Narcos: Mexico season 2 review — Too many crooks spoil this broth, but Felix Gallardo can still get you high
Diego Luna was among the brightest spots of Narcos: Mexico in season 1, and while Felix's trajectory in season 2 isn't as rags-to-riches spectacular, he still makes a compelling enough protagonist.
The following review contains some spoilers for Narcos: Mexico season 2.
In an early scene in season 2 of Narcos: Mexico, members of the Sinaloan cartel — Cochi and Chapo — present drug boss Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo with a birthday gift: a tiger. The tiger is majestic and prowls about its cage as a marching band strikes up the notes to 'Eye of the Tiger', in a display both incongruous and ostentatious. The next morning, Felix stares at the tiger as it stalks around his empty courtyard, its menace held in check as it is manacled to a pillar.
This fifth instalment of Narcos, which takes ahead the story of Felix Gallardo, feels a little like that — a menacing buildup that frequently leads nowhere. Vast swathes of this 10-episode run feel like a slog, and the stakes only truly feel high towards the very end. That's not for want of scope or ambition, but a case of too many threads being unravelled.
After the brutal torture and murder of DEA agent Kiki Camarena, Felix Gallardo is feeling the heat. The DEA's Operation Leyenda is picking up all those involved in Camarena's death, one by one. They're not interested in the scapegoats — Rafa and Don Netto, Felix's old associates — who are already in jail. If that weren't enough, there's trouble among the plazas: the Sinaloans and Tijuanians are at each other's throats, work in Juarez has come to a standstill as their leader Pablo Acosta is off pursuing a personal vendetta, Felix's attempt to bring a new partner (the Gulf cartel) on board is less than successful, and Isabella Bautista is trying to get her own drug business off the ground.
To that murky pot, add more trouble: money is tight and Felix's suppliers — the Cali cartel — are refusing to loosen the purse-strings or cede any control. Felix's carefully cultivated influence over the political powers-that-be is slipping, as a new Presidential candidate takes centrestage in Mexico.
That may seem like too much for one man to handle, but not if that man is Felix Gallardo. He schemes and bullies and intimidates and out-thinks his way through it all, even as his best laid plans are being derailed by all these other forces. And against all odds, he nearly makes it all work.
Diego Luna was among the brightest spots of Narcos: Mexico in season 1, and while Felix's trajectory in season 2 isn't as rags-to-riches spectacular, he still makes a compelling enough protagonist. Every time he staves off an imminent rout, the difference between winning and losing is slender enough to get your adrenaline pumping. By contrast, the others tend to fall short: summoning up enough interest in what all the bit players are up to, be it Acosta or DEA agent Walt Breslin (Scoot McNairy) or Isabella (Teresa Ruiz), can be somewhat difficult. There's a mild sense of rinse-lather-repeat, like we've seen it all before.
But just when you're ready to write off Narcos: Mexico and wonder if the franchise has outlived its potential, the pace quickens. As the season builds towards its finale, the tension heightens. Felix prepares for a drug deal with the Colombians that will either doom him or carry his business to unimaginable heights. He rigs a make-or-break election. The violence spirals. The betrayals mount. There's a small fan service moment in one of the episodes when Jorge Salcedo (from the Narcos season 3 Cali cartel timeline) has a brief meeting with Felix. Cynical wheeling and dealing plays out at every level — from the cartels to the state to the governments of two countries. And when you think you know which way things are headed, the story offers up an extremely satisfying twist.
Part of that twist comes courtesy Amado Carrillo Fuentes (Jose Maria Yazpik), Felix's fleet 'commander' in a sense. Amado's character has always been somewhat in the background; he's the suave, laidback guy who's been flying drugs in and out of Mexico for several Narcos seasons now. But a look at Fuentes' real life rap sheet shows he was among the most powerful drug lords in Mexico, with his business running into hitherto unprecedented volumes. The ending of this season indicates that Narcos' next edition may well track Amado Carrillo Fuentes' story, and not El Chapo's.
If that next edition has to work, then Narcos 6/Mexico season 3 needs to bring in more of what made the franchise so thrilling. It also urgently needs to provide a counter to the glamourising of the traffickers with good guys who actually check the box when it comes to impactful — in the mould of Javier Pena. If the series doesn't course-correct from this formulaic path, Netflix might find itself stuck with that tiger in a cage — seemingly deadly but unable to do any real damage.
Narcos: Mexico season 2 is now streaming on Netflix. Watch the trailer here —
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