Narcos: Mexico binge recap
Welcome to the new Narcos. After three seasons in Colombia, Netflix’s addictive crime drama has relocated to Mexico as Pablo Escobar, the Cali Cartel, Steve Murphy, and Javier Peña have been replaced by a new group of drug kingpins and government agents. Reborn as Narcos: Mexico, the Golden Globe-nominated series returned on Nov. 16, and EW is here to guide you through all 10 episodes.
Episode 1: “Camelot”
NARCOOOOOOSSSSS!! One of Netflix’s premiere shows is back and as teased in the season 3 finale, the action has shifted to Mexico. Not only does that mean we have a new setting and a new cast (we get a Peña for Peña switch with Michael Peña taking over for Pedro Pascal’s Javier Peña), we technically have a new show with the series being rebranded as Narcos: Mexico. Enough talk, let’s get into it.
“I’m going to tell you a story. But I’ll be honest, it doesn’t have a happy ending. In fact, it doesn’t have an ending at all.” Wait a minute, is the narrator the one and only Scoot McNairy?!?! Oh, why yes it is. I was already all in, but now I’m ALL IN. We’re sent to 1985 Guadalajara, Mexico, where a man is kidnapped and a bag thrown over his head. Scoot sets the scene of the dangerous Mexico drug trade as the kidnapped man is transported to another location before his hood is removed. Meet Kiki Camarena (Peña), the man who will be at the center of all of this.
Nice to meet you Kiki, now let’s jump back to 1980. After a rundown of weed in Mexico and the introduction of Sinaloa, a.k.a. the birthplace of Mexican drug smuggling, the action shifts to the Sinaloan mountains and a weed farm. When the government shows up to burn down all the fields, they chase a man named Rafa to a church. They have the building surrounded as they prepare to go in, but a local cop named Miguel arrives on the scene and goes in alone to bring Rafa out. He proceeds to beat Rafa into revealing the location of some unburned fields. The cop takes Rafa with him to his ransacked house, where his wife and children are hiding, and it’s revealed that Rafa is part of his family and they’re both involved in the weed business (Miguel is a former cop).
We’ve been told how important Kiki will be, so let’s get to know him better. Back in Fresno, California, he’s conducting an undercover sting, or at least trying to. The dealers think he might be a cop, so he turns the volume up on the TV and has one of them point a gun at his head. Since no one rushes in, he says that proves that he’s legit. It works and the dealers are ready to deal, but then cops do rush in, just the wrong ones. The local police don’t believe Kiki’s declarations about being DEA, hell, they barely know what the DEA is. But when Kiki’s partner shows up, the cops uncuff Kiki and he thanks them by punching one of them in the face. Later, Kiki learns from his boss that he didn’t get the transfer to Miami, so he takes the only other available posting: Guadalajara.
Speaking of Guadalajara, Kiki’s isn’t the only one making his way there. The latest field burnings in Sinaloa have the local crew preparing to start from scratch, but Miguel proposes to Don Aviles that they restart the business in Guadalajara. He offers to travel there and speak to the Naranjo brothers, who currently run the area. Aviles agrees, sending Miguel, Rafa, and Don Neto (not a fan of this idea — or Miguel) to meet with them. After dropping Rafa and his Hello Kitty-type backpack off at a college campus, Miguel and Neto go to a hotel to meet with Hernan Naranjo. The Guadalajara kingpin mocks Miguel’s offer of a partnership, prompting Miguel to kill him right out in the open. Everyone, including Neto, makes a run for it. As they all leave, Rafa shows up; he spoke to a geologist and points to a location on a map.
The DFS soon arrives on the scene and takes Rafa, Miguel, and Neto, whom they picked up trying to skip town. Knowing he’s being driven to his death, Miguel tells the driver a story of the time he saved the life of a cop’s brother, insinuating that the cop is the DFS boss known as El Azul. When Miguel is brought to Azul, it’s revealed that he doesn’t have a brother (risky move, Miggy!). Miguel makes a partnership offer to Azul, insisting that the deal was always for him and not the Baranjos. He reveals Rafa’s new strain of marijuana that is stronger than anything else out there on the market. Then, the other Baranjo shows up, pissed about his brother, only for Azul to kill him. Azul tells Miguel that he’s in. Oh, and smartly, Neto is suddenly all in on the plan too.
Kiki, his pregnant wife Mika, and their son Kikito arrive in Guadalajara. Upon meeting his new boss Jaime, Kiki realizes this isn’t what he signed up for, considering they’re more in the data gathering business than arresting business, or more like the neighborhood watch as Kiki suggests. “You’ve seen the desert,” says Jaime. “It’s time to meet the snakes.” Jaime, Kiki, and the other two agents, Knapp and Sears (Ken from Mad Men!), head over to the bar next door for their daily ritual of buying drinks for all the Mexican cops, which is just their way of gathering information. Fresh off the deal with Miguel, the DFS boys walk in, immediately catching the attention of Kiki, who follows El Azul to the bathroom. As they wash their hands side-by-side, Kiki notifies Azul of the blood on his shoes. You’d think cops would be better at cleaning up evidence!
