A whole lot’s going on in Narcos: Mexico‘s sophomore season. That’s the most comfortable way to begin wrapping my arms around evaluating the ultra-intense followup to last year’s debut of the Netflix spinoff, which began as an even more intoxicating story than the original series. Last time, we saw a 1980s origin story of sorts for those years in Colombia (following Pablo Escobar and the Cali Cartel) that pleased franchise fans. Even more grippingly, the spinoff showed the seminal struggles of the DEA’s efforts in Mexico while infiltrating the Guadalajara Cartel. The reverse time jump did a lot to refresh the franchise when it didn’t even need to be reinvigorated, and hats off to Netflix for knowing how to keep one of their hottest properties from going stale.
They’ve done so again, this time by taking the two central figures of the season and making them get high on their own supply. No, nobody is snorting from a pile of cocaine like Al Pacino’s Tony Montana, but let’s just say that we’re talking about metaphorical drugs. In that case, power and revenge are the drugs of choice. And like Montana, the addictions to these drugs (and recklessness while satisfying their respective cravings) lead to some judgment calls that can threaten victories and even lives.
What transpires is a fascinating, if sometimes sickening, dance to watch. In that way, Netflix continues to one-up itself on what’s widely regarded as their version of The Wire. In other words, the second season of Narcos: Mexico is still comfort food for crime-drama lovers, but there are additional spices for extra kick. Those who indulge will once again be seduced into binging rather than savoring this juiced-up course.
As viewers know, the last season ended shortly after the execution of Kiki Camarena (Michael Peña), the wild-eyed madman of a DEA agent who infiltrated the cartel led by Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo (Diego Luna). The finale made an on-screen introduction to dogged agent/narrator Walt Breslin (Scoot McNairy and that mustache) while suggesting justice for Kiki was afoot. Well, the second season delivers on that promise without skipping a beat, but now, the opposing sides’ missions aren’t so clear-cut, even if they’re both unquestionably brutal. It’s odd in retrospect to think about the debut season setting up a relatively straightforward conflict since the execution of the story seemed so multi-dimensional. The season felt mutable and breathable with oddballs like Rafa and Don Neto floating around in the peripheral. Chapo and Pablo Acosta, as well, added texture, even if their stories felt a little threadbare last year. Rest assured that all of the texture propels this new season, so let’s talk about those metaphorical drugs.
Gallardo And The Thirst For Power: Diego Luna quietly commanded for much of the third season as the pioneer of Mexico’s drug trade, at first accomplishing a great deal more through what he didn’t do rather than what he actually did. He practiced restraint and painstakingly fine-tuned his organization — accomplishing exponential growth while expanding from weed to coke, along with holding politicians and police commanders in his pockets. His measured ways stood in sharp contrast to the impulsive Escobar, but once Gallardo’s downfall began, he lost his way, at least inwardly. He screwed a lot of people over, and those sorts of ghosts always come back to haunt in a story like this.
Further, Gallardo’s never quite satisfied with the power that he achieves. He always wants bigger and better so he pushes further, sometimes quite stupidly. Another complication? I really hesitate to insert The Godfather into this discussion because it’s grown into a cliché to draw parallels between crime figures and Michael Corleone. Many of those figures in popular culture are referred to as El Padrino, after all. And Gallardo did enter the mix last season with a “Godfather of Weed” nickname, but seriously, the metaphor fits here. Gallardo has entered the point of his career where he’s a lonely figure, much like Michael at the end of The Godfather II. He’s also learning that simply because he’s feared, that doesn’t guarantee that he’s respected, and the specter of betrayal looms everywhere, threatening to torpedo his empire at any moment.
Walt Breslin And The Itch For Revenge: Scoot McNairy’s compelling in everything he does. I dare you to find a subpar performance from the guy. The role is a challenging one, especially since he already crafted a presence with his voice last season, and he must make good on that visually as well. Walt’s a composite character (based upon a gathering of the real-life U.S. agents), who appears to arrive on the scene with a singular purpose: to carry out Operation Leyenda. In other words, Breslin’s here to gain revenge on behalf of the U.S. (although U.S. intel didn’t officially sanction the measures taken) for what happened to Kiki. Now, Walt’s an authentically good guy, but he does have additional layers, ones that reverberate and emphasize the attention to character detail from this series. There’s not a drop of lazy writing to be found on this show, which is refreshing in a streaming world full of overpadded seasons.
Breslin’s a maverick, and he and the other DEA guys are doing some illegal things, along with some extralegal ones, that show that this mission will stop at no level of ruthlessness to take down Gallardo. And Walt, well, he dives in and invests deeply on an individual level, even more so than the operation itself does. That’s where “revenge” is a more applicable descriptor than “vengeance” because what Walt’s doing (on behalf of Kiki and otherwise) is personal. He feels everything quite deeply, and he’s a damaged guy, so his quest for enacting revenge takes some of his perspective away. As Walt peels away more layers of the rotten onion, both on the Mexico and the U.S. sides, he ends up doing some dangerous, kind-of dumb things, and yeah, he’d better watch his back if he wants to make it out alive.
Other Key Figures: To say too much about Pablo Acosta (Gerardo Taracena) and Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s (Alejandro Edda) stories in this season would spoil too much. However, I can say that there’s more quality screentime for both of them, and that’s a splendid thing. Acosta brings the emotional heft during a few episodes that contain some of the most genuine, gratifying, and staggering moments this franchise has had to offer. Meanwhile, Chapo offers up humor, especially when tunnels start happening. Granted, he’s nowhere near achieving Sinaloa drug lord status yet, but seeds are planted, and they are weirdly funny to witness. Not to mention entertaining, which goes for everything that happens, even the tragedy, in Narcos: Mexico. Netflix has crafted another bingeable season, it’s time to, you know, get high on that supply.
Netflix’s second season of ‘Narcos: Mexico’ is currently streaming.