Any time Jackie Earle Haley shows up in anything, you know things are about to get good. (We’re locked in here with him! Happily!) As Jim Ferguson, he’s Kiki’s latest shoulder to lean on, and fortunately, it looks like he’s as raring to take down Gallardo as Kiki is. Unfortunately for them, it’s Gallardo’s day in the sun, as his cocaine empire really starts coming together.
Unfortunately for us, there’s a bit of a resulting imbalance when it comes to whose side of the episode is most exciting. Against all odds, it’s Kiki’s half. Given that Kiki has pretty much been stuck in a Groundhog Day-esque scenario in which he comes close to finding a loophole with which to catch Gallardo, only to have fate (or bureaucracy, really) intervene — which he’s forced to live through yet again — it’s a feat. It’s also a pulling ahead that only occurs in the last few moments of the episode, which otherwise falls strangely short of compelling despite being packed with action.
Part of this has to do with the fact that a significant chunk of the action is a bit of a detour from the main plot. With how pissed off Falcón is about Gallardo getting into the cocaine business, Tijuana is now contested territory. Things unfold in steps. One, in the last episode, Falcón stole Rafa’s pot. Two, Don Neto hires all of the local cops to steal it back, and burn down Falcón’s warehouse in the process. Three, Falcón sends the army after the police to get it back, again. Four, Gallardo sends Isabella to smooth things over with Falcón (in exchange for 20 percent of everything that comes out of Tijuana), though he seems to relent, as the police show up to Falcón’s house right after Isabella is done negotiating, and kill Falcón on the spot.
It’s a ping-pong game that’s chock-full of action — helicopters, grenades, and rocket launchers, oh my — that isn’t quite warranted by the narrative stakes involved. So Falcón’s number is up. Who cares? We’ve seen several of Gallardo’s adversaries go down already. (There’s also a weird kind of glee to the chaos that doesn’t jive with just how affecting it was to see real dead bodies in news footage a few episodes ago.) Rafa is also threatening to become a one-note satellite, a fate that Don Neto is saved from because he’s still got a clear line of connection to Gallardo.
Gallardo, meanwhile, is experiencing some trouble of his own, as the government official he’s supposed to charm, Zuno Arce, is giving him the runaround and thereby endangering Gallardo’s hopes of breaking into cocaine. At their first meeting, which barely lasts a minute, Zuno rambles about food and love, and then simply leaves. After that, he pretty much ghosts Gallardo, leaving the operation stuck in the lurch. (It’s admittedly kind of funny to watch Gallardo spend half of the episode literally waiting by the phone.)
The only thing that gets him off his ass is a call from Thomas, the guy taking care of the money he’s got stashed away in America, who says he needs a signature to move the money to a place where the feds won’t be able to get to it. Though it’s a sting Kiki and Ferguson set up by planting choice bits of evidence with people they know will relay it the information up the chain (with Thomas cooperating under the threat of framing him as an informant), Gallardo takes the bait.
The operation is one of the series’ best scenes so far. There’s a distinct tension in the air as Gallardo pulls up to the American border — all he has to do is cross over to become fair game for the DEA, and Ferguson makes it clear they mean to take him dead or alive. But, once again, the rug is pulled out from under Kiki at the last possible second. Gallardo receives a call from the border agent’s booth. It’s Zuno on the other end of the line, who has just two things to say: that the deal is on, and don’t cross the border.
Though Kiki has been in proximity to Gallardo’s operation time and time again, this is the first time the two of them have been this close to each other. As Kiki watches, Gallardo gets out of his car, peering into the darkness to try to spot his would-be captors — and then turns on his heel, heading back to Guadalajara. It’s such a tragically close call that it might just be the last straw for Kiki, as he heads home and tells his wife he’s ready to head back to California. Though this obviously isn’t the end of the road when it comes to Gallardo vs. Camarena, Peña plays the moment beautifully (backed by just how repetitive his story arc has been), to the point that you almost do believe that this might be it.
But, in a karmic tit for tat, Gallardo returns home to find that his indiscretions may have scuttled his domestic life. After discovering that he’s been spending money on jewelry for other women, his wife tracks down at least three women using the addresses the pieces have been shipped to. One of them, an art dealer, is pregnant, and it’s one of her paintings that Gallardo finds waiting for him in the foyer.
Seeds and Stems
• That last bit is a little surprising given how Anton Chigurh-style sexless Gallardo seems to be, though maybe it’s less startling considering that he spends some of this episode just staring at a photo of his late first wife.
• Chapo is a scary dude! He point blank shoots a guy to put him out of his misery and doesn’t bat an eye, and is the one who asks to burn Falcón’s warehouse down to the ground even though the operation is supposed to be more of a grab-and-go.
• One extra star for Jackie Earle Haley.