Neto, Rafa, and Miguel head out to the spot on the map, which is in the middle of the desert, but there’s supposedly plenty of water below. Miguel’s plan is just getting started. He declares to Neto, “What I’m doing here…is building an empire.” This might be my favorite empire on TV since Taraji P. Henson started as Cookie!
Episode Grade: A-
Episode 2: “The Plaza System”
Kiki isn’t wasting any time getting down to business. The DEA is involved in a raid that seems a bit too easy, and it is since this is an annual “donation” from the dealers. Kiki also happens to notice that Azul is watching from afar. Later, while driving Mika home from the doctor, Kiki spots Azul and tails him to a guarded warehouse. After some surveillance, Kiki gets Jaime and the MFJP to agree to a raid on this building, but this second raid proves to be even more unsuccessful than the first (there’s no drugs, only a lot of pipes). But that won’t stop Kiki, who proceeds to follow one of the trucks leaving. He eventually runs out of gas in the middle of the desert, forcing him to walk, and as he does, he’s passed by trucks full of people with hoods on.
Well, we got all of Kiki’s stuff out of the way quickly, so let’s move onto the more exciting goings-on in the drug world. Things aren’t going as planned in the desert as the plants are dying, the result of no water. This delay prompts Rafa to go back to the university and interrupt the geology professor’s class, forcing him to come with them. But even the professor is no help, instead the key is Rafa drunkenly throwing grenades into a pit until the water begins spouting up like crazy. Let the drug growing commence!
With that business taken care of, now comes the hard part: getting the most powerful bosses in Mexico to agree to work together. Before cartels existed, it was essentially a lone wolf operation as each plaza was its own world and had its own boss. So Miguel, Don Neto, and Don Neto’s nephew Amado set off for a trip around the country to pull off the impossible. First up is Pablo (not our Pablo), who is intrigued, but can’t do business with Miguel’s boss, Don Aviles. Miguel decides to lie and say that Aviles regrets the two men’s beef and wants to move forward. Okay, Pablo is in and will come to Guadalajara to meet with the others, including the DFS, which we get a dark background on via our man Scoot.
Next up is Tijuana and the Arellano Felix brothers, led by Ramon and Benjamin. They’re also down but reveal that they need the approval of Falcon, so Miguel agrees to meet with him. Luckily, an old, sexy pal of Miguel’s, Isabella, has an in with Falcon and sets up a meeting during a big party at the powerful man’s mansion. While Miguel goes in with Falcon, Amado and Don Neto enjoy a bump or two of coke, a business Miguel makes clear he’s not interested in. Falcon admits to being skeptical of Miguel’s plan, but he gives his consent. Once done, Miguel rebuffs Isabella’s advances. “I forgot that you’re the last decent man in Mexico,” she says, to which he responds, “Let’s hope not. I want to make some real money.”
It’s now time for the big sit down. But ahead of the crucial meeting, Miguel tells Aviles that he needs to make amends with Pablo Acosta. The don initially refuses before Miguel begs him to do it for the greater good. Well, that sentiment doesn’t last long. During the roundtable, Pablo gets up and gives credit for this enterprise to Miguel. This pisses off Aviles, who announces that he won’t work with Pablo, causing the whole thing to fall apart. With the plan no longer a viable option, Miguel knows he’s a goner as he’s forced into a car with Aviles. He hopes they will tell his son and wife where he’s buried, but Aviles declines, saying he doesn’t want to worry about a revenge-seeking son (good call). The car is soon pulled over by the police and all of them are ordered to get out. The DFS and Neto then arrive and Aviles and his boys are shot dead. Well, not all the way dead. Aviles is not a full goner yet, so Miguel takes a gun and finishes the job. Looks like we’ve got the don of a new era.
Episode Grade: B
Episode 3: “El Padrino”
You know what every kingpin and his lieutenants need? A Scarface-type mansion. Rafa and his boys take a tour of such a place, breaking it in by riding dirt bikes through it, scaring the realtor, and paying in all cash. Now with money, power, and a mansion, Rafa looks to add a lady to the mix. Partying out at the club, he becomes transfixed by a young girl who recognizes him from when he came and kidnapped her professor. Instead of being intimidated, she makes fun of his clothes and refuses to dance with him.
