Season two of ‘Narcos — Mexico’ hauntingly closes the 80s chapter of the drug war

This season is a Shakespearean tragedy pushing the series closer to the present

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'Narcos: Mexico' cast members Diego Luna and Michael Peña at Lucca Comics & Games in 2018.

Courtesy Niccolò Caranti

You will not — and should not — ever finish a season of “Narcos” or “Narcos: Mexico” and feel at ease. That being said, “Narcos: Mexico” season two wields some of the strongest writing and acting to be found in television or film. Imperatively, it also continues to draw attention to the history of the War on Drugs — a history still playing out in the Americas — and the social and political devastation that has come from it. However, it is important to remember that while most of the major events and drug lords in “Narcos: Mexico” are based on real life, the series’ narrative is fictionalized and contains some made-up and composite characters.

Picking up where season one left off — with the 1985 murder of Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique S. “Kiki” Camarena Salazar (Michael Peña) — season two tracks the resulting Operation Leyenda, headed by Walt Breslin (Scoot McNairy), and the progression of the Guadalajara Cartel throughout the 1980s. Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo (Diego Luna) — the founder of the Guadalajara Cartel — is the central figure of the show, spending most of this season pursuing totalitarian control over the Mexican drug trade. Beginning with his order for the murder of Kiki Salazar, Félix Gallardo continually makes choices he deems necessary to enforce his status as boss. However, these choices ultimately place him in a position of being reviled and regarded as a liability amongst las plazas — the smuggling operation points run by various families — and his other associates. Never remotely likable but played with quiet and terrifying intensity, Félix Gallardo’s storyline is a stomachache-inducing tragedy ending with the realization that his reign was only the beginning of the larger epic. The last scene between Félix and Walt solidifies the reality that there are no winners and no all-knowing heroes in the drug war.

While Félix and Walt are the principal leads of the series, “Narcos: Mexico” contains an extraordinary amount of character storylines that are developed and compelling in a way that should not be possible. The storyline of drug smuggler Pablo Acosta (Gerardo Taracena) and his American girlfriend Mimi Webb Miller (Sosie Bacon) — a real love affair — is an artful western. With an image of himself as an aging bandit with no desire to play by the rules of the new generation of cartels, Pablo’s doomed decision to leave this life behind demonstrates that this is a system in which everyone is entrapped — there are no good guys. Additionally, two particularly dynamic characters, whose stories will undoubtedly be points of focus in the future, are Isabella Bautista (Teresa Ruiz) and Amado Carrillo Fuentes (José María Yazpik). As Bautista, Ruiz plays a former partner of Félix Gallardo who attempts to build her own drug empire, while the crowlike Yazpik — one of Félix Gallardo’s closest associates — plots a future for the cartel sans Félix. 

In addition to the strength of the characters, there are also a few other points of praise worth mentioning in the series, including the effectiveness of the on-location filming in Mexico and the use of Spanish in dialogue. Even as early as 2015, “Narcos” ushered in a wave of content that has been able to find mainstream success in America despite the primary language being one other than English. Filming in Mexico, maintaining Spanish dialogue and using Latinx actors are the key reasons why this show avoids the exploitation genre. Furthermore, the beautiful cinematography lends an important authenticity and poignancy to the show. The diversity of Mexico’s culture and geography are displayed as the show travels from the Pacific Coastal Lowlands to the arid Mexican Plateau. Moreover, it serves to remind the viewer that the “Narcos” narrative should not be the defining lense through which Latin America is perceived.

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