The Plaza System
Photo: Carlos Somonte/Netflix
Remember what I said last episode about eating my hat if Narcos: Mexico’s narrative thread started to grow slack? Well, I feel like I have to tear off and consume a bit of the brim after this episode.
There are a lot of things to like about this hour of Narcos, but it’s a little bit of a clunker, as it basically serves as a vehicle for moving every piece into place that wasn’t taken care of in the season premiere, i.e. bumping off Gallardo’s boss, Pedro Avilés Pérez, so that there’s only one head honcho at the table. There’s also the fact that the episode is heavy on voice-over, featuring a few informational video asides to help contextualize (1) just how hard it is to grow and breed marijuana, and (2) that the Mexican drug trade had, until that point, been a fairly scattershot, localized affair. Every thread ties together by the episode’s end, but that doesn’t mean it’s done particularly gracefully.
Let’s start with Kiki, who’s something of a satellite for the hour. Things turn out to be a little more dire than anticipated when it comes to the prospects at his new job, as the local drug lords pretty much pay a tariff to law enforcement in the form of an extremely chill drug bust each month in exchange for avoiding any other harassment. It’s a nonchalance that’s difficult to balance with the fact that they come across the corpse of one of the bowl-cut brothers, and Kiki, when he posits that it must mean that someone is moving in on their territory, is told not to worry about it.
Feeling that particular Good Cop burn of frustration, as it’s obvious something bigger is going on (El Azul keeps hanging around just in Kiki’s field of vision), Kiki takes matters, and his young son’s binoculars, into his own hands. He stakes out a warehouse that seems like it’s being used to ship out marijuana, and after taking pictures of the comings and goings, takes them up to his boss, James Kuykendall (Matt Letscher). Though it takes some convincing — of Kuykendall and then of the MFJP, the Mexican Federal Judicial Police — a raid gets underway.
Of course, in a clearly telegraphed twist, the bust is a bust: The truck they find in the warehouse is full of plastic pipes, not pot, and Kiki is immediately number one on everyone’s shit list. But he’s not the hero of this story for nothing; he tails another truck leaving the warehouse until his car runs out of gas, and then continues tailing it on foot. After walking through the night, he’s passed by bus after bus of people with bags over their heads, presumably so they won’t be able to give away the location of where they’re heading to help farm pot. Kiki’s been on the right trail this whole time.
Gallardo, meanwhile, is on the campaign trail, going to drug lord after drug lord to convince them to unite under a single banner — Pedro’s — to make the Mexican marijuana trade as smooth and profitable as possible (and specifically just marijuana, as he takes care to assure cocaine boss Alberto Sicilia-Falcon that there won’t be any territorial dispute between them). For the most part, it’s a scheme that works. There’s just one boss, Acosta (Gerardo Taracena), who’s got some old bad blood. Though Gallardo manages to coax Pedro into being peaceful, it’s an agreement that falls apart as soon as, when all the bosses gather, Acosta salutes Gallardo, not Pedro, for bringing them all together.
Negotiations immediately seem to fall apart, as no gang will stay unless all the others do, but it’s obvious to everyone who the weak link is. Though Pedro departs with Gallardo with the intention of killing him for being an upstart, the police — or rather, the DFS, who were also at the bargaining table — stop them on the road. Gallardo’s the one they need for the whole operation to work, and so it’s lights out for Pedro (who Gallardo coolly shoots himself) and his associates. The only other man in the car, the driver, pledges his allegiance to Gallardo and thus survives — as well as providing a terrific grace note to the episode when he tells Gallardo his name: “Chapo.”
Gallardo is now set for profit and prosperity, as visually illustrated by Rafa’s parallel search for water so as to keep his plants from dying. After essentially abducting a geology professor, he puts all of his men to work digging in the desert. As dig after dig proves futile, Rafa sets off a box full of grenades in the last hole he dug — and a geyser of water comes rushing out, to the delight of the entire crew.
• One of the other not-so-great things about the informational-video asides that the show sometimes takes is the real footage of dead bodies that’s occasionally spliced in, which is jarring in a show that doesn’t necessarily romanticize what these men are doing but definitely doesn’t go too far out of its way to do the opposite, either.
• A bullet point for Aaron Staton, my man Kenneth Cosgrove, here playing Butch Sears, referred to as “a horse man” for how much he loves horses.
• The next-to-final sequence in which Gallardo thinks he’s about to meet his maker is so well-shot that, even though logically you know there’s no show if Luna’s character bites the dust this early (plus, you know, historical context), it really does play as tensely as if he might.
• There are a couple of really nice shots in this episode: one of Pedro framed so that it looks like gold leaves are sprouting from his shoulders, for instance; and one of Gallardo as he prepares to pull the trigger on his former boss, the police lights casting his face in alternating red and blue light. He may be “the last decent man in the Mexico” but he is not to be messed with.
• “Their emblem was a tiger, ’cause … why not? Tigers are cool.” Can’t argue with that.