While Rafa bought a huge house, Miguel, like always, was thinking bigger and bought Hotel Americas, the location where he killed the Naranjo brother. The narrator explains how Miguel has been taking care of business since he took over. “He just understood the game better than anyone else,” he said of the Slim Man. “It made them f—ing winners.” Being a winner in the Mexican drug trade means forming the first narco union and bringing in more than $30 million per week. As the great Randy Moss would say, “Straight cash, homey.”
But it’s not all smooth sailing as Miguel is balancing hosting a wedding for his mentor Governor Celis’ son, Rodolfo, and a growing beef between Nava and the Arellano Felix brothers, who want revenge for the death of their cousin. Unsurprisingly, Neto isn’t being much help. “The number two guy doesn’t solve problems,” he insists. “He points them out.” Miguel tries to reason with Nava, but the DFS bigwig doesn’t want to hear it, preferring to tell Miguel that someone important needs a favor.
This meeting definitely won’t be caught by the DEA since they got aerial surveillance shots back and they reveal nothing, which royally pisses Kiki off and causes an argument between the team. That makes it less than ideal timing for a DEA family barbecue. But Mika cuts the tension by making Kiki tell the story of how he got beat up by four guys right after being accepted into the DEA (don’t worry he went from having them on drug charges to assault charges).
With the DEA bonding over, Kiki goes back to the desert and waits. Eventually, a long line of buses and cars emerge, so he follows them to a location where a bunch of hooded people are unloaded. After sleeping in his car, Kiki wakes up as workers are gathered to get back on the bus. A man Kiki spoke to the night before vouches for him (in exchange for half his pay), so they board and throw the hoods on. The buses transport them to the miles of marijuana fields where Kiki struggles during his first day of weed picking. When the day is over, Kiki has to try to go unnoticed due to the presence of Azul and Tomas from the DFS. Azul seems to recognize Kiki, attempting to follow him, only to lose track when the hoods are used. Once back at the first location, Kiki learns that Mika has gone into labor. He rushes to the hospital and makes it just in time to see his son born.
Kiki isn’t the only DEA agent at work. Jaime learns from a Mexican pilot named Fredo that the surveillance photos sent to the DEA are over a year old, which Jaime reports to his superiors who don’t seem to care. Meanwhile, Knapp and Sears are tracking Cochiloco, a.k.a Crazy Pig. “Disco, whorehouse, barbershop,” notes Sears. “Guy’s hitting the dirtbag trifecta.” They end up getting lucky and follow him to a gathering of Mexico’s biggest criminals.
It’s Rodolfo’s big day, but it might as well be Miguel’s. Working on advice from Celis, Miguel settles the beef between Nava and the Felix bros, even if Nava isn’t very happy with the result, declaring that he’ll kill Miguel the minute that the money stops flowing. Miguel then gives a big speech, followed by Celis giving a big speech about how proud he is of Miguel. That heartfelt sentiment ends quickly when Celis tells Miguel that he owes a large payoff to him and the other governors. Miguel is left shocked and hurt by this surprising turn.
The end of the party works out a lot better for Rafa, who spots the girl from the club at the wedding. Sofia initially goes to dance with someone else, but it all works out when she finds Rafa and they start passionately kissing.
Kiki returns to work, not with pictures of his newborn son, but weed that he picked. Then Knapp brings in photos from the wedding that they bought off of the photographer. Miguel immediately jumps out to Kiki, who declares, “That’s our guy.” Let the cat and mouse game begin!
Episode Grade: B-
Episode 4: “Rafa, Rafa, Rafa!”
It’s Christmas time, and on Narcos, that means kidnapping girls you’re infatuated with! Rafa and his boys stage a break in to take Sofia, who’s in on it and very into it. The problem for Rafa, though, is that she’s the daughter of the Minister of Education, so the government is now coming for him. This is also bad news for Miguel, a.k.a. “The Rockefeller of Marijuana,” who until now had everything rolling. But he’s now considering turning Rafa over, which his wife Maria strongly opposes, commenting, “The narco who thinks he’s a businessman is a narco about to get f—ed.” Miguel goes to see Rafa, who is living it up and playing gender-flipped Bonnie and Clyde with Sofia. Rafa tries to say he can smooth everything over by just bringing her home, but Miguel ultimately convinces him that he must turn himself in, only for Miguel to ultimately decide to help him make a run for it.
The Mexican government means business in their pursuit of Rafa, which is why they’ve enlisted Mexico’s Eliot Ness, Jorge Calderoni. Kiki and the crew want in on the search and Calderoni allows them to come along as they trash Rafa’s mansion by peeing on cars, shooting fish tanks, and knocking over Christmas trees (I draw the line at the last one). After Calderoni beats up Kiki’s informant, they know the vicinity of where Rafa is held up. And despite seeing how well Calderoni just treated one of his sources, Kiki suggests they get his neighbor to help track phone calls made to Sofia, who has been returned home.
