Narcos: Mexico, the official title for the slick, solidly crafted fourth season of Narcos, arrives as a serviceable new chapter for fans of the Netflix series and, to a lesser degree, those who have never watched a single episode. I add that last sentiment because this season is, in effect, an origin story and a prequel to those years in Colombia — taking on Pablo Escobar and then the Cali cartel — yet even if one hasn’t kept up with the series, this season would still be easy to follow (thanks to an unobtrusive narrator). However, those who are up to speed will enjoy a more intense experience, given that the events depicted during the reverse time jump add an extra layer of urgency to what comes later.
That is to say, all of the self-assured swagger of Agent Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook) and quiet confidence of Agent Javier Pena (Pedro Pascal) would have never materialized, if not for the enormous efforts undertaken by Agent Kiki Camarena (Michael Peña) during the seminal struggles of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. So yes, I’d recommend Narcos: Mexico for fans and newcomers, especially since this season claws through the layers of the rotten onion to the core of the whys. It’s about the open fields of weed discovered by DEA agents, but much more, it’s about battling institutions and power struggles and hidden agendas. It’s complex and intoxicating, and here’s why.
1. Narcos has, especially with season 3, widely been compared to The Wire because it deeply explores both sides of the law enforcement coin. Season 3 was my least favorite (Brian Grubb liked it the most), but that’s because I harbor an irredeemable soft spot for Murphy, who’s a love-or-hate character for the ages, so I understand if you can’t stand the guy, but I missed him. Well, Narcos: Mexico manages to pepper Season 3’s structure and vibe with a voice reminiscent of Murphy’s not-yet-existent ghost. Also, this chapter shows the fledgling DEA struggling to be taken seriously by the U.S. feds while infiltrating the Guadalajara cartel. Institutional-based betrayal is rampant, much like in The Wire, and the Mexican federales are entrenched in the drug trade while taking a cut of cartel profits. The sheer level of institutional f*ckery makes Narcos: Mexico the most The Wire-y chapter so far. Again, there’s a narrator who approaches smartass Murphy levels, and I am easily charmed by such devices. So this prequel’s a win for anyone who has enjoyed any Narcos season.
2. A mild spoiler alert feels a little silly, given that we’re discussing historical events, and with this chapter, folks know what happens and that the narrator isn’t lying while warning that this 1985 story “doesn’t have a happy ending.” The drug war hasn’t come close to ending in 2018, and obviously, the show (mostly) stuck with the facts when killing Escobar, etc. When we see someone get kidnapped during the season’s opening moments, the camera doesn’t shy away from revealing that this is Agent Camerena, even though this scene doesn’t really play out until many episodes later. (Fact: It took until 2017 for Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo to be sentenced for his role in Camerena’s murder.) Here, Gallardo (played by Diego Luna) is the main criminal figurehead, so there’s no tweaking how this turns out. Camarena’s death sparked a global outrage, and deservedly so, and this season illuminates why his eventual demise arrived in such an earth-shattering manner.