The big question at the center of Narcos: Mexico has been just when and how Kiki and Gallardo’s paths will cross, and in “Just Say No,” the other shoe has finally dropped. It’s a big deal — and there’s a lot of action leading up to it — which makes it all the stranger that this episode is so lackluster. At this point in the season, the pace should be ramping up rather than faltering.
It even opens with the season’s big set piece: the raid on the marijuana farm. Though Rafa gets away, the field is seized and destroyed in what is called “the bust of the century,” and every last leaf is set aflame. It’s the first sign that the law might be catching up to Gallardo — at a speed that’s being accelerated by all of the people around him. He’s too wrapped up in the cocaine business to be too concerned about what happened to the farm, and he knows better than to think that nabbing Kiki, who is revealed to be the agent behind the farm’s destruction, will solve any of their problems. Rather, it’s the kind of move that will bring about their doom.
Gallardo even goes so far as to essentially gate-crash Zuno’s territory, waiting for an in-person meeting to convince him that it’s not worth jeopardizing the whole operation over a single DEA agent. As far as he’s concerned, the fuss will die down, and then things will be able to get back to normal. Zuno agrees, but it’s a temporary win.
Gallardo has started flying too close to the sun to be able to keep an eye on everyone within his operation, specifically Rafa, who feels so spurned by Gallardo’s apparent lack of concern about what’s happened to the farm (as well as his dressing-down over killing two American tourists in the last episode) that he tries to go cold turkey on his cocaine habit. It doesn’t go well (it’s also kind of a drag to watch, sorry Rafa).
Though Rafa’s place in the story helps to illustrate how Gallardo’s success may be going to his head, I don’t really care about Rafa and Sofia (he makes a shrine to her all over his room while sweating out all the cocaine, and even hallucinates her later on), and it feels annoying rather than shocking that it’s ultimately Rafa who green-lights the mission to abduct Kiki. In fairness, Gallardo seems just as mad about it.
It’s wrenching to watch as DFS agents grab Kiki off the street in broad daylight, especially knowing that he was supposed to leave Guadalajara weeks before, and that his kidnapping will be for naught. Though the United States Congress had initially expressed interest in what their operation had uncovered (hence the Mexican government’s anxiety), the decision comes down from Washington not to proceed with that information, rendering it all a moot point — it’s this abduction that will push it back over that line. Even Don Neto knows this is a bad idea, as he tells Gallardo to give it up and return to pot farming, but it’s a no go.
The moment that follows, as Kiki and Gallardo are brought face to face, is the one the whole season has been leading up to, and the split-second moment works. We know that it’s not what Gallardo wants, but it’s what he has to do, and Kiki knows what’s coming.
So why does the rest of the episode fall so flat? It’s more a setup for the last two episodes of the season than its own independent entity. That’s despite the big bang that opens it up, which is perhaps best explained by the long detour the story takes as Amado and Acosta try to recover a lost truck of product.
Amado initially goes to Acosta to try to convince him to start using planes to transport his wares, as he’s still just been using trucks all this time. Acosta ends up taking him on a search for one of said trucks; the key revelation that the chase affords is that trucks might not be such an inefficient method of transportation after all, as Acosta’s men have taken to hiding product in the tanks.
There’s also a striking moment in which Acosta compares Gallardo to Huitzilopochtli, an Aztec god who killed his brothers, but there’s little else to that particular story thread, which takes up much more time than it really seems to be worth. It seems like Narcos: Mexico might be running out of steam. There’s only so much of this particular case left, but two whole episodes remaining.
Seeds and Stems
• Butch compares the feeling of having taken down the farm to “the Cubs winning the World Series,” which Kuykendall immediately laughs at. I love Kuykendall, but that cuts deep. (Just wait a few more decades, Butch!) Notably, he also muses that taking down the marijuana field might have been enough, and that they ought to be happy that they made any difference at all. It’s almost as affecting a moment as the others that make it clear that Kiki’s ultimate fate could have been avoided.
• In a brief aside, Mika and Kiki joke about their hopefully soon-to-be domestic lives, referring to themselves as “Los Jeffersons.” It’s a sweet moment, and one that underlines the way that Kiki has become the emotional core of the story, in part because his life has been the most fleshed out.
• Something similar — albeit on a less significant level — goes for Don Neto, who is seen in this episode going over the plans to build a mausoleum for his son, which will include speakers so that he can listen to all his favorite music, and enough space for his sports cars. I actually care about what happens to him as his story develops an actual arc, whereas Rafa seems stuck on a plateau.