Most of the druglord sagas are same. A driven smart young man with an insane ambition in his eyes, who’s, more luckier or brutal than his rivals, quickly ascends a teetering mountain of cash, corpses and addictive substances. Then his appetite for success overtakes him and there’s a reckoning.
Netflix has already controlled this corner of the market via Narcos, its swaggering bio-drama about Pablo Escobar and the Colombian cocaine trade. In lieu of the 4th season of that, the standalone Narcos: Mexico moves north to profile Guadalajara kingpin Félix Gallardo, who made millions by uniting disparate regional marijuana dealers in a price-fixing gang, then couldn’t resist gambling on diversifying into coke.
After two seasons dominated by Wagner Moura’s Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel in Colombia, Narcos followed a historical blueprint and let Escobar be killed off, left Boyd Holbrook’s Steve Murphy behind and smoothly shifted focus to Pedro Pascal’s Javier Peña, now trying to bring down the so-called Gentlemen of Cali. And after a third season that was, in many ways, more satisfying than the seasons that came before, the Narcos team recognized that there was no purpose in putting Peña, a real-life DEA agent, into more circumstances the man himself wasn’t a part of and the fourth season, given the expanded title Narcos: Mexico, gets what amounts to a total surface reboot.
It is of the same story, but they are all engaging 123movies and entertaining in their own way and Narcos: Mexico is a huge buzz than most. The first thing it gets right is that it’s funny: like all ill-educated, self-made businessmen, gangsters tend towards garish absurdity, and that’s heightened here by the era and location. Mexico in the early years of the 1980s is a carnival of broad eccentrics and wild style choices, starting in episode one with a pair of angry weed-dealing brothers sporting ludicrous Dumb and Dumber haircuts.
Meanwhile, Gallardo and his close confidants form an endlessly amusing sitcom trio. As he tries to stay organized, impetuous tearaway Rafa (Tenoch Huerta) and jowly old deviant Don Neto (Joaquín Cosío – if it were an American character you might cast Richard Kind or Rip Torn) constantly threaten to screw everything up. The sequence where these two idiots dance delightedly as Karma Chameleon plays on their brand-new CD player (“It doesn’t skip! It doesn’t skip!”) is the sort of outright comedy your average drug drama wouldn’t have the balls to attempt.
Narcos: Mexico exactly estimates which more conventional set pieces could bring viewers the guilty rush we crave. It boasts an all-time great “not even caring as the cops burst in” bloody farewell for a knackered villain, more than one textbook bacchanalian party in a criminal’s spectacular but tacky mansion, and several corking scenes where a seasoned triple-crosser huffily realizes, just before they get shot in the face, that someone else has quadruple-crossed them.
This series got everything except a classic antihero. Although Diego Luna does nothing wrong as Gallardo, the character’s cool demeanour means he’s forever upstaged by more diverting personalities. Any slow pace moments in Narcos: Mexico comes from us not being desperate enough to spend time with Gallardo, whose ruthlessness and vulnerability are painted in comparatively muted colours. But despite the meaty long running time, there’s none of the bloated complacency that dogs so many streaming dramas. Those dull moments are very less. The old tale can bear another retelling, especially when it’s as rich, nuanced and shamelessly fun as this.
Mainly the opening lines of “Narcos: Mexico” reflect that world-weary attitude: “I am going to tell you a story, but it doesn’t have a happy ending. In fact, it doesn’t have an ending at all.” It’s grim but honest, and just looking at the state of the world today, it’s hard not to agree that the show has a point. Luckily, while its message may be a downer, the storytelling compelling enough to be worth it.