In this season, the drug war in Mexico gets murkier and more violent. But the narrative lacks the complexity and depth of the previous seasons of Narcos.
Directors: Andres Baiz, Amat Escalante, Marcela Said
Creators: Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro, Chris Brancato
Cast: Diego Luna, Scoot McNairy, Jose Maria Yazpik, Teresa Ruiz
Streaming on: Netflix
If you kill an American, you pay
Season two of Narcos Mexico opens with an elderly pediatrician being abducted from the streets of Guadalajara. Behind the abduction is the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). The war against drugs is about to intensify and it’s not just about drugs anymore.
A flashback from the first season reminds us that the old doctor is the same guy who pumped adrenaline into DEA agent Kiki Camarena’s (Michael Pena) heart to prevent him from passing out while being tortured. Camarena’s torture and eventual death may have spelled doom for the Mexican drug cartel, because the DEA is now on the warpath. If you kill an American, you pay the price. The DEA in Mexico, now helmed by agent Walt Breslin (Scoot McNairy), will go to any lengths to serve justice to the long list of perpetrators. At the end of the trail is Miguel Felix Gallardo (Diego Luna), the kingpin of Mexico’s drug business.
Gallardo, meanwhile, has realised that the screws of his empire have started to come loose. Frequent seizures by the DEA have eaten into revenue and resulted in a cash crunch, resulting in discontent among the plazas. The constant infighting between plaza bosses, most significantly the Arellano Felix brothers of Tijuana and Hector Palma of Sinaloa, doesn’t help.
The season is essentially about the DEA launching offensive after offensive in a bid to get to Gallardo, while Gallardo desperately scrambles to hold on to the strands of the empire he has created. Gallardo must contend with the DEA on the one hand and keep his own men in line on the other. He isn’t always the assured, collected man of season one. Yet it seems as though he might survive.
The season is high on action but low on plot
Like previous seasons of the Narcos franchise, this one is gorgeously shot and full of impressive action scenes. But after four seasons (of Narcos and Narcos Mexico) it seems as though the franchise has little to offer when it comes to the nitty-gritties of the drug trade. Previous seasons had a newsy quality owing to real-life footage accompanied by voice-overs delivering astonishing facts about the dope business. There’s little of that in this season, which has more bloodshed and lead being pumped.
The two main characters don’t resonate the way their predecessors did, which is unfortunate because both Diego Luna and Scoot McNairy put in laudable performances. Miguel Felix Gallardo has neither the audacity of Pablo Escobar (Wagner Moura) nor the slickness of the Cali boys. Walt Breslin is a more trigger-happy and transparent successor to the shrewd Kiki Camarena. Though he has his moments, he doesn’t win our sympathy or support the way Camarena did. We also miss Gallardo’s original compadres, the affable Don Neto (Joaquin Cosio) and the impulsive Rafa (Tenoch Huerta), who are in prison now.
The makers have tried to compensate for the thin narrative by attaching sub-plots of tenuous relevance. There’s the story of Pablo Acosta (Gerardo Taracena), the Juarez plaza boss whose interest in the drug business is waning. One of the reasons for this is that he’s in love with a Texan woman, Mimi Webb Miller (Sosie Bacon). His side story gives us some cowboy-style action scenes. Then there’s Isabella Bautista (Teresa Ruiz), who was unceremoniously cast aside from the organisation by Gallardo in the previous season. She’s now working on a business of her own on the side with an unlikely partner. It’s a pity that Isabella, a strong character in the first season, has a token role. We also see appearances by Pacho Herrera (Alberto Ammann) and Jorge Salcedo (Matias Varela) from the original Narcos, which suggest that the makers were keen on tapping into nostalgia over the show.
A few moments stand out
The season does have its compelling moments. An entire episode is dedicated to how integral the ruling government’s support is to Gallardo. When he learns that the ruling party is unlikely to be re-elected in the national election, he executes what the most audacious plan to derail democracy in the history of Mexico’s politics. Then there’s the intriguing Amado Carrillo Fuentes, the pilot. He must choose between Gallardo, his boss who believes in his abilities enough to consider him his lieutenant, and Acosta, his business partner at Juarez who he has a lot of respect for. Jose Maria Yazpik‘s performance as the ever-so-smooth Amado is worth a mention.
Narcos is successful because it tells a real story that’s stranger than fiction. It’s a pity that in its fifth instalment, the franchise has been reduced to a trigger-happy action fest.