Narcos: Mexico, despite being as intense and violent as its predecessor (and high on its own supply), is becoming masterful at setting up quietly resonant closing moments while not taking the cliffhanger route. And I can appreciate that. In the streaming era, when entire seasons drop at once, cliffhangers are almost cruel when an audience must wait over a year to find out what happened. Let’s get real, too: Narcos franchise fans tend to binge hard and fast. Cliffhangers are not needed here to stoke ongoing interest. Closing a season with understated moments is also practical because the War on Drugs won’t ever end. It could be exhausting to keep watching finales like the ones from the Escobar years (him refusing to surrender and later going down on a rooftop) that don’t work well with recent history. If that pattern continued, we’d eventually see El Chapo pop into a tunnel and wave goodbye for a year. It would be beyond parody. I do hope the show sticks with reflective resolutions that suggest what’s to come.
Before we dig in here, here’s another reason why Narcos beats every other TV franchise when it comes to promo images. This image up there ^^^ of Scoot McNairy’s mustache? Netflix used that image for months to tease this season, and it illustrated a long-awaited confrontation. When the moment arrived, the showdown didn’t go as planned. There wasn’t a payoff for the characters, but for the audience? Hell, yeah. It was great to see two lions (mentally) circle each other while conceding that they’ve both lost the battle.
Granted, Narcos: Mexico‘s second season did lead up to its final minutes with a mayhem-filled scene of revenge full of climactic adrenaline. This was both obligatory and necessary, to illuminate the truth of what was soon to be stated by Félix Gallardo. In particular, the shoe literally dropped on the remnants of Gallardo’s cartel leadership when Clavel gets beaten to death in a shopping mall while a spitting Chapo witnesses.
The franchise has held a lot of moments like these, obviously. They’re bread and butter and gruesome and all that, but they’re almost operatic in their execution. They’re also sometimes (disturbingly) funny, as with the bloodbath last season where Don Neto kept wearing his headphones. Yet there’s a ton of value in quietly forecasting the fights to come. Moments of conversation allow the corrupted soul of the franchise to flourish. In this universe — a very real one, although dramatized by Netflix — justice can’t win. There won’t ever be a happy ending in this saga. To that inevitability, last year’s finale made a fantastic set-up: Scoot’s character, who narrated all along, finally comes into view as dogged DEA agent Walt Breslin. The assumption was that we’d get to see Scoot kick some ass this season. And he did kick some ass. One and done is how the fledgling DEA wanted to do this thing, but it’s not quite that simple.
Part of that has to do with that unending reality of the War on Drugs. Also, as we learn by midseason, Walt — a composite character based upon an amalgamation of multiple DEA agents — wields a dual purpose. He’s damaged, and even more than seeking revenge for Kiki Camarena’s death, Walt struggles with immense guilt over not being able to save his brother from OD’ing. All season, he hunted Félix Gallardo, who screwed himself over in his eternal quest for power. He betrayed too many people and proved that he’s not so indispensable in guiding Mexico’s drug empire. The final scene of the season shows Félix in jail after Walt felt compelled to visit. Walt finally stares down what he’s been chasing, and he expects to find closure. He wants to see some remorse materialize in Félix’s face when he holds that photo of Kiki up to the glass.
Not that Félix showed his cards. He showed everyone else’s cards and taunted the hell out of Walt, who we saw alternately exude bravado and squirm with discomfort. I love that the show fictionalized this conversation between a real-life drug lord and a made-up character. They took it in one hell of a different direction than what we usually see in the hero-vs-villain dichotomy. And I love that they’re toying with the “we’re not so different, you and I” cliché without actually saying it. They don’t need to say it, since about 800 recent movies and TV shows have articulated that line. But the sentiment is here.
Don’t get me wrong, man. I also giggle every time some villain offers up, “We’re not so different, you and I.” Admit it, you get a little giddy when you hear it happen, too. But it’s rewarding to see such dynamics bypass the standard entry point and dive deeper. It’s more personal. Not so black-and-white. That a series did this in the middle of a run is gutsy without a renewal announcement in hand, but Narcos has earned that confidence. Five seasons in, and this franchise has many more stories left to tell.
