TV Review: ‘Narcos: Mexico’ Explores the Early Years of the Drug Trade

Courtesy: Netflix

Bienvenido a Mexico.

There are two things you should know about “Narcos: México.” First, there is a lot of Spanish. Second, you do not have to see the first three seasons of “Narcos” in order to be in the ‘know’. Yes, it’s helpful, but not necessary.

This latest season – really the fourth in the “Narcos” universe – takes place in Mexico. The previous seasons follow the Columbian drug trade and a little man known as Pablo Escobar – perhaps you’ve heard of him. “Narcos: Mexico” travels back in time to the ‘80’s and resets the series with new characters and a new storyline. It begins with a warning. A warning that will come in handy throughout the season, “this does not have a happy ending.” But anyone familiar with the story of the Mexican drug war knows how it ends.

Courtesy: Netflix

Kiki Camarena (Michael Peña) is the passionate and idealistic new guy to the DEA. He joins an organization that is less than ten years old and is about as popular as the ugly stepsister in the U.S. government’s eyes. They are the bottom rung of the agency ladder. The series will tell you that at that time there were more women in the NYPD then there were DEA agents – that should give you some context.

On the opposite side of the show and the country is Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo (Diego Luna). He is a one-time cop who would eventually go on to unionize the Mexican cartel, and become known as El Padrino (The GodFather). He would do that while trafficking marijuana before introducing cocaine to Mexico and the United States of America. Miguel would eventually partner with all the bosses of Mexico but he started with Rafa Caro Quintero (Tenoch Huerta) and Ernesto ‘Don Neto’ Fonseca Carrillo (Joaquín Cosio). It’s in this trio that the most heart, pain, and loss is felt. (As an aside, any Latino will surely recognize an uncle in ‘Don Neto.’)

Courtesy: Netflix

The show goes back to the beginning. Back before there was organized trafficking, before there were Mexican drug empires, before the biggest marijuana field in history was ever planted. It goes back to one man who saw things for ‘what they could be,’ as Luna’s character would explain. For ‘how they would end.’

“Narcos: Mexico” starts with Miguel Felix having the forethought of organization. He used his intelligence to spearhead the biggest marijuana operation in Mexico. He would turn around and partner up with the Columbians to move their cocaine. It was that partnership that would come to define Miguel Felix as ‘Godfather’ and make him ruthless. And with cocaine being fifteen times more profitable while taking up 60% of the space, it made him and those around him very rich – and untouchable.

There is corruption of course. By both the Mexicans and the Americans. The show describes articulately how ignorant both governments were to the dealings of these drug kingpins. And how much bribery there was at all levels of politics.

Diego Luna plays Felix perfectly. His early angst for something better makes his eventual hunger for power believable. He starts out relatable, you almost want to cheer for him. Over time he becomes unapologetic in his ways. Diego and Peña both have heavy lifts in this show. Both are remarkable in the telling of this story. The two have no more than a couple of scenes together but those scenes are electric. And with the exception of the crossover of characters from one “Narcos” season to another – those are some of the best scenes (Episode 5 has an appearance from Pablo Escobar).

The show does falter a bit in two places. The first is with the ladies. There isn’t one three-dimensional female character on the show. Which is a shame. There is the stereotypical Latina with red lips and curves for days. There is the wife who goes quiet when her husband leaves her. The one female stand out is Kiki’s wife, Mika (Alyssa Diaz).

Courtesy: Netflix

The other disappointment is with the bosses. There are a lot of bosses, far too many. Overall, “Narcos: Mexico” is worth the binge. If for no other reason than to see Diego Luna go from polite policeman to Gustavo Fring in ten episodes.

Courtesy: Netflix

“Narcos: Mexico” is now streaming on Netflix.

GRADE: (★★★)

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