Narcos: Mexico (2018-), Season 1 "Pure Netflix gold."
I watched the original Narcos earlier this year and the series really made a lasting impression on me. I would even go as far as to say that Narcos was groundbreaking in the way in which the series combined fact and fiction with beautiful and compelling narrative, and high quality cinematographics. At its best, the show felt like watching a highly suspensive and exciting documentary. The greatest stories mix fact and fiction, and Narcos does it just right. To learn something about real life events, and to enjoy doing it. What more could you ask?
The show starts with the oh so typical male narrative voice and a fade in into an action packed scene. Narcos still features the same kickass opening theme, which has to be one of the best opening themes ever. A sense of familiarity kicks in. However, this time white powder has been replaced with marijuana plants. From the get-go it’s obvious that Narcos: Mexico means business, in this case drug business. More precisely, drug trafficking and drug war that started in the 1980s and continues to this date. The war has caused the death of half a million Mexicans and despite the best efforts (or the lack of efforts) of law enforcement, drug trafficking has only become more common. In other words, the war on drugs has failed. Narcos: Mexico gives us a compelling argument into the reasons why.
The cliffhanger of the first episode leaves the viewer with excitement about the future episodes when it’s revealed that the cops like to enjoy their drinks with a twist. Sensimilla is also the word of the day, when we are taken back down memory lane into the depths of Mexican cannabis growing and the breakthrough that came about when Rafael Caro Quintero (Tenoch Huerta) puts his university degree into good use and develops a revolutionary new strain that will break records. Rafa, the portrayed genius falls in love with his own product and we also learn that excessive marijuana toking may apparently lead to spontaneous grenade throwing, so beware potheads, and don’t leave hand grenades in the open when there are stoners around.
Things get serious from the very first episode and it seems the show has been written in an almost perfect 50/50 action-storytelling balance. The atmosphere of the show is excellent and it lures you in straight away. The actors play their parts believably and as a language nerd I would like to think that the beautiful, dramatic, and poetic Spanish language brings extra depth to the story.
The actor of Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo (Diego Luna) is a perfect fit. At first, you consider him a low level player in the organization because he is precisely that. However, you quickly realize that this is one cold hearted man with a mission, and Diego Luna has the perfect aura to carry that message. He quickly becomes the "Jefe de Jefes", the leader of this drug empire and delivers his orders with confidence. The plaza leaders are hesitant and don't speak much, but this man seems to possess Speech Level 99 and a gold watch or other bribes are the perfect lubricants to seal his deals.
To further emphasize the tall task that Miguel faces, it should be made clear that the plaza leaders have been fighting each other for decades and now Felix has to convince all of them to work together. He uses numbers, flattery, and most importantly a blessing from above.
If you pay attention to the details in the series, you will learn a lot about the US-Mexico drug wars and its participants. Take the DFS, for example. It's the Mexican version of CIA but with tiger logos and their own anthem. You can’t make this stuff up. You'll also learn about Mexican geography and locations such as Zacatecas, Sonora, Baja California, Guadalajara, Chihuahua, Tijuana, and Sinaloa. Spoiler alert, Sinaloans are everywhere.
To understand how corrupt things are in Mexico, even the local police force have to be bribed into drug busts by using special terms that imply there’s a cut included in the deal for them. We quickly find out that the DFS is actually in charge of the security for the cartel so the main protagonist of the story Enrique 'Kiki' Camarena (Michael Peña) and the other DEA agents have a slim chance of doing anything useful. That doesn't stop them from trying, and in hindsight the beauty of foreshadowing is obvious in the very first minutes of the show.
Corruption runs deep and with the help of the DFS, Felix and the plazas are able to take out their competitors. Felix gets to meet Nava, the DFS guy, once again and tells him to hold his horses in killing off the rival plaza members because everyone seems to be someone’s cousin in Mexico. Felix gets his own DFS badge which equals a get out of jail free card and shows you how deep the corruption actually runs.
On the cop side of the story Kiki is getting desperate with his lurking, but finally seems to catch a break. It turns out that their aerial surveillance only updates once a year so their only hope is Kiki with his special agent tracking skills and infinite coffee thermos (also works as an emergency toilet). Kiki goes truly undercover with his excellent peasant disguise and shares a stylish bar smoking scene with a local but doesn’t get much out of it. Next day serves him better and now he gets picked up to go harvest the green gold.
This Mexican mafia has it all, Don Miguel is the Godfather of the groom of a big wedding where all the baddies conveniently meet and Felix is solidified as the biggest boss of them all. He has listened to the governor’s advice and succeeds in bringing peace back to their organization. But the governor has a trick up his sleeve and not surprisingly, even he is one corrupt m...ember of parliament.
I have to dedicate a paragraph to the beautiful cinematography of Narcos. For example, when Kiki is visiting the big marijuana plantation, we get a beautiful transition from Kiki and the other workers to Felix’s painting by Saturnino Herrán. In the original Narcos, Colombian landscape and nature is featured beautifully and in Narcos: Mexico, the establishing shots feature beautiful mountainous and rugged Mexican nature. The second episode ends with Kiki being in the middle of nowhere and seeing numerous busses drive past with people being handcuffed and hooded in them. Every shot seems very well thought out and deliberate, and the camera drives are slow and impactful.
I don't want to spoil too much because the storytelling in Narcos: Mexico is one of the best in recent film and series history. I'll conclude by saying that not surprisingly, money makes the world go ‘round and the seemingly only character with moral high ground, Kiki Camarena, is faced with the helplessness of fighting his foes and allies. But doesn’t the good guy usually win? Well, Narcos: Mexico starts by emphasizing that this story doesn’t have a happy ending, so we will see if reality is more powerful than fiction.
“If you are a criminal and you have the one group that’s supposed to be dedicated to stopping you on your side, well shit you can run the table.”
And that’s what the cartel now has, a private army. Kiki and the crew are left wondering what to do when you’re forced to file police reports about the police. Find out what happens to Kiki and his friends by watching the first season of Narcos: Mexico. I would highly recommend this series to anyone who is in any way interested in Mexico, drug cartels, drama, action, suspense, beautiful scenery, excellent storytelling, and well...just a great viewing experience overall.
+ Excellent actors who fit their roles perfectly
+ Beautiful camera work and editing
+ Suspenseful storytelling full of action and intriguing dialogue
- Cutting some corners for dramatic purposes
- Aiming when shooting the main characters seems nearly impossible
- Having to wait for Season 2