Cue ”Tuyo” by Rodrigo Amarante.
It’s another win in the bag for Netflix with the release of “Narcos: Mexico” season two. After waiting a year for this second installment of the companion series to the OG “Narcos,” I was hollering when I saw it on the Netflix homepage back in February. With only half a minute of hesitation — where I asked myself whether I was in the right mindset to start a new show or even dive back into one with a new season — I clicked play with anticipation and high expectations.
To be franco, my expectations were not met right away — but this was also an expectation. I know that the series follows a pattern: every season starts off slow. We have a few place-setting and mood-setting scenes where a single character is honed in on by a camera angle that’s distant enough to illustrate the focus, but also have other characters in view as he or she walks around, doing what seems like a menial task. By the end of the scene, someone ends up bleeding to death, and the background characters quietly scurry away while the one who is in frame now lights a cigarette … if they weren’t smoking one already. It’s all pretty formulaic, but oddly enough, it never gets old. That’s just the “Narcos” style, and I support the branding.
If the two shows were one, as they were once originally intended to be, this new season would be the fifth in total. So, sure, some things have become predictable, but you can’t be too mad at that. What I was justly peeved at, however, was the lackluster dialogue exclusive to this season.
“Narcos: Mexico” and its predecessor are shows that are based on real events. They’re dramatic — and sometimes fictionalized — retellings of the Columbian and Mexican cartels’ stories. Almost everything they depict on screen is public knowledge that can be found online, and probably through other sources like personal accounts and buried crime records. So, in reality, what did the writers really have to do? They didn’t have to come up with a whole plot, so you can check that off the list of what goes into a story. Then, there’s cinematography which is honestly beautiful in its own right, but I won’t critique it just yet. What the formula that makes up any story really is, be it a novel, play, movie or tv show, is a combination of plot and characters. It’s like what makes up a sentence: the subject and the verb. They had the verbs and subjects, now they just needed to put them together in a way that is noteworthy; or binge worthy, in our world today.
But sadly, season two of “Narcos: Mexico” fell a bit short of that.
It truly took me almost a month to finish the season –– have you heard of such a thing? Not only is it 2020, but we’re in quarantine for crying out loud! It wasn’t until I pitched a review of it for this issue that I finally sat myself down. In the end, was I disappointed? Of course not — but it took me a minute, and a few nearly hour-long episodes, to get there.
The reason I wasn’t hooked right away is because there was no reel to pull me in.
Season two picks up a few months after the events we left off on in the previous season. With only one major spoiler (if you haven’t watched season one yet), I will tell you that our beloved Agent Kiki Camarena is no longer stealing the screen, and that is the major plot point of this season. A fresh slew of DEA agents, headed by the new emotionally-invested “it’s personal” martyr in the war on drugs, Agent Walt Breslin, take over to take down each and every drug trafficker. The first suspect on their list is the lord, the legend, the phoenix who rose from ashes and Mexican enemy #1, Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo. Like the team in season one, Breslin and his crew of hardened men are in to see their mission through until the end. Their goal is to kill, or die trying. So, naturally, it takes a bit of getting used to the new faces after we already went through so much trauma with those in the previous season. I get that … I fully understand it.
However, they really weren’t hittin’. If you asked me to cite an episode, or even a quote that struck me and inspired some deep thought, or even just a hyped “haaaaaaan” at the screen out of me, I couldn’t do it easily. Not to say there weren’t any, because they do come in the later episodes, but it did read pretty lazy. This is new for “Narcos.”
By this point, everyone in the show is exhausted — but are the writers, too? Miguel Ángel, or Félix Gallardo, or Félix, whichever combination you choose to call him, is dealing with the aftermath of ordering the torture and kill of an American DEA agent. His empire, or federación, is starting to crumble as each plaza grows antsy for more power and control. Félix himself has transformed into a power-hungry monster, and we can see it haunting him. Diego Luna, who plays Félix, does a pretty decent job of portraying his frustrations and loneliness. He is tormented by the thoughts of his estranged wife whom he tries to win back, he tries his luck in acquiring more and more power, angering the wrong people and still somehow living to see another day by the skin of his teeth — or by his brilliant scheming. By the end of his reign, he is left with absolutely no one by his side and no card left to play.
Watching “Narcos” is unique in that you may not know who you’re rooting for at any given time. It’s like watching a tennis match in which you have no personal stakes or preference. The ball is in one court one minute and in the other the next. Each trafficker or DEA agent steals the game and gains the upper hand, only for someone else to come around and pull the rug again. Power is the game, the prize, the downfall and the overarching theme of the show.
Did I at times hope Félix would get his way? I’d be lying if I said no. We all like to root for the shiny winner, as Félix himself learns while trying to rig the 1988 presidential election (oh yes, he gets even more involved with politics). Ultimately though, Agent Breslin did end up capturing my heart, as I should have expected. If there’s one thing both series do right, it’s hiring phenomenal actors.
I’m going to do something out of character and not rate this season. However, I will include some final thoughts and shoutouts. Truthfully, I loved it. The thing is, it will take a lot for me not to love this show, but I can admit when my feelings are being clouded by huge pathos-influencing cinematography. This season had a few of its signature dual, sometimes triple scenes, of a dazzling gala or ball taking place where power in the hegemony shifts and all the politicians and drug lords celebrate in tuxes with their pretty wives on their shoulders. Meanwhile the screen regularly cuts in and out to a dirtier setting of either the lowly, hired hands or a rival acting out some kind of revenge killing with blood, guts, tears and pure distaste. The stark juxtaposition is beautiful, and I don’t care for a second how often it’s been “done before.”