‘Narcos: Mexico’ doesn’t quite hit the same high the original did

Feb. 21, 2019, 12:30 a.m.

When the sultry theme of “Tuyo” kicked on after much, much too long a time, I had a few reservations about the new “Narcos: Mexico” series. Would it ever live up to the previous saga in Columbia? Most importantly, what about the serious lack of Pedro Pascal (the original show’s Agent Peña) and that glorious 70s stache? Though I’ll always admit I miss the bad cop, bad cop vibe of Agents Murphy and Peña, my worries about the new season were largely for naught, as Netflix has yet again churned out another series worthy of a weekend binge.

Running concurrently to the original series, “Narcos: Mexico” follows the fiery rise of the marijuana empire based out of Guadalajara, Mexico, this time switching Pablo Escobar for Felix Gallardo as the enigmatic kingpin. In the same fashion as the other series, the show bounces between the two story arcs: the drug lords avariciously accumulating fortunes, and the agents valiantly attempting to hunt them down. “Narcos: Mexico” is yet another familiar game of cat and mouse, cowboy and, well, narcos – just with a new slate of characters. Newcomers Michael Peña (you might remember him from “Ant-Man”) and Diego Luna (“Rogue One”) portray the belligerent DEA agent Kiki Camarena and slimeball “businessman” Gallardo, respectively, and each does a fine job of it.

Replete with all the rough-and-tumble half-western, half-gangster violence, “Narcos: Mexico” hits the ground running and takes off straight into the gun and dope-slinging, presumably to catch up with its predecessor. The series focuses on the struggles of Gallardo as he rapidly builds his empire and claws his way to the top, with whatever bloody means necessary. Featuring a fun guest appearance from our pals down in Colombia, it’s as character-packed and driven as “Game of Thrones.” The quasi-documentary is ever shifting and captivating as it follows the story of how our parents got their pot.

But while it’s no doubt action-packed and suspenseful, it didn’t quite have the same luster I had known to grow and love in the original “Narcos.” With the success of the Colombia series, it almost appears as if Netflix has figured out a simple algorithm that ultimately leaves out crucial bits and pieces; just plug in the right factors and voila! – a good crime drama. What was left to the wayside this time around, however, was some decent character insight and development. We got to see so much of the man Pablo Escobar was (and who he became), and yet I’m still not quite sure who this Gallardo man is or what his M.O. is, other than that he’s ostensibly ambitious. The nuance of the cowboy Agent Murphy and antihero morally ambiguous Agent Peña is replaced with an ornery Camarena who gets angry for no reason. The story is a bit of a formulaic catastrophic set-back-and-recovery, with the dialogue at the end of each episode a bit of a hackneyed “we got ‘em, boys.” Regardless, it’s a good kind of hackneyed, a bit of a guilty pleasure that you’ll still catch me watching for hours on end.

“Narcos: Mexico” never fails to impress, even if it is lacking a bit of the loving care to detail that was present in the previous series. Still, it’s a classic case of astronaut syndrome; when you’ve been to the moon, how will anything else ever compare? To put it into perspective, a little bit less good than fantastic is still great. With another “Mexico” season confirmed to be in the works, we’ll see where this drug-fueled path takes us and our beloved DEA agents.


Contact Hannah Blum and hannahbl ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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