Narcos is back on Netflix for its fourth season, albeit it in the slightly rebranded form of Narcos: Mexico, with this series being more of a sidestep than a continuation of the previous story. The first three seasons focused on the drug cartels of Colombia, and the story of Pablo Escobar’s rise and eventual fall, but with that story told, it was time to move the action elsewhere. This time we’re seeing the rise of the powerful Guadalajara drug cartel.
The first two episodes are largely concerned with setting up the scene for the action which is sure to follow, so it makes sense to recap them together. Between the third and fourth series, the Narcos producers have basically shaken their Etch A Sketch and wiped their metaphorical slate completely clean. Everything except for the title song is new – new story, new characters, new locations – but it still feels unmistakably like Narcos. With a whole host of new characters from all over Mexico, much of the first two installments is concerned with bringing all the new faces together in Guadalajara. And that is also how the real story started, as Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, played by Diego Luna, attempted to unite all the separate drug cartels into one huge, powerful organisation.
This time the drug of choice is marijuana, and the Sinaloa cartel’s growers have figured out a way to grow seedless marijuana plants, which yield more useable crop. But the military police in the area are constantly trying to shut down the operation, burning fields and arresting the cartel’s men. This is how we first meet Gallardo – he’s a cop, and he waltzes into the middle of a military police raid and arrests their target, Rafael Caro Quintero, only to release him again as soon as they leave. So he’s a dirty cop. But actually, he’s way more than that, he’s a criminal visionary, and he works for Sinaloa drug boss, Pedro Avilés Pérez. As well as planning to move the Sinaloa operation from the countryside to Guadalajara to get out from under the scrutiny of the police in the area, Gallardo has a plan to build a new all-powerful cooperative cartel by bringing all the local factions together and creating one big super cartel. But this is not an easy task, and it requires a lot of political maneuvering between all the cartel bosses and their giant egos.
Taking his reluctant and sassy sidekick Don Neto with him, who has absolutely no time for Gallardo or his silly idea, Gallardo starts trying to persuade all the cartel bosses to sign up to his super cartel. We see that he is a shrewd businessman – he proposes that the new cartel will help cut down on territory disputes and violence and also mean that the cartels won’t all be trying to undercut each other, which means more money for them all. But criminal kingpins are not the sharing type, and his first meeting with one of the Naranjo brothers, who has one of the most startling bowl cuts I have ever seen, goes badly. Gallardo responds by shooting him dead. This ballsy move brings him to the attention of the big boss, El Azul, who seems to like the sheer audacity of Gallardo’s methods, and immediately signs up, shooting the other bowl-cutted Naranjo brother dead for good measure.
Wagner Moura was utterly compelling as Pablo Escobar in the first two series, so Diego Luna has a tough act to follow, but I think Diego Luna is a genius bit of casting for the role of Gallardo. He’s slight and unassuming, which makes it all the more jarring when he shoots his rivals in the head with no hesitation. I already have a terrible crush on Diego Luna, and a penchant for awfully flawed bad guys, so I am completely and utterly on board with this.
I’m also on board with the casting of Michael Peña as Kiki Camarena, the ambitious and whip smart DEA agent who is obviously going to be going toe-to-toe with Gallardo. Peña proved he can be hilarious in Ant-Man, and now he’s showing that he can do serious too. At the start, Camarena is based in Fresno, working for the DEA in the early days of its inception. They don’t get much respect and not many people even know who they are, but Camarena can see that they’re going to end up fulfilling an important role, and he wants to climb the ladder within the organisation as fast as possible. This is why he takes the only transfer available to him, to Guadalajara.
It doesn’t take him long to suss out the operation in Guadalajara, and he doesn’t like what he sees. They don’t have a lot of power, and they seem to be more of an intelligence agency than an enforcement agency. The local cops are all crooked, and the criminals seem to be free to do what they want. Camarena arranges a raid on what he thinks is a drug operation, but it amounts to nothing, damaging his reputation before he’s really got going. But you get the feeling Camarena won’t be down for too long, especially after he follows a van leaving the scene of the raid and finds it headed along the same road as a load of trucks carrying hooded passengers. He’s definitely on to something.
The end of the second episode sees Gallardo finally getting all the drug bosses into one room to toast the beginning of their new organisation, but as soon as they raise their glasses the whole thing falls apart because of the clashing egos of drug bosses Pedro Avilés Pérez and Pablo Acosta, caused when Acosta toasts Gallardo for bringing them all together instead of Gallardo’s boss, Pérez. Pérez demands that Acosta leaves the syndicate, but if one boss is out of the organisation, they all are. One by one they walk out, and Gallardo is left facing failure, with an empty room and only a car ride with a drug lord with a bruised ego to look forward to. He knows he is about to be shot and dumped in the desert somewhere.
But a name as big as Diego Luna can’t die this early in the series, so sure enough, the other drug bosses come to his rescue, with the aid of some police officers who pull the car over. Pérez and his men are all summarily executed, leaving Gallardo in the position to finally put his plan into action, which surely means episode three is going to really pick up the pace. For a couple of episodes that were a little bit heavy on the exposition and a bit light on action, there was still a heck of a body count, which I think hints at what is to come now we have all the key figures in place. This is going to be bloody…