Narcos: Mexico (2018-) reviewed

A while ago, I reviewed Narcos. That series featured the War on Drugs, as the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) contended with Colombian lions. The first two seasons focused on the hardworking agents in their bid to bring down Pablo Escobar, the king of coke. The third season saw them making inroads against the Cali cartel. The lavishness and impudence of the bad guys were front and centre. After three seasons, the show was rebooted. Hello, Narcos: Mexico. So far, there have been two editions of this spin-off, with the latest coming last year. The setting may have changed, but the culture of bureaucracy, barbarism, and corruption are still in play. On the plus side, the show remained a darling of the critics. Here is a quick analysis of the first two seasons.

Season 1 (2018)

The first series introduces us to Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo (Diego Luna). Starting out as a copper in Sinaloa (Mexico), he uses his position to bail out his brother-in-law (Rafael Caro Quintera). They call the latter “henyo” (genius) for his inventive schemes to plant marijuana crops while evading authorities. The pair are convinced that big things are around the corner for them. Gallardo struggles with the demands of a young family and often has to improvise.

Felix also works for the local plaza boss, who controls the drug trade in their region. Their fortunes would turn when Angel convinces his superior to hold a tete-a-tete with the other plaza bosses. Here he befriends Don Neto, who was initially dismissive of his ideas. Gallardo’s ultimate goal is to unite all the warring Mexican factions under one banner. He personally met with these men, one by one, appeasing and courting them. The new alliance would feature Guadalajara, Sinaloa, Tijuana, and Juarez joining forces. His boss has a beef with Acosta and would not compromise. Angel ends up shooting him instead and becomes the virtual leader of the pack. A young Joaquin ‘Chapo’ Guzman was one of his henchmen. With his pot operation in full swing, Miguel and his comrades live an opulent lifestyle. They have their mansions, and he buys his own hotel. They revel in sex, drugs, and money. In some angles, Luna reminds me of someone.

Meanwhile, Michael Pena is Kiki Camerana. The veteran Hollywood actor gives a memorable turn as the ambitious DEA agent who wants to ‘catch ‘em all’. He is equally adept at English and Spanish. Camarena is assigned with his family to Guadalajara, Mexico and he makes it his mission to capture the bastards. In one episode, he goes undercover to an undisclosed desert location, where he sees field upon field of ganja plants. The weeds ended up getting burned but not before the baddies make a run for it. This bust was not fiction and one of the largest of its kind in history. Already troubled before the bust, Quintero acted even more erratic after the fact. He was soon on a losing battle against his coke addiction. In Guadalajara, Kiki teams up with Commander Calderoni, who is seen as one of the few upstanding cops. Calderoni, unlike his contemporaries, would stand up to the bullies.

Despite his eagerness, the local police and the higher-ups in Washington D.C. refuse to tango. Even when he is in the same room as Rafa, they are ordered to let him walk. As his obsession with the plazas grow, he becomes more and more distant to his family. At one point, he almost misses the birth of his child. He also suffers from bad intel, which does not help matters with his colleagues. However, he remains unwavering in his conviction and is determined to see things out. The season ended on a sour note, with the abduction of Agent Camarena and the predictable red tape as the Americans scrambled to find him. As it turns out, the same tactics used against Kiki were the self-same methods that the Mexicans learned from their Gringo counterparts. In the close of season one, operation Leyenda was instituted to seek answers. We meet Walter Breslin (Scoot McNair), one of the DEA avengers. McNair also acts as the narrator for the series.

Season 2 (2020)

Even before the massive loss in their cannabis backyard, Felix made moves to future proof his ventures. He singles out cocaine trafficking as the path to his billions. He sets up a meeting with the Cali cartel, wishing to be their main courier to the US. In the process, he was taken to Escobar. The drug lord demands that he allot half of every load to them. In order to do this, he needs the help of Juan Guerra, the Gulf cartel leader specialising in opium. They need his alliance to ensure safe passage of his cargo. However, Guerra violates their handshake agreement and does his own deal with the Cali cartel. As a result, Felix meets up the latter and agrees to teleport seventy tons of the white stuff.

While the DEA tortures one of Kiki’s kidnappers, Verdin, he gives them a name, Arce. The latter owns the house where Camarena was questioned. Though Arce initially cooperates, he does a one-eighty and disowns his earlier testimony. This lands the fledgling agency back to square one. Meanwhile, Rafa and Don Neto rot in jail. When Felix visits the latter, he realises that hard time has thoroughly disillusioned Neto. His former partner wants only payback – against Felix and friends. Anyhow, Felix attempts to get the 1988 Presidential candidate in his pocket. However, he learns that the frontrunner is close with Guerra and that his money cannot buy their support. He therefore resolves to game the election, first via doctoring the computerised tallies, then by tampering with the ballots. He went as far as instructing his troops to burn the ballot boxes. He gets his way, and his puppet is elected to power. His seventy tons clear the border, as the DEA’s men are outgunned once more. Dead bodies of agents are left in the ‘reign of greed’.

Breslin takes the fall, as he led the ill-fated ambush against the Mexicans. He is assigned a desk job in the Southern US. Walt is not a stranger to tragedy: three years earlier, his brother took his own life. The latter had long-standing issues. He does not trust Calderoni, even with the latter’s overzealousness to find justice. His trepidation is well-placed. Regardless, we take in the transformation of Gallardo as a doting family man to the biggest drug kingpin in the history of Mexico. With his trademark long-sleeves and facial hair, Diego looks the part. There are car chases, hand-to-hand combat, and swordfights. The betrayals and under-the-table deals add colour. While most of the plot is based on real events, they had room for such characters as Breslin and Isabella Baustista. The pair may be fictional, but they had their moments. Moreover, the return of prior cast members – the Cali cartel and Escobar – breathed new life into the series. The show was renewed for a third season. However, without Pena and with Luna not returning, they will be wanting in star power.

Rating: 4.4/5

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