Photo: Carlos Somonte/Netflix
Here we are at the end of Narcos: Mexico. It’s been a strangely uneven season (it looks like I will have to eat my hat), and more than anything else, “Leyenda” makes it clear that the show left a lot of cards on the table. There are so many interesting points made in the season finale that seem to come out of nowhere that would have added welcome depth to everything that came before, and the final few moments feel like they render this whole season irrelevant.
The final scene of the season introduces us to the mystery man who’s been narrating this whole time: Walt (Scoot McNairy), an agent posing as a tourist as he brings down a shipment of guns for the drug war to begin in earnest. I love Scoot McNairy, but also … okay? The reveal makes it feel like Kiki’s story, despite being the strongest part of the season, was just a means to an end, the end here being (presumably) a second season of Narcos: Mexico in which the good guys play just as dirty as the bad — at least if Walt’s voice-over is any indication.
It’s a bit of a dispiriting way for the season to end, and a little backwards, given how heavily the series has asked its audience to invest in Kiki. And the missed opportunities don’t end there.
Though “Leyenda” is full of big moments that are clearly meant to impress, the centerpiece scene is the quiet confrontation between Gallardo and Kiki. Their conversation isn’t too long, but it so strikingly adds to the dynamic between them that I can’t help but wonder why more wasn’t made of it before: Gallardo tells Kiki that Mexico isn’t his country, to which Kiki responds that he was born in Baja — he’s Mexican, too. Gallardo rebukes him, saying they both know that’s not true. The question of Kiki’s self-identity is one that’s been mostly, if not totally, ignored thus far, despite how much rich characterization it could offer. What must it feel like, leaving a country that will always consider Mexico to be his home, to go to Mexico, a country that also considers him alien?
Then there’s Gallardo’s brief note that he’d slept like a baby before becoming rich, which raises its own set of questions as to how his background is in conversation with his newfound wealth. It’s a point that’s been better planted than Kiki’s identity, but again, it’s too late in the game for it to make much difference. The scene ends as they both acknowledge that their stories are played out, that Kiki knows he’s dead, and Gallardo knows his empire is coming to an end.
The rest of the episode is devoted to the kind of gunfights and empire-building that seem about right for the show that Narcos advertises itself to be, but are incongruous to the aforementioned details, as well as the sobering moment that occurs each time the title credits roll and images of the real Kiki and Gallardo flash across the screen. It creates a sort of cognitive dissonance as to how we’re meant to take all of the events depicted, whether we’re supposed to find them tragic, or revel in all of the shoot-’em-ups.
It doesn’t help that this episode relies a little more heavily on real news-footage reporting on the search for Camarena, which is juxtaposed with a montage of Calderoni’s smash-and-grab tactics as he tries to figure out where Gallardo is, as Don Neto and Gallardo are shown utterly failing to enjoy their downtime. Gallardo in particular is not doing well, as he vomits blood. Though he has El Azul bring him a fake passport so he can get out of the country, he turns the metaphorical car around when he catches wind that his fellow cartel members are planning to rebuild without him, and after cutting a deal with Calderoni (who finds him off of a tip from the governor, who had promised Gallardo safety for the price of $1 million).
Gallardo twists Calderoni’s arm just as he’s done to everyone else, saying that he has the tapes from Kiki’s interrogation, which contain names high up enough on the ladder that Calderoni’s neck is likely to be next on the line in retribution. So Gallardo is let go, taking the specific tapes with them, and the rest of the tapes are planted on Don Neto’s estate.
The fall of Don Neto is the other big sequence in the episode, as Don Neto keeps his CD player headphones in, listening to “Mamá Ven a Sentarte Aquí” as he watches the whole compound get shot up. He knows it’s the end of the road, and he knows exactly who gave him up. (Joaquín Cosío is low key the MVP of this season. His expression as Don Neto arrives at his new estate, somewhere between amused, upset, and resigned, is remarkable.)
But this isn’t a series to linger, and the episode quickly pulls out all of its flashy stops as Gallardo, having successfully brokered his freedom, crashes the meeting meant to consolidate the empire without him, and makes it clear that he’s here to stay. He even kicks Isabella out of the meeting entirely, knowing that she was the one who set it all up.
As both Kuykendall and Calderoni are reassigned, one era ends, and another — that of Operation Leyenda, meant to bring down the cartel — begins. Gallardo has staked his claim, returning to business as usual, and making it clear he’s not to be messed with by decapitating the governor’s son and sending the head to him in a box for giving him up. In that sense, what follows will be Kiki’s legacy, but the series seems so much more interested in bravado than its human aspect that it hardly feels like a legacy at all.
• We get our obligatory “prestige TV one-take shot” here, following Kuykendall through a compound as they try to find Kiki.
• As Don Neto takes his leave of Guadalajara to go to the beach (and subsequently get caught), he tells Gallardo that their operation could have gone on forever if Gallardo hadn’t been so ambitious. “I love you, Skinny,” he says, in a moment that very nicely encapsulates just how much the relationship between the two men has changed since the beginning of the series, one of very few elements of the show that has sustained that kind of growth.
• Calderoni takes the governor’s tip-off on Gallardo’s location, but refuses to shake on it. “Fuck your handshake,” he says. “You’re a bigger scumbag than any of them.” Calderoni, go off!
• That’s that for Narcos: Mexico! Is there actually going to be a second season? Well, if there is, I’ll see you all back here!