Miguel returns to his office, only to find Nava waiting for him. Despite saying he couldn’t find Rafa, Miguel offers to do the favor that he previously declined to help with in exchange for the search for Rafa being called off. Nava agrees, but Miguel must carry out the mission himself.
Meanwhile, Neto, who says he would have killed Rafa if it were up to him, brings his partner to a hideout to lay low. To pass the time, the duo does some coke, leading to a two-man party of dancing and running around the large house. Rafa’s boys then bring a Christmas tree, which delights Rafa and angers Neto, who realizes he needs to make his own beer run. This was a bad move since he’s ridiculously under the influence, so much so that he crashes his car. The police officer who witnesses it tries to be helpful, but he’s forced to knock Neto out after he swings at him. The cop, Sammy, drives Neto home and is told that he now works for the Don.
Maybe Neto should have gone back to the safe house instead of his house because Rafa has called Sofia in his absence. This is just the mistake that Kiki and Calderoni were waiting for. After getting Rafa’s location, they make their way through his security and are so close to the front door that Kiki can see Rafa. But, just at that moment, Calderoni gets a call that the operation is off. Kiki eventually retreats, and, like always, is totally pissed.
What happened? Well, that might have to do with what Miguel is up to. He and Amado are waiting around as a group of soldiers load crates of guns onto a cargo plane. “Let’s deliver some freedom,” an American tells them. Wait, it’s Stechner from our previous Narcos viewings! Can you say crossover?! He boards the plane, which is headed to Nicaragua. Once they land, the American spy gets lost, leaving Miguel and Amado alone on a dark runway. Soldiers then come out of the jungle and grab them. The men are separated, hung and tortured. They keep asking Miguel who he works for and repeating Nava over and over does nothing for him. Stechner eventually comes in and orders Miguel taken down. During a brief chat, he drops the idea of Miguel getting into the coke business as bricks and bricks of it are unloaded in front of them.
The scene definitely has an impact on Miguel, who, upon returning to Mexico, meets with Isabella and pitches the coke idea to her. The Colombians need new routes and he thinks he’s the one to provide that service. He hasn’t checked with any of his partners on this new endeavor, though. Surely that won’t come back to cause problems!
Episode Grade: B+
Episode 5: “The Colombian Connection”
“The cartel had the biggest gang in Mexico in their pocket,” says the narrator of Miguel’s partnership with the DFS, who flex their intimidation muscles in the opening of the fifth episode. While driving her children home, Mika is pulled over by Tomas and forced into the back of his car. As she screams, he talks out of earshot with young Kikito. Upon being let out, she rushes over and finds that he was just torturing her while being really nice to her son.
The incident with Mika and the DFS makes for a feisty DEA family barbecue. Jaime filed a report, which causes Sears to ask, “So we’re filing police reports on the f—ing police?” Jaime thinks they need to go straight to D.C. and make Miguel famous enough up north so that people will care to do something. The plan is to get a phone tap through the Spanish government, so Kiki goes back to his neighbor, who doesn’t need any convincing to help. Soon, every number in Hotel Americas is tapped and the DEA, previously “blind guys feeling up an elephant,” are able to understand the whole operation, including that Miguel is keeping his cash at a bank in El Paso, Texas. They also find out that Miguel is headed out of town but his checkbook is staying behind, prompting Kiki to volunteer to go in.
Miguel is looking to have his organization expand past marijuana and scaring stay at home moms, so he has Isabella set up a meeting with Matta to discuss getting involved with cocaine. The Slim Man says he both sees an opportunity and understands the consequences of this new venture. Matta lays out the two possible suppliers. “One’s shrewd. Businessmen,” he shares. “The other… he has very big emotions.” Miguel thinks he’d be a fool to not go with the shrewd ones. And Matta thinks he’d be a fool to not bring Isabella with him to Colombia. Meanwhile, Miguel’s wife Maria thinks he’s a fool for getting involved with coke.
“Well, you’re probably an expert on Colombian cocaine by now,” says our man Scoot, to which I say, “Hell yes we are.” Speaking of hell yes, Miguel is in Colombia meeting with our old season 3 friends from the Cali Cartel. Miguel and Isabella are making their pitch to Pacho, Miguel, and Chepe, who tell him that a lot of the cost will come out his end. Isabella proves helpful, but Miguel is able to seal the deal. Well, she might have actually done that since Chepe really wants to take her dancing.
That’s the good news for Miguel. The bad news is two-fold. One: Falcon has gotten word of Miguel’s new deal and basically declared war by stealing product, blowing up the truck that the product was in, and making his plaza off limits. At the same time, Kiki is infiltrating Hotel Americas. He arrives just before Tomas and some DFS muscle also come on the scene. Tomas waits downstairs as his guys go and retrieve payments from Miguel’s office. Kiki then sneaks in and finds the ledger/checkbook and writes down the account numbers. After realizing his men didn’t get all the money, Tomas heads back upstairs and notices the door to Miguel’s office slightly ajar. As Kiki hides in the corner with his gun drawn, Tomas takes a brief look and leaves.
