A Violent Joyride: Our Review Of Narcos: Mexico

Posted in Netflix, TV, What's Streaming? by - November 16, 2018
A Violent Joyride: Our Review Of Narcos: Mexico

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves in this discussion about Narcos: Mexico, let’s make one thing clear: you don’t need to be a Narcos completionist to jump into this new series. This latest entry tells a different story featuring a brand-new cast of characters. Think of it as CSI: Miami to Narcos’ CSI. Whereas previous seasons explored the Columbian cocaine trade and the exploits of the notorious drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, Narcos: Mexico centres on future drug lord Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo and the beginnings of his Mexican crime syndicate.

Series’ showrunner and executive producer Eric Newman brought up the reason for focusing Narcos’ new season on Gallardo’s origin story. “I don’t think you could possibly tell the story of the cocaine trade in Mexico without telling the story of Félix Gallardo and Kiki Camarena,” Newman said. “It’s about exploring a place, and that place coexists with the Colombian story,” he added. “It helps to know that all these players and all these different territories are connected by cocaine and the appetite for cocaine.”

Narcos: Mexico follows two central figures who stand on opposing sides of the law: criminal Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo (Diego Luna), and DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena (Michael Peña). Gallardo will eventually rise to become one of the most powerful men in the Mexican cocaine trade. But first, we follow his humble origins as a goon for a local crime boss. Gallardo isn’t content to remain some small-time thug, and he has the business sense, the guile, and the ambition to change the face of the Mexican drug game. He reaches out to the major Mexican marijuana pushers, squashes their feuds, and entices them with the promise of riches. He unites them into a well-structured crime syndicate, and before the series is three episodes deep, Gallardo is at the helm of a sprawling criminal empire.

Narcos: Mexico

Seeking better career opportunities, Mexican-American DEA agent Kiki Camarena packs up his family and takes a position with the DEA’s branch in Guadalajara, Mexico. It’s not long before he catches wind of Gallardo’s organization, but his hands are tied from the moment he arrives. Kiki’s team of agents don’t have jurisdiction over local crimes, and their job mostly involves getting crooked officials drunk and hoping some useful intel slips out. And the Mexican authorities are no help either since they work with the drug lords. If Kiki is going to make an impact, he must trust his instincts, ignore his orders, and track down some hard evidence that incriminates Gallardo’s fledgling cartel.

Narcos: Mexico is the TV version of a popcorn movie. It’s super-violent, full of colourful lowlifes, and tells an edge of your seat story. But none of this matter if not for the performances of the show’s two stellar leads. While I love the intensity Peña brings to Kiki, the show’s success hinges on its central villain. We spend a large chunk of the show following around terrible men, and Luna has his work cut out for him in. To keep us dialled in, he must make the cold-blooded villain Gallardo relatable in some way.

“In the same way that Wagner Moura was able to take Pablo Escobar — who did horrible things — and find some humanity there, I think Diego Luna was able to do with Félix Gallardo,” says Newman. “Félix is, by all accounts, a very, very bad man. Yet you watch the show, you see his humanity, and you understand him. You might not entirely relate to everything that he does, but I believe you relate to him.”

Narcos: Mexico

If you are squeamish about bloodshed and watched Breaking Bad rooting against Walter White, then you will want to scroll past Narcos to whatever’s next in your Netflix queue. This show is packed with violence, debauchery, and terrible things happening to good people. But if you’re okay watching a show with enough bloody headshots to make John Wick wince, then this program has you covered.

When Narcos fires on all cylinders the show taps into the same pleasure centres as classic Scorsese crime flicks like Goodfellas and Casino. The show features the flippant regard for human life found in Tarantino’s most violent films and offers the gritty genre atmosphere of peak-Robert Rodriguez – I’m looking at you, Desperado.

With its authentic locales (including Mexico City, Guadalajara, Hidalgo, Puerto, Vallarta and San Luis Potos), kitschy 80’s aesthetic, and compelling central villain, Narcos: Mexico’s ten-episode season makes for the perfect winter-binge. The fresh cast, plot, and locations infuse the series with life and provide countless new stories and settings for the show to explore. Even with all the changes, the program sticks to the Narcos winning formula, offering long-time fans more of what they love. If you’ve never jumped on board the show’s bandwagon, now is the time; the tale of Gallardo’s rise to power is the perfect gateway drug.

This post was written by
Victor Stiff is a Toronto-based freelance writer and pop culture curator. Victor currently contributes insights, criticisms, and reviews to several online publications where he has extended coverage to the Toronto International Film Festival, Hot Docs, Toronto After Dark, Toronto ComiCon, and Fan Expo Canada. Victor has a soft spot in his heart for Tim Burton movies and his two poorly behaved beagles (but not in that order).
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