Joe In ‘Special Ops: Lioness,’ Explained: How Did Joe Turn Cruz Into A Monster?

Zoe Saldana plays Joe in Paramount’s spy-thriller series Special Ops: Lioness, where she’s the ruthless and cutthroat supervisor of a marine team at work and the mother of two girls at home. Zoe plays the role to perfection, often making us dislike her for the way she treats the protagonist, Laysla de Oliveira, and other times earning the audience’s adulation for perfectly presenting the dilemma of choosing between saving the world and her home. Here’s a detailed look into the character of Joe from Special Ops: Lioness.


Joe had one goal: to make her Lioness project succeed by any means possible. After witnessing an embedded agent of hers being killed by a missile strike after her cover was blown, Joe made it her mission to find such an agent who’d not break, no matter how terrifying the risk of death seemed. She made no bones about hiding, just how serious she was about finding a woman who truly defined the term ‘lioness’ and left no stone unturned in recruiting someone who had nothing left to lose. She found Cruz, a young woman who’d escaped her abusive boyfriend and found refuge in the Marines, and decided she was going to be her candidate. The first step would be stripping the newest recruit of all dignity, so that when she’d be at her most vulnerable, Joe could test just how dedicated Cruz was to the cause. She made her strip to the bare skin to examine whether Cruz had any discerning marks or tattoos, while ignoring the snide remarks from the woman who had to bare every inch of her body to this insensitive superior.

Leaving her recruit to feel uncomfortable in an apartment where a CCTV camera kept watch 24/7, Joe headed back to her home, where her 14-year-old elder daughter was strongly opposed to her absentee mother. Joe’s husband, Neal, a doctor by profession, would have to handle their two daughters when his wife wouldn’t be home for days on end. Things at home got increasingly difficult when Joe returned, and her eldest daughter, Kate, started acting up. The entire frustration of being stuck at home without her mother being there for her made Kate grow to hate the job her mother did. However, this anger came out in the form of hatred for her mother, and she does increasingly dangerous things just to act out her frustration against Joe. All her actions had one purpose: to make her mother know just how furious she was at her for abandoning them so frequently. Joe found her daughter kissing a boy and had to learn from her husband that he’d made a deal with Kate to keep things above the belt, further ignoring Joe’s authority.


With her familial life in turmoil, the team Joe had to manage faced multiple issues, with an open gunfight near the Mexican border being a major headline-grabber. Not only was there an inquiry set up targeting Joe and her colleague Kyle, who organized the mission, but her team members could come under fire at any moment. This was all after she’d watched the recruit she’d chosen be stripped naked, beaten to a pulp, and humiliated and denigrated in the worst way possible, just to figure out her breaking point. To the ordinary person, this might seem uncharacteristically cruel and diabolical, but for Joe, this was just another Tuesday. Joe didn’t flinch as a woman screamed, cried, and begged for help while being waterboarded because she needed to test Cruz’s mettle. Sure, the job is toughening someone up, but torturing them to the point they can’t stand straight and being annoyed that the session was stopped due to excessive cruelty does hint at a little lack of humanity on Joe’s part. Perhaps the job has made her so desensitized that she can no longer differentiate between what’s necessary and what’s just plain sadistic. Ironically, however, when her daughter Kate is in an accident and shatters her leg, she rushes back home with concern welling up. It’s sad to imagine that she’d do everything possible to keep her own daughter safe while nonchalantly watching the dehumanization of someone else’s daughter.

Joe needed Cruz to befriend Aaliyah and get close enough to her family so she could eliminate Aaliyah’s father, Amrohi. However, while on the mission, Cruz falls for Aaliyah, who’s genuinely in love with her new friend. Joe, on the other hand, is bent on denying that the love on Aaliyah’s part is anything more than a power move because she wants to feel the rush and excitement before she’s made to raise children in a Saudi palace. Joe can’t imagine that someone whose father finances terrorists can be in love with someone she met recently, and she also doesn’t want to lose her lioness. Thus, she plays mind games on Cruz by making her watch a series of videos of death and destruction caused using funds that Amrohi provided. Joe was sharp and cunning and knew just how to make use of the tools at her disposal, which is how she treated her team. However, at home, she made every effort to let her daughter know that she was loved and informed her husband that she couldn’t take being away from home anymore. Sadly, Joe felt no guilt for the emotional harm she was causing her agent, although she saved Cruz from being date-raped and ensured the potential perpetrator learned an excruciating lesson.


When the day of the ceremony arrived, Joe’s team headed for the extraction point after Cruz hit the alarm signal. She’d eliminated both Amrohi and his son-in-law, but Joe was having none of that. She demanded answers as to how the plan was busted, even though Cruz took out two major players in the illegal oil business. She dragged Cruz out on the deck of the yacht they were escaping on and was punched across the face. Although Joe had once saved Cruz from being sexually assaulted, she was the reason Cruz was a heartbroken mess. She’d gotten her into a mission where she’d play with a woman’s emotions and lie through her teeth just to win her trust. The entire situation was cruel to Cruz as well as Aaliyah, and Joe was made out to be the villain. She came home and broke down in her husband’s arms, crying about how difficult the mission had been. The truth is, however, that it wasn’t her who was the villain; it was this accursed world where the prices of commodities determined the price of human lives and emotions. Joe, much like everyone else in there, was a pawn of oil prices.

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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.

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