Miguel and Isabella are back at their plane ready to return to Mexico, but not so fast, as another familiar face appears. Blackie drives up, throwing them in his car and saying his boss wants to talk. You know what means — Medellín here we come!
They arrive at a secluded mansion, which is the location of a party that includes drunk monkeys and Poison. Isabella stays back with Poison, while Miguel is led out to a gazebo on the water. As he watches a hippo, a voice can be heard. Yep, he’s baaaaaaaaack. Since Narcos: Mexico is concurrent with the events of early Narcos, we get the pleasure of once again seeing Wagner Moura’s mesmerizing portrayal of Pablo Escobar. Pablo says that Miguel’s deal with Cali would put him out of business, so he threatens to throw Miguel to the hippos. After Pablo calls bulls— on Miguel’s original explanation for joining the coke business, he tells the story of falling in love with his first wife, who died of leukemia. “We have to control this world, or it will control you,” he says. “And if you don’t protect yourself, it makes a mess and breaks you.” This is an acceptable response for Pablo, who says Miguel will split his business between the Medellin and Cali. “Would you have really fed me to those hippos,” asks Miguel, to which Pablo responds, “No. Hippos… don’t like Mexicans either.” GOTCHA!
Now that the Colombian deals are sealed, Miguel has to make new business arrangements with Isabella, Rafa, Neto, and the government. Isabella, whose sexual advances he once again rebuffs, no longer wants to be an unpaid consultant, while Rafa is pissed about coke now taking priority over his special marijuana. “To be the richest man in Mexico, you have to risk a little,” explains Miguel. Despite Miguel’s lack of interest in the matter, Neto says he’s going to help Rafa get the weed back from Falcon.
Bad news for Jaime: D.C. isn’t giving them the green light to move forward. Even more bad news: The DFS knows what they’ve been up to. This leads to Knapp’s house being shot up (no one is hurt) and Kiki’s neighbor being gunned down in public by Tomas. “It’s our fault,” says Kiki, sitting in front of the body. But, thankfully, he has an idea, suggesting they get Miguel on bank fraud, wire fraud, and racketeering in the U.S. “F– Mexico,” he declares, wanting to lure his enemy across the border. “Cuff that motherf—er ourselves.”
Episode Grade: A
Episode 6: “La Ultima Frontera”
If it wasn’t clear the last few episodes, Rafa really likes his weed. Seriously, it’s all he talks about or thinks about. Rafa, having lost a massive shipment of his weed to Falcon in the previous episode, spends the majority of this one either sulking because he lost his weed, celebrating because he got his weed back, or yelling “what about my weed?” when Falcon hits back and Rafa is forced to leave his precious cargo behind. It’s delightful, and a good reminder that as Miguel expands his empire into the world of coke, people like Rafa are more than happy to just take their own little corner of the marijuana market.
After the rather explosive events of the previous episode, the sixth episode of the season feels rather languid. It’s fantastic in its final moments, but up until that point there’s an awful lot of waiting around. That waiting begins after Kiki, Ferguson, and the DEA stake out a landing strip and snag one of Miguel’s shipments. They come away with $6 million after running the airplane of the strip; “That’s my kind of Tuesday” shouts Ferguson.
Miguel doesn’t hear about the news for awhile though, because he’s at a fancy tennis club hoping to meet with a new contact to help secure safe transit of Pablo Escobar’s coke in Mexico City. That man, Zuno Arce, basically brushes off the meeting, leaving Miguel furious with the man who set the introduction. “Things work differently around here,” he says, but Miguel is no fan of waiting around. He has no choice though.
Luckily for Miguel, there’s multiple issues to occupy his mind while he wonders about whether Zuno will allow the government to aid in the trafficking of coke. The first problem is that Nava has held back the DFS from protecting Miguel’s product, which led to Falcon stealing the weed. So, Miguel and Don Neto just buy other protection—our pal Scoot refers to Mexico as “the Costco of corruption, where you buy in bulk”—taking the entire police department with them to raid Falcon’s warehouse and get the weed back, all before they burn the place to the ground. It’s a win in the moment, but Falcon hits back; he’s got the military in his pocket, so yeah, that beats out the local police.
