V Has a New Favorite Netflix Show in NARCOS: MEXICO!!!
The world loves a gangster. Let me clarify. The world loves "genuine" gangsters. By definition, a gangster is a member of a gang of criminals: racketeer (Miriam Webster). The less than genuine gangsters have permeated every part of life in every country of the world. Our financial institutions, our various industries, our sports franchises; even our political offices. A "genuine" gangster, on the other hand, is the one that just doesn't give a fuck. The Michael Corleone's, Tony Montana's, and Frank Lucas's of the world. They make for great cinema and TV. They are what we wish we could be. Our societal Id. They impose their will on the world and still play the Robin Hood role that gives to the poor in a brutal but reluctantly commendable way. After all, the only ones that seem to get hurt in these stories… urban myths… legends… are those that choose to take part. Right?? I'm not trying to celebrate the gangster here, but NARCOS: MEXICO celebrates the genre in groundbreaking ways I have not seen since The Sopranos. It is the type of show I wish I could sit and watch as others consume the highly bingeable drama and slowly have to come to terms with the moral ambiguities presented.
The first season of NARCOS: MEXICO charts the rise of Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo ("Rogue One"s Diego Luna); the Godfather of all modern day drug trafficking (not to be confused with distributors like Pablo Escobar and the Cali Cartel, the subjects of the original 3 season run) and his DEA nemesis Enrique "Kiki" Camarena" (teased on the last episode of the original "Narcos") played by Ant-Man's prolific Michael Peña.
This show is a masterpiece of storytelling in every way possible. Before we get into any particulars I should warn you that if you can not handle violence on a horror film level, this show may be a little too harsh for you. If you have read the news reports about decapitations, disembowelments, and bodily dismemberments, it is all here on full display. The show makes Scarface look gentle.
As for the label of "masterpiece", which I believe is thrown around way too much but in this case, deserved, it really comes down to two factors. The writing and the performances. This series is a masterclass in simplifying huge ideas and streamlining them for an audience as not to limit the entertainment value of the main narrative. Each episode deftly builds on the stakes till midway through the series, in a moment of silent cataclysm and reflection, we feel everything change. It is the butterfly that causes the tsunami.
What evolves is so deadly that it has repercussions on not just everyone involved in the main narrative, but everyone throughout the fringes of the show, Mexico, the US and the rest of the world. It is a midpoint scene to end all midpoint scenes, in both the episode and the series. There have been so many "save the cat" moments up to this point that you are relating with everyone on some level. After this scene, it is more like the narcos involved not only killed the cat but dramatically walked into your home and drowned your family pet. It is in these moments of understated drama that NARCOS: MEXICO subverts the genre to its core. It takes what is a gangster genre tale with narcos of noble or at least understandable intent, and turns them into them into the monsters in your house. "Sicario" would be the only film that gets the stakes involved in the struggle as close to NARCOS: MEXICO, but is too far into its own fictional narrative, that it misses the real consequences of these moments (which in all fairness "Sicario" pulled off brilliantly with its own agenda). Comparisons to "Traffic" could be made, but the issues dealt with in that film are tackled at a very systematic level. NARCOS: MEXICO is able to take these systematic issues, but tie them into the origins of the Mexican Cartel system and keep it engaging. It is a violent, well written, hard-edged, Narco/Gangster drama at the end of the day, and all the major players are involved. Pablo Escobar (Wagner Moura), the Cali Cartel, the Arellano Felíx Brothers, Pablo Acosta (Gerardo Taracena), Amado Carillo Fuentes (José Mariá Yazpik) and of course, Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán Loera (Alejandro Edda).
The gangsters are an easy sell, but the story of Kiki Camarena truly bring the heart to this tale. Him and his group of DEA agents, including Jackie Earle Haley as Jim Ferguson, are stymied by all governments and agencies on each side of the border the entire time (another trope that plays out perfectly and gives the creators another chance to subvert the genre in ways I will leave for you to see).
The drama does one thing that no other Narco drama has failed to do, Including the original 3 season namesake. NARCOS: MEXICO challenges you to look at the drug war from a systematic, moralistic, and capitalistic sense. Again, always in an exciting, entertaining and thoroughly provocative way.
This will be the show I will be recommending to everyone I meet for the foreseeable future. Links to trailers and descriptions from Netflix below.
V Versus the World