This is where I can quickly draw attention to a few standout comparisons to this Walt-Félix conversation, including the Heat diner scene. Showrunner Eric Newman told Collider that he drew inspiration from how Heat brought the cop-criminal dichotomy face-to-face. The diner scene between Al Pacino and Robert De Niro is one that people watched on repeat (let’s forget that Righteous Kill failed to replicate the effect). Incredibly, it was the first scene that Pacino and De Niro had ever filmed together, and their connection felt organic. The scene made it clear that their characters respected each other despite knowing that, eventually, shots would be fired.
There’s some very reluctant respect on display in the Narcos: Mexico conversation, not on the same level as Heat, but it resonates in a similar way. Two driven, devoted, and brilliant sides of the same coin are butting heads and know there’s no compromise to be found. Also, more than a little bit, I’m reminded of the final Justified scene here. That one revolved around a very different dynamic and personal history between Raylan and Boyd and their coal-digging unity, but there’s still the same magnetic draw here. Raylan felt it necessary to deliver a message to Boyd in person, and we needed to see this Harlan reunion happen, even if these two would never be on the same side of the law.
Again, the dynamic of Walt and Félix is quite different than these other two examples, especially when it comes to Raylan and Boyd, who had some love for each other, even if Raylan would never admit it. It’s a conversation that’s still regarded fondly, and the Walt-Félix meeting deserves to be remembered for decades to come. The season needed to feature a face-to-face meeting between the pair and the show executed it at the right time. I’m glad the moment wasn’t squandered during Félix’s arrest, for the visitation scene isolates the duo and gives their dueling personalities the appropriate spotlight.
In only a few short minutes, we saw the culmination of what these two men had discovered about themselves. Walt visibly realized that his tireless and obsessive pursuit hadn’t yielded the hard-hitting results that he wanted regarding the drug trade. Despite his displays of smugness, he couldn’t maintain the facade when Félix began to prophesize the horrors to come. Félix, of course, admitted that his greed caused his downfall. He’s also largely spot-on with his predictions, and we see the new cartel heads boozily meet and call a truce. And Félix lays it all out there to Walt. He predicts who will be running his plazas, which are becoming their own cartels. Tijuana, Juarez, the Gulf, and Sinaloa all get divvied up with Chapo Guzmán positioned for a future Sinaloa takeover. They all agree to “respect each other and prosper,” but Felix knows that’s not going to be how things work out.
It’s an interesting thing, the War on Drugs. The winners of wars are the ones customarily entitled to tell the tales as they see fit, but no one wins here. Walt expected to walk into that visitation booth and make Félix feel like utter garbage while thrusting that photo of Kiki in his face. He’s wanted to do this for years. That’s what kept him going on the surface. He also expected to feel less restless after reminding Félix that he got sold out for a trade deal, but Félix knew that Walt held no cards. There’s nothing that Walt can do for him, so Félix isn’t going to give him anything tangible. Yet in a way, and even though Félix is presenting the appearance that he’s giving nothing to Walt, he’s having the most honest onscreen conversation that he’s had with anyone.
Félix takes Walt to terrifying places during this relatively short conversation. He digs into the strengths of the various cartels, and outlines their strengths and weaknesses, and their various strategies while striving for dominance. He even gleefully suggests that Walt take out the Juarez head, but more importantly, Félix knew how to get under Walt’s skin. And to a lesser degree, vice versa. The two of them picked at each other, and neither one of them won the confrontation, much like the War on Drugs. They smirk at each other, almost in the same way that De Niro and Pacino did in Heat only without knowing that their beef won’t be resolved with one heist. Instead, this war will rage on indefinitely, and Félix calls it when he tells Walt that “you’re going to miss me.”
Yes, Walt is gonna miss Félix. I mean, the guy motivated years of his existence. The tiger’s now in the cage, and where does that leave Walt? Ultimately, he’s behind a desk now, and all of the other animals are on the loose. It’s difficult to envision Netflix continuing this series without putting Walt back into action in some capacity. Obviously, the third season will focus on the unleashed circus of animals that Félix references. Chapo Guzmán should make a lot more progress with his tunneling endeavors, and Amado Carrillo Fuentes is likely going to be a major focus. Walt will be back in some way, but will we see Félix again? Maybe not, and that’s only one more reason why this quiet confrontation will resonate for many years to come.
‘Narcos: Mexico’s second season is currently streaming on Netflix.