The Scorsese-influenced true crime drama originally charted the rise of Colombian drug baron Pablo Escobar (Wagner Moura) before his Medellin cartel gave way to their Cali rivals in the battle for total domination of the international cocaine trade.
One of the streaming site’s most acclaimed hits, Narcos is now in its fourth series and will start afresh in Mexico, chronically the origins of the vicious Guadalajara cartel in the 1980s. Diego Luna will star as Felix Gallardo, “the Rockefeller of marijuana”, and Michael Pena as Kiki Camarena, a deep cover Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent.
Doubts were cast on the future of the show last year after location scout Carlos Munoz Portal was shot dead in Temascalapa just north of Mexico City but producer Eric Newman has insisted his team will not be intimidated by local crime bosses, that the cast were kept safe at all times and that Narcos: Mexico promises to be the show’s best yet.
It will also be the second Netflix show to dramatise the life of Joaquin Archivaldo Guzman Loera, better known as “El Chapo”, effectively Escobar’s successor as the world’s biggest narcotics trafficker, now on trial in New York.
Told from the point-of-view of American DEA operative Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook), who provides the first-person narration, Narcos first introduces us to Escobar in the late 1970s, when he is working as a black marketeer.
Trading in stolen alcohol, cigarettes and household appliances, Escobar meets exiled Chilean chemist Mateo “Cockroach” Moreno, who persuades him the pair could make far more money producing the cocaine Moreno has been concocting in his underground laboratory.
After initial success, the duo expand their operations by setting up further manufacturing plants in the secrecy of the rainforest and begin shipping their product to the US via Miami with the aid of logistics mastermind Carlos Lehder, inspiring a craze among the disco generation.
As their business grows, the cash flow and associated street violence attracts the attention of the DEA, who dispatch Murphy to investigate the situation, teaming him with hard-living fellow agent Javier Pena (Pedro Pascal) to form a task force.
Escobar begins to use his vast wealth for good, paying for community projects like healthcare facilities and football pitches while battling rival gangsters and the communist militants of M-19. He secures control of the Medellin cartel when his men rescue the sister of the mob’s Ochoa brothers, kidnapped by the guerillas, but his dreams of entering politics end in humiliation when he is denounced as a criminal.
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New president Cesar Gaviria (Raul Mendez) favours extraditing Escobar to the US, a stance that drives the criminal to terror when he plants a bomb on a passenger jet the statesman was due to be travelling on.
As the authorities close in on the increasingly paranoid kingpin, he agrees a deal with Gaviria to face imprisonment in La Catedral, a luxury fortress of his own construction from which he can continue to rule as normal.
There he suffers a breakdown and murders trusted lieutenant Gerardo Moncada, prompting the Colombian justice minister to intervene and get himself taken hostage when he meets with Escobar in person. The latter exploits the confusion of the subsequent armed raid to escape.
Pablo Escobar is now reduced to being ferried around in the boot of a taxi cab, still wielding influence but unable to show his face in public as the US and Colombian authorities increase their efforts to bring him to justice.
The rival Cali cartel, led by Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela (Damian Alcazar), plots to capitalise on Escobar’s weakness, forming alliances with right-wing militants the Castano brothers and Moncada’s widow, seeking vengeance.
Escobar hits back when the Colombian special ops team Search Bloc destroy his jungle labs, attacking a police convoy and the wedding of Gilberto’s daughter.
A new vigilante group Los Pepes (“Persecuted by Pablo Escobar”) find support from the Cali and kill the crime lord’s brother-in-law in a shoot-out, prompting Escobar to send the rest of his family to asylum in Germany, a move thwarted by Agent Murphy. The latter is now at odds with Pena over his risky alliance with Los Pepes.
Pursued on all fronts, Escobar hides out at his estranged father’s farm, but the old man is ashamed of his son. When Pablo attempts to contact his family, the signal is tracked and Colombian forces kill him in a rooftop gun battle, an ignominious end witnessed by Murphy.
The stage is set for the Cali cartel to pick up where the Medellin left off.
Resuming the narrative in 1993 following the death of Escobar, the series now follows Agent Pena’s pursuit of the Cali.
To the shock of the organisation’s hierarchy, boss Gilberto Orejuela announces a plan to quit the cocaine trade entirely to focus on legitimate business interests.
As the group’s New York representative Jose “Chepe” Santacruz-Londono fights Dominican gangs and executes a journalist on his trail, the Juarez cartel begins to take shape in Mexico.
American agents