A little ways into this episode, the voiceover rattles off a parable about a group of blind men and an elephant. The point is that the bigger picture is what’s important — if you only have a piece of the pie, your idea of what’s going on is going to be incomplete. It’s a logic that applies to TV seasons as much as it does cartels, which I bring up because this is the episode where — historical basis aside — Narcos: Mexico really proves itself to be part of a larger whole.
I don’t mean that just in terms of placing the episode within the context of Gallardo and Camarena’s respective lives; I mean it in the sense that Narcos: Mexico is an offshoot of Narcos, and doubles down on it in a way that, while delightful, is almost a little distracting. It’s like whenever Breaking Bad characters show up on Better Call Saul — I’m happy to see them, but they better have a good (read: interesting) reason for sticking around. (I was also briefly reminded of trying to get through the Netflix Punisher series, which I almost gave up on until Wilson Fisk made a cameo.)
As you may or may not have guessed (if you haven’t, you know, watched the episode), this is The Episode With Pablo Escobar. Yes, Wagner Moura is back, however briefly (and slightly trimmer), as Gallardo’s attempts at getting into the cocaine business mean he’s in Escobar’s sights. The scene between them is great — Escobar tells Gallardo to tell the truth, and Gallardo does, including telling Escobar he was warned away from dealing with him because he’s known to be temperamental — and ends with a deal: Gallardo’s shipments will be half Escobar’s, and half his competitor’s, so there’ll be no competition.
Unfortunately, the scene effectively throws the entire episode into a different key. Moura is incredible as Escobar, and it’s to his credit that he can so easily set a temperature with his performance that the pre-set mood of an entire spinoff show will shift in order to accommodate him. (He effectively rolls back the clock, as if the past two seasons of Narcos hadn’t happened at all.) But the way his appearance, as well as those of his henchmen Blackie and Poison, is played like an Easter eggs or fanservice takes you out of the picture. Gallardo and Escobar really did work together, but this feels less like a progression of a story and more like a way of saying, “Hey, look, remember how much you liked Pablo? Well, here he is!”
In fairness, it’s a weight that the episode tries to counterbalance by packing Kiki’s half of the episode with as many close calls as possible. The closer that Kiki gets to a bust that might actually work, the more the DFS start to harass him and his family (they pull over his wife and children and make it clear they’re willing to take things further) in order to dissuade them from pursuing their leads any further. The problem is that Kiki and company, after piggybacking off of a Spanish police request for a wiretap and bugging Gallardo’s entire base of operations, now have the whole elephant in their sights.
The only step (theoretically) they have left is to use that in to figure out just how much money Gallardo is moving, and bring it to the attention of Washington, DC. Though Kiki — through an elaborate set-up that involves both getting another guy to impersonate him and clogging a toilet to distract a maid — manages to get into Gallardo’s suite and copy the relevant information from his ledger, it turns out that that’s not enough either, which begs the question of what will be.
The bigger problem is that the report they file (and subsequently have kicked back to them) goes to the DFS, too, who immediately set about trying to stamp out their problem by killing Gallardo’s neighbor, the phone tapper, and shooting up one of the other agent’s homes. Nobody dies in the second shooting, but the agent is sent home — with no replacement on the horizon, meaning that the team is in a worse position than when they started. But Kiki, as always, has another plan. Gallardo has money stowed away under a false name in America, and if they can lure him across the border and sting him for fraud, then they might have their man.
It helps that the bigger Gallardo’s empire gets, the more unstable it becomes. He keeps Rafa (who is still mooning over Sofia) and Don Neto out of the loop as to his plans to get into cocaine. The move alienates Rafa as well as Gallardo’s increasingly out-of-the-loop wife — though Don Neto is happy to follow the money. (Side note: this is officially a Don Neto stan account, I apologize for any unkind thoughts I had about him in the first few episodes, he is great). Rafa is also starting to become a bit of a cokehead, despite being unhappy that they’re selling it, complete with a Scarface-esque snort-zoom. And on top of that, Falcón, who Gallardo had originally promised to stay out of the cocaine business, is not happy, and steals an entire shipment of marijuana from the Félix brothers in retribution, saying that Gallardo’s wares are no longer welcome in Tijuana. It’s not a promising position to be in, though Gallardo isn’t one to give up so easily.
Seeds and Stems
• The meeting with Escobar gives Luna the one opportunity for levity he’s had so far — an amused tripping over the word “hippopotamuses” — as Gallardo asks Escobar if he really would have fed him to his hippos if the meeting hadn’t gone smoothly.
• Luna is also getting a pretty fantastic showcase for what he can do when cast as someone heartless. There’s something a little strange about his relationship with Isabella, whom he takes along to meet with the cocaine lords, as he rebuffs her physical advances by saying, very clearly, that he’d brought her along for business, and for her advice. She seems to appreciate that, given how horribly she’s been objectified by pretty much every other man, but I still get the sense she wants more from him. (She’s also usurping his wife in the role of Lady Macbeth.)
• When Kuykendall is told one of his peers won’t be happy about the wiretapping operation, his response is, “Well, he can send me a fucking memo,” which I need screencapped and stuck on my desk, pronto.
• While we’re at it, I also need the shot of Don Neto peering primly over his cup at Rafa after Gallardo basically makes it clear Don Neto has narced on his drug habit.
• The giant mural of Rafa riding a motorcycle. That’s all, I just wanted to point it out.