Like I mentioned above, there’s a lot of waiting around in this episode, and that’s because it takes some time for Kiki and the DEA’s next plan to come together. Essentially, they’re using that $6 million and the idea of “key financial documents” to lure Miguel to the U.S. so that they can arrest him on their turf and terms. Jaime and Sears purposely take the information about the downed plane to local law enforcement, knowing full well it will get back to Miguel. Then, Kiki arrests Miguel’s accountant, Thomas, and forces him to place a call to his boss detailing how the DEA has the records and how that means all of his money is vulnerable. In order to transfer it to a safe place, he has to immediately come to the bank in the U.S. and sign some paperwork.
It’s a flimsy trap at best, but Miguel takes the bait. He gets sick of waiting for Zuno to call back, so he decides to head across the border. The DEA’s plan is to wait for him to cross, and then follow him from El Paso to the bank where they’ll make the arrest. That leads to a great sequence where two big standoffs go down: there’s Miguel at the border, and Isabella, who’s been asked by Miguel to squash this Falcon rivalry.
Isabella does her part in exchange for 20% of the take in Tijuana, but the DEA doesn’t get their man this time. Just as Miguel is set to cross the border, the agent at the booth gets a call from Zuno, who says they have a deal when it comes to the coke, and then he tells Miguel not to cross the border because “the gringos are waiting.”
The episode ends with two revelations. The first is that Isabella, who believes she’s finally secured her spot, is in no way safe. Instead, Miguel’s new deal allows him to have Falcon offed, and in brutal fashion too; the brain splatter here is shocking. Secondly, just as Miguel is moving his empire to the next level, with the first shipment from Pablo arriving by plane, his personal life may be falling apart. Maria knows about his multiple affairs, and she’s subtly letting him know about it. Perhaps having too many hustles is finally catching up to Miguel.
Episode Grade: B
Episode 7: “Jefe de Jefes”
The episode begins with a scene that feels out of place. Outside a boxing match, two friends watch as a man pisses on their car. The younger man, and owner of the car temporarily being used as a public toilet, confronts the drunkard and a brawl ensues. It’s typical post-sports drunken nonsense, but it escalates quickly, the young man telling his friend to help him. So, the friend pulls a gun out and fires off a shot as the two roll around. The drunk dude is unscathed, and the young man is dead at the hands of his friend.
The importance of that scene is revealed later, as Don Neto is brought into the morgue to identify the body of his dead son. It’s a catalyst for an episode that sees a lot of the main players in Narcos: Mexico starting to go off the rails. Feuds and conflicts are starting to boil over as Miguel’s empire continues to grow. The “white gold” has given him more money than he could have imagined, making him “untouchable” in Mexico.
Not everyone is happy with how the business is going though. Isabella meets with Miguel to tell him that she believes things should be moving quicker. What she really means is that she was promised 20% of Tijuana in exchange for taking care of the Falcon situation, and she’s come to collect. Nava isn’t happy either, saying that after the deal with the Colombians was negotiated, his payments have stayed the same despite the increase in revenue. He wants more, and soon, telling Miguel he has one day to decide what their new deal will be.
Back at home, Maria is set to leave Miguel, so everything around him is seemingly out of his control. After one of those scenes where sexual assault is trivialized and turned into something kind of sexy—anti-hero dramas love those scenes—Maria seemingly convinces Miguel to leave their new home, and his mistresses, behind and return to Sinaloa.
All of this is to say that Miguel is stretched thin. With Don Neto wallowing in grief—later in the episode, in a truly gut wrenching scene, he forgives the man who killed his son and then orders him murdered—Miguel decides to call a meeting to straighten everything out. Gathering the likes of Nava, Isabella, the Felix brothers, Rafa, and more, he lays out how business works now. Essentially, he runs the business because he negotiated the Colombia deal, and the others need to fall in line and take what he gives them. He makes some “changes to management,” but once again, not everyone’s happy.
Rafa, for instance, still thinks his weed is being replaced…and he’s not wrong. So he goes further off the deep end and ends up killing a couple of gringo tourists in the seafood restaurant when he’s paranoid and high as a kite. Isabella, still upset that she hasn’t been given her share of Tijuana, confronts Miguel more forcefully this time, to which he grabs her hair, says he has no real allegiance with her, and chastises her for trying to take something she hasn’t earned.
All in all, Miguel is simply done being nice and trying to compromise. He’s becoming the dictator in his empire. He goes home to Maria, who’s excited to leave for SInaloa, and tells her he doesn’t need her anymore. Then, when coming back to Hotel Americas, he runs into Nava in the lobby outside the elevators. The man didn’t hear his name during the meeting, so he’s here for his new cut. He tells Miguel that he’s the one who gives the order, and that’s one toe too far over the line. Miguel grabs an ashtray and beats Nava to death. “Anybody who has a problem with this, they know where to find me,” he says while sitting next to Nava’s dead body. Miguel’s gained control of his empire…but at what cost?
