Netflix's Narcos Mexico Season 3 is a Let Down

Posted on November 7, 2021 by Richard Goulter

Netflix’s “Narcos”, and its companion “Narcos: Mexico” are very exciting shows to watch.

I, uh, am under the impression these shows play quite fast and loose with history in order to make a compelling drama. It does make for good entertainment.

I was excited to see “Narcos: Mexico”’s Season 3 recently released, and sat down to binge my way through its episodes. – Unfortunately, I found it disappointing.

“Narcos” especially had this charm of a cat-and-mouse game. You’d feel tense wondering if the good guys would catch the bad guys. I noticed the tension was an inverse of the results: when the tension looked like it might resolve in catching the bad guys, it resolved with the bad guys getting away. But when the tension looked like it leaned in the direction of the bad guys getting away, they’d get caught. – It was very fun to watch.

“Narcos” ran for 3 seasons, with seasons 1 and 2 based on the story of Pablo Escobar; and season 3 based on the story of the Cali cartel. “Narcos: Mexico” sees the rise of the Guadalajara Cartel; presumably future seasons will show us more of El Chapo.

After watching “Narcos: Mexico” season 1, I watched Netflix’s “El Chapo”. – The two shows both dramatise the same set of events. I tend to like the latter more.

Well, “Narcos: Mexico”’s Season 3 is a bit lame. I think it tries to land some emotional punches.. which didn’t really land.

At one point in the show, the good-guys (an American DEA agent, and a Mexican anti-drug military company) capture the brother of the right hand man of so-and-so that they want to catch. They start torturing the kid for information. Then, to the DEA agent’s horror, the kid claims he had Mexican-American dual-citizenship. There’s more hand-wringing in the show, where the DEA agent feels he’s not one of the good guys, because of the torture of the American.
– Ugh. I mean, you can say torture is wrong, or argue torture is bad because it’s ineffective, or argue torture is effective despite being horrible. I don’t see it as defensible to say that citizenship has an impact. What the fuck. (The moral shock certainly can’t be from “torturing your own people” is bad, either. The torture was carried out by Mexicans).
– And while I reckon the show’s writers hold the view that the US are responsible for many bad actions which hurt Mexico.. it feels like the part the story wants you to find shocking is the torture of an American citizen.

In contrast, Netflix’s “El Chapo” has a few standout episodes which really punch through the desensitization that might otherwise come with these gangster shows. Or rather.. it’s easy to see the gangsters killing other gangsters and not feel much about it. But in “El Chapo”, the show takes the time to tell the story from the perspective of lives of ordinary people impacted by the drug trafficking. – We see a poor family lose their daughter; the mother takes the last money they have, gives it to some police officers who then do nothing to help her. We see a young boy kidnapped of the streets, and forced into training as a soldier for the gang. We see poppy farmers who have a tough time under one cartel be forced to work under much worse conditions as another cartel takes over the area.

I guess the other let down to “Narcos: Mexico”’s season 3 is the cat-and-mouse aspect to the story just doesn’t feel as prominent.
Previous seasons of “Narcos” and “Narcos: Mexico” have followed a pattern of following the rise and fall of the biggest drug cartel, and the DEA’s efforts to stop them. Tensions ratchet as the bad guy gets more powerful, and the good guys get closer to catching them.
– In this season, the bad guys that the DEA are chasing never really seem to hold the position of dominance. And the bad guy who seems to be the the most prominent isn’t spending his time getting ahead of prominent threats. There’s no buildup in tension.
Stuff just happens.
– Is that some kind of deliberate meta-narrative harmony with the moral that the war on drugs isn’t a war where the anti-drug enforcement is coherently winning? Nah.

The hand-wringing of “Narcos: Mexico” season 3 falls flat and seems lame in comparison, where the show was previously very strong at telling a good gangster story.

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