What the flick
You're reading

Narcos: Mexico review – real tension lies in the details

Reading time: 3 minutes


“It was truly an art, wrangling Federales into just doing their job.”

The rot goes to the top and for all the seemingly exaggerated goings on, Narcos: Mexico comes with a caveat. Of which, I’ll paraphrase:

“Everything in this show is true. Except what we made up.”

This is only the beginning, and frankly, nothing is exaggerated.

What we have is a ten-hour prequel to the original three series of Narcos, no doubt with more to come. Narcos: Mexico is the story of how one trade fuelled another – the world got to take drugs at will and Latin America suffered the consequences of it.

It starts with Diego Luna‘s Félix Gallardo and his ambitious move into the weed trade, something that was, back in the eighties, Mexico’s primo illegal export. Marijuana is often referred (or reef-ered?) to as the gateway drug. And it is, just not in the way people want you to think.

Unknowingly or not, given the vernacular of the time, weed certainly was the gateway drug. The drug which would apparently encourage the taker to try different, stronger drugs, like coke. But no. Cocaine gateway-ed itself into the USA via weed. Clinging on to its coattails like powder to a fiver, coke is everywhere now. It’s the money drug, the earner – and it has its hands all over Narcos: Mexico.

Stop with the CGI blood!

Narcos: Mexico moves the Pablo Escobar story of Narcos backwards on the timeline and across borders. Narcos was starting to get a little flabby, samey even. This Mexico strand of the drama is solid, but not brilliant.

There’s plenty to like about it. Initially. Fresh characters, new situations and a conscious effort to make it feel related to the original, while having its own sense of style. A devotion to CGI is admirable in places, but annoying in others. I always moan when I see CGI blood, I mean, whatever happened to the squib? And we don’t need to see computer-added blood on the lens every time someone’s shot.

However, if you like a bit of eighties nostalgia then there’s something for you here: fashion, cars, music and Mexico not being completely polluted by the drugs trade.

The acting is exemplary – Michael Pena has never been better and Diego Luna manages to convey a complex mix of cool charm and murderous intentions. However, there aren’t any real shades of grey. Despite the characters’ depiction as somewhat more complicated than an average drama might manage, Narcos: Mexico is still a bit black and white.

Where do the lines blur? (They always blur).

It lulls a bit in the middle, too. I got really excited when I thought I saw Jackie Earle Haley, who apparently isn’t actually Jackie Earle Haley. Still, it was a slow episode. It sounds awful, but people being murdered in the drugs trade isn’t a new thing – it’s the fourth series of it on this show alone, not to mention every other show involving drugs. After a while, the show needs more than just murder for the binge watcher.

As with the other Narcos series, the real tension lies in the details and dialogue of deals. Trying to predict the shifts in power and who will come out on top is what keeps you watching. There are also signs of what’s to come.

A young lad called Chapo reappears throughout. My bet is Narcos: Mexico series three has Sean Penn in. You heard it here first. These interactions are impressively done. But for the gorehounds, don’t be deterred, when the tempers fray, they do so satisfyingly. Provided you don’t care for the character whose gore you’re choking on.

The verdict

Overall, Narcos: Mexico is reasonably entertaining and informative, if at times a bit of a slow watch. Ironically the show is something of a gateway into the Mexican drug trade.

Want to know more? Journalist, Ioan Grillo has two brilliant, but horrible books exposing the human cost of the drugs trade: El Narco and Gangster Warlords and these drag a lot less.

Read a book, watch a series, choose your poison.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *