The following is a spoiler-free review of Narcos (Season 4): Mexico.
Netflix’s hit about the War on Drugs returns! The newest season, treated as a spinoff with a new series title, cast, and even setting. Though don’t be fooled – the story is still very much about the South American cartels, the agents who stop them, and the brutal drama in-between.
Shifting away from Pablo Escobar’s Colombia, this season is a soft reboot set several years into the past from where the story left off. As hinted in Narcos Season 3, it focuses on the Mexican Cartels – whose origins begin in Guadalajara. It also follows its stellar new leads: actors Diego Luna (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) and Michael Pena (Ant-Man).
Set in the early 1980’s Narcos: Mexico is all about the ambitions of two men during the beginnings of the modern-day Mexican Cartel.
One is Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo (Luna), an ex-cop turned aspiring cartel leader. His rise to ‘Godfather’ level infamy amongst the Mexican drug lords’ mirrors the rise of Pablo Escobar’s – though is very different in execution. Where Escobar’s style is grandiose and charismatic, Felix is much colder and calculating. He is less of a people person and more of a conniving man determined to make a name for himself. As he slowly builds his empire, he subtly steers the Cartel’s interest. First by building a product based off his friend’s Rafa’s (Tenoch Huerta)particular type of marijuana (Think Breaking Bad, except seedless marijuana instead of blue meth – revolutionary for its time), then by uniting shipping routes across a very fragmented criminal Mexico, and finally, by shifting business to focus onto distributing Colombian cocaine. Above all else, Gallardo seeks power, often at the cost of his relationship with others.
Acting as a foil to Felix is Enrique ‘KiKi’ Camarena (Pena), an honorable agent of the still-developing DEA organization. He is charmingly good natured and down to earth, though not above getting gritty and performing the dirty work. He has an overenthusiasm for wanting to clean up the streets and has a tendency of doing the right thing – which often gets him into trouble. Kiki is headstrong but holds good intentions and is resolute against the opposition -especially against the cartels, the DFS (Essentially, the CIA sponsored ‘fake’ police) and the corrupt bureaucracy of Mexico. It’s one of actor Michael Pena’s best performances to date in that we care so much about the character: his charisma, being the driving force that is Kiki.
What’s similar about both men is that they are very ambitious and focused at what they set their minds to. Yet, they act in total opposition to each other, in a strangely understood chemistry that’s understood to the audience but rarely shared on screen. Instead, what we get is a mirrored struggle, especially when it comes to overcoming stubborn adversity, their struggling family lives with their wives, and working around the sketchy politics of Mexico, despite being on opposites sides of the law.
It should also note that this season also features a strong female lead in Isabella (played by Teresa Ruiz), Felix Gallardo’s right-hand woman. She’s someone to watch out for this season, her performance is stellar and very refreshing, as the women in Narcos tend to be rather tertiary supporting characters. Isabella is not that. She is different in that she commands to be a part of the workings of the drug trade world. She is also witty, sharp, and can hold her own in more ways than one. It’s the series most robust performance from a female character to date.
Most of the struggles in the latter half of the season seem to be driven by Gallardo’s weed-growing partner, Rafael Caro Quintero. I’d equate Rafa’s weed is akin to Walter White’s Blue Meth from breaking bad: a revolutionary product that makes millions for its distributors, up until it all goes inevitably wrong. Rafa struggles in the shift of the established business model, his marijuana being too risky in comparison to the Cocaine dealings Felix begins delving into. All of these mishandlings, leading to a full-on confrontation of sorts.
Similar to Narcos previous seasons, the storyline follows similar beats, especially in its latter half. A drug empire struggles to form, just as a corrupt police force just as equally struggles to keep their hands free from being dirty. Eventually Felix’s empire grows, just as a circumstantial line is crossed, forcing the authorities to finally act on stopping this monster – only for another potential Cartel leader to take its place (In this case, I’m guessing it will be ‘El Chappo’ the infamous drug lord introduced as a minor character this season). The show is predictable in a lot of ways, but it’s also historical fiction – so the audience should know what to expect by seasons end.
Overall, this season is a fresh start that resolves rather neatly and leaves promises for future seasons. With solid performances and a well-wrapped up storyline. It’s more of what viewers enjoyed from the Narcos storyline and if you liked the previous seasons you won’t be disappointed.
All episodes of ‘Narcos: Mexico’ are available streaming on Netflix.