suddenly her life had a meaning. Cruz fought tooth and nail, acing each test she took and receiving the highest marks in her class.

Soon, Cruz was chosen for the role of a Lioness, an elite squadron of stealth agents under Special Ops who’d be an all-women team meant to gain the trust of the female members of the families with terrorist links. Her supervisor was Joe, who left no stone unturned in trying to humiliate Cruz in the best way possible, or so she thought. In order to ensure this new recruit had no tattoos or defining marks on her body, Joe needed to examine Cruz’s nude body, but that wasn’t all. One night, Cruz would be kidnapped from the streets, and unspeakable things would be done to her, from waterboarding to psychological torture. This was all but Joe’s way of finding out just what it’d take for her recruit to break under torture if her cover were to be exposed. Cruz was battered, bruised, crying, and humiliated, but she’d not surrender, even if it meant dying in the dingy cell being tortured by a humongous man. However, the moment she got a way out, Cruz turned on her attacker and smashed his nose. She’d always been a fighter, but upon learning just how ferocious her own country’s people could be, she’d let all hell break loose.


The time came to meet with the target, whom Cruz was to embed herself with in order to get close to the woman’s father. Aaliyah was the daughter of Amrohi, a Kuwaiti oil tycoon who’d fund terrorist attacks across the globe, and was the woman Cruz needed to earn the trust of so that she could find a way to eliminate her father. Cruz’s simplicity, mixed with her unique way of looking at the world, gave Aaliyah the first taste of freedom; she was a fresh breath of change from the stuffy talks of politics, money, and oil that Aaliyah was exhausted from hearing. It wasn’t just Aaliyah, however, as Cruz realized that the woman she knew nothing about and was betraying so cruelly had been the nicest to the young marine in her entire life. Having grown up in a life without love, Aaliyah’s ramblings about being in a similar situation for the entirety of her life resonated with Cruz to the fullest. Aaliyah went shopping for the best dresses that money could buy, but Cruz didn’t care about all that; she was just happy to have found someone who didn’t treat her like trash.

Life had been cruel to Cruz, as if some sick joke was being played constantly against her. One night, she accompanied Aaliyah’s friends to a bar, and a young man approached her. She went dancing with him, and he spiked her drink to knock her unconscious before carrying her away. The one time she tried living her life like a young woman in her 20s, she was rescued in the nick of time by Joe’s team moments before being date-raped. She needed time to recuperate but was given none, and she immediately had to follow through to a location to eliminate terrorists. Strangely, however, Cruz was more at ease shooting terrorists point-blank than having to pretend to be friends with an innocent woman whose only crime was being born into a family of criminals. Cruz was dying inside every day, little by little, but her boss made it absolutely clear that, having surrendered her body to the Marines, she’d be used the best way the Marines would see fit. It reminds us of Private Leonard from Full Metal Jacket and how the immense mental and psychological torture pushed him toward lunacy and insanity.


Cruz went shopping with Aaliyah after they kissed briefly in the morning. Later, they tore into a suite and made love for multiple hours, and by now, this was no longer part of Cruz’s mission. She’d fallen in love with the woman she’d been sent to betray, and making love to her made her so hopelessly frustrated that she blurted out to Joe that she wasn’t in a position to carry out the task any longer. Cruz wasn’t inhuman; she wasn’t a heartless sociopath who could use every inch of her body to extract information, although that’s probably a part of being a spy. She left Aaliyah’s room and was then influenced by Joe to go to Aaliyah’s wedding to fulfill her mission.

Cruz survived humiliation and physical abuse at the hands of Aaliyah’s fiancé, but what hurt her worst was having to leave the room as Aaliyah begged her to come back to her. At the end of the day, she’d have to fulfill her task, even if that included stabbing two men to death. Cruz had completed her mission but had lost her humanity in the process. She’d eliminated the greatest financier to the terrorists but had broken the heart of the woman who’d loved her more than anyone else in the world. Cruz quit immediately afterward, but with the pain and the hurt that she’d received in these few weeks of being a lioness, she’d lost all the humanity she’d had. Then again, probably that’s the kind of person Joe wanted—a machine that would just follow orders and kill. Cruz had done so until she couldn’t any longer.


Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Indrayudh Talukdar
Indrayudh Talukdar
Indrayudh has a master's degree in English literature from Calcutta University and a passion for all things in cinema. He loves writing about the finer aspects of cinema, although he is also an equally big fan of webseries and anime. In his free time, Indrayudh loves playing video games and reading classic novels.

Latest articles