Episode Grade: B-
Episode 8: “Just Say No”
At the end of the last episode Miguel had beaten Nava to death and Maria had left him. Things were spiraling out of control despite his best attempts to make everything manageable and get the cartel to obey his rule. As this episode begins though, it’s clear things are very bad for Miguel. He wanders around his house all alone, the toy cars sitting on the floor, a reminder of what he’s lost.
He’s about to lose a whole lot more though, as an intense, beautifully crafted shootout begins the episode. That raid that Kiki got approved at the end of the previous episode? It goes down perfectly, as the DEA raids Zacatecas and shuts down Rafa’s massive farm. How massive? At five tons it supplied one third of the marijuana consumption in the United States. The DEA burns over $2 billion (street value) of marijuana, and that brings them front page news. Finally, the DEA is legitimized, all their hard work is paying off.
With the cartel taking such a massive hit, Miguel calls a meeting. More than anything, he wants to make sure that nobody panics. Yes, the DEA scored a huge win, but the money and coke is still flowing. That kind of muted reaction doesn’t suit Rafa though, and it’s the final straw for him. He goes all the way off the deep end, holing up in his mansion with Cuco and completely refusing any coke. The detox goes about as well as you’d expect. The withdrawals nearly kill him, and cause him to hallucinate, as he sees visions of large weed plants and a naked Sofia.
While Don Neto looks into building a ridiculously big and expensive mausoleum for his son—which will include a fridge full of his favorite drinks—Miguel has to thwart off a series of problems stemming from the DEA raid. Everyone’s worried, including Zuno. He wants the cartel to kidnap Kiki and torture him to find out exactly what he knows. Miguel thinks that’s a panicky move, and he doesn’t want the U.S. government to come back ever harder than before.
Meanwhile, the DEA is riding high (no pun intended) off their win, and things are really looking up when they get word that the House Foreign Affairs Committee will be sending two investigators to take a look at what the DEA has been gathering. Jaime, Sears, and Kiki have a grand old time preparing for the meeting, and they high five each other when it’s all over with, feeling good about the four years of work they’ve put in. But it’s all for naught, as the Committee recommends “no further action at this time.” Kiki isn’t even surprised anymore, but he’s still frustrated and disappointed.
Perhaps the United States’ interest is about to change though, because by the end of the episode Miguel has lost his battle to keep the cartel from kidnapping Kiki. Rafa and El Azul go behind his back and agree to the kidnapping, which comes on an order from Zuno. “You don’t make the orders,” he tells Miguel when the two butt heads after Kiki’s been kidnapped. Neto wants to skip town and just start over rather than being tied to “these serpents,” but there’s no way Miguel is running away from this empire.
Miguel thought he was getting everything under control, and a subplot involving Acosta and Amado that sets up Amado eventually becoming the “Lord of the Skies” we know from the first few seasons of Narcos confirms that for the most part, the cartel is doing well. And that’s why Miguel is so appalled by the kidnapping. But, he’s pushed into a corner he can’t get out of, leading to the episode’s devastating final shot. Kiki, tied to chair and surrounded by menacing cartel members, looks out through the doorway and sees Miguel. They make eye contact, and with clear regret in his eyes, Miguel utters one word: “Begin.”
Episode Grade: A-
Episode 9: “881 Lope de Vega”
Things are really bad for Kiki. At the beginning of the episode we get a brief glimpse of what could have been — Kiki comes home late and lays down in bed with Mika; she startles awake, and asks him why he didn’t call. He apologizes, but there’s no tension or anger here, just relief that he’s okay and that he’s made it home. Then Mika actually wakes up and reality sets in. It’s 4 a.m. and Kiki hasn’t been seen since breakfast. She tries not to panic, but she knows something bad has happened. When she calls Jaime and he doesn’t know where he is, she knows the truth: Kiki is missing.
The penultimate episode of the season is a tense one, entirely built around the kidnapping and torture of Kiki, and the DEA’s desperate search for him. The kidnapping has everyone panicked and wondering what to do next. Even Rafa, forever believing himself unassailable, has to admit that he’s messed up on this one; allowing Zuno and the government to coerce him into snatching Kiki was a big mistake. Miguel tells him he has to disappear for awhile, and Rafa does just that. He steals Sofia away from her mother and heads to Costa Rica to live a life of weed, sunsets, and romance.
Weed and sunsets probably sound pretty good to Kiki right about now, because he’s spending his days being electrocuted and beaten. He keeps telling the cartel that he doesn’t know anything, but Zuno isn’t accepting that. All Kiki can do is endure and hope the DEA is on their way.
Jaime is doing his best, but as our narrator tells us, missing persons protocols weren’t really a thing in 1985. The corrupt local police department doesn’t help either, as they have little interest in spending their resources looking for a gringo. They make Jaime jump through a number of bureaucratic hoops, and when he eventually gets a lead and location for Rafa, who’s about to board his plane to Costa Rica, the local police simply let him go.
Eventually, after the DEA pulls together and agents from all over fly in to help search for Kiki, the bad publicity starts to catch up with the Mexican police. American media is all over them for helping Rafa flee, so they have to change their tune, bringing in someone who’s actually willing to do what it takes to find Kiki. “What’s a warrant?” asks Calderoni, much to the delight of Jaime.
It’s not the no-nonsense boss that eventually leads to getting Kiki’s location, but rather an “anonymous tip” that sends them all to Costa Rica to get the answer out of Rafa. But who tipped off the DEA? Well, it turns out that Miguel did, seeing it as the only way to get the U.S. government off his back. He can sacrifice Rafa for the greater good, which is keeping his business growing without the kidnapping of a DEA agent hanging over him.
There’s just one problem: when the DEA shows up to the place where Kiki was being held, there’s no sign of Kiki, or anybody. The house is deserted, and the episode ends with an overwhelming sense of defeat, setting the stage for a frantic, high-stakes season finale.
Episode Grade: B+
Episode 10: “Leyenda”
After everything we’ve been through, the season finale of Narcos: Mexico is a little disappointing. All the action came earlier, so this the finale mostly serves to tie up some loose ends. Don’t get me wrong, it’s gut wrenching in places, and the final scene is a doozy, but it’s tough to top some of the stellar episodes that came before.
The finale is initially built around the search for Kiki. Cars are being checked at the border, and the local Mexican police say they have a lead. They’ve been given a tip that Kiki is holed up in a trafficking house, so they contact Calderoni and Jaime to set up a raid. Something’s off though. As the team storms the house, there’s nothing suggesting that this is a hideout for traffickers. Instead, kids and women end up dead.
Alas, there’s some truth to the intel though: the team finds Kiki, dead, in a field just outside the house. His body is battered, bruised, and bloated, and Jaime is the one that has to break the news to Mika. When he shows up at her doorstep and the reality of what’s happened sets in, it’s easily one of the most emotionally effective scenes the show’s ever pulled off. Mika and Kiki clicked, and we could feel their love for each other, and that makes this death a truly heartbreaking one.
With Kiki dead, Jaime works to put the pieces together. He sees that the Mexican government is essentially trying to cover up their own involvement in the drug trade—something we of course know about because of Zuno’s role in Miguel’s empire—putting away just enough members of the police force and the DFS to suggest the corruption is miniscule.
All Miguel knows is that he needs to get away for awhile, because the government could be coming for him. Neto disappears to a beachside house, and Miguel heads back to Sinaloa to regroup. He asks the Governor, Rodolfo’s uncle, to give him a place to live for a time. The governor agrees…to one week in his hunting cabin in the mountains with a price tag of $1 million. So yeah, Miguel is working from behind the eight ball here.
Eventually, Miguel learns of his cartel buddies making a move against him, and so he finds a way to regain his control while also solving his government problem. When Calderoni finally catches up with Miguel, after Jaime has been sent back to the U.S., Miguel scrambles to make a deal. Calderoni, seemingly above making such a deal before, goes for it here. Miguel has seven tapes from Kiki’s interrogation, and he’s willing to give Calderoni the ones that detail the people responsible for Kiki’s death. The catch? Calderoni won’t get the tapes that include names of the Mexican politicians involved in trafficking business.
That deal achieves a few things. It allows Calderoni to stay alive—if he exposed the government he’d be dead, so he does just enough to appease the Americans—and gives Miguel the leverage he needs with the government. So, he gets the military back on his side, and uses them to raid the meeting where everyone is discussing replacing him. To say it’s a power move would be an understatement. He takes full control of his business again, and no one is doubting his power.
After a flashback scene that’s almost as heartbreaking as the one with Mika—this one sees Miguel talking to Kiki just days or hours before he’s going to die, and it’s devastatingly clear that Kiki has accepted his fate—the episode flies through plot points to set up the next iteration of Narcos. Neto is captured during a raid, and Miguel asserts his dominance over the Governor by killing his son and mailing his head to the family, all while Jaime is brought on board Operation Leyendra, which will see the DEA head into Mexico to go after the men responsible for killing Kiki.
That conversation between Kiki and Miguel? It ties a nice thematic bow on everything. The feeling of defeat, of an endless cycle of violence that nobody can escape, permeates the final scene, where we meet our narrator: a DEA agent played by Scoot McNairy. He’s crossed the border into Mexico with a whole lot of guns, and he’s ready to start a war. “This is where the war on drugs started,” he says, vowing to kill every man who had anything to do with Kiki’s death. It’s the start of an endless war, and the end of a pretty great season of Narcos.
Episode Grade: B