Some wise person said: Stories work when there’s no time to decide if they’re good or bad. Maybe no one said that. But Narcos: Mexico works because it’s adrenaline-on-drip. You’re too hooked to think. That the much-awaited season of the Netflix original is dramatized history – based on the origin of the ongoing Mexican drug war – makes it a potent shot. It’s a classic cat-and-mouse that you should watch even if you haven’t watched earlier seasons.
The characters have various addictions. Our DEA agent and star, Enrique ‘Kiki’ Camarena, played flawlessly by Michael Peña, is obsessed with getting ahead of a jaded, apathetic system to prove himself worthy. For that he has to be what his wife describes as an ‘asshole’. You’ve heard that story before. You’ve also already heard that it doesn’t end well.
Drug boss Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo (infamously the Rockefeller of Cocaine) has an interesting fixation. Gallardo, played by an even-paced Diego Luna, means, at all costs, to stay rational. He is a ‘normal’ guy, a former cop, who thinks of crime as another business. Just as in any addiction, with this one too, there comes a point at which he has to embrace it and succumb to its dark side, at the cost of all else.
The episodes see different kinds of dependencies grow in many characters. As with addicts, so with business, Marijuana is the gateway drug. As a token to what the literal Cocaine addiction can actually do, Gallardo’s business partners Rafa and Don Neto are hooked to it (Both roles are brilliantly essayed by Tenoch Huerta and Joaquín Cosio respectively).
But the script, by Carlo Bernard, Chris Brancato and Doug Miro, takes these stereotypes to higher ground with a single hit. Both sides of the story are told back to back, and with some meaningful edits, which leave you wondering about what is cause and what, effect. When both Kiki and Felix drive into Guadalajara at the same time – just before Felix starts his first weed venture- the irony is hard to miss. The season is all about the big picture, the narco-police-politics complex.
It won’t throw up pin-up heroes like Colombian don Pablo Escobar, who achieved cult status after Seasons 1 and 2. But that’s also because it doesn’t romanticise the good bad guys or the bad good guys. It’s a bit too matter-of-fact. To underline that, there’s a beautiful play between rationalism and ‘Big Emotion’. Escobar stands in for the second but we can’t tell you how and ruin it for you.
It is a timely narrative, with Marijuana being legalized in many parts of the Western world. It also taps into our growing restlessness and helplessness over a rigged, crony capitalist system, with only fake choices. The earlier season, even though they happen later in real time, felt more like heritage stories from the History of Drugs. This one has immediacy.
As with most Netflix originals, Narcos: Mexico scores on authenticity. But because of its pace, it misses Mexico by a bit. It does not do for the country what earlier seasons did for Colombia. The viewer inhabits spaces occupied by expats and the bulge-bracket but not so much the streets. There is one season where Kiki goes undercover as a labourer on a Marijuana field. The poverty of the workers and that massive Marijuana plantation in the middle of the desert – that will stick, as memorable scenes do. As will the scene where green-thumbs Rafa strikes water in the desert.
But there's plenty of dopamine, adrenaline, and other chemicals in the show. By the end, it makes you want to do something adventurous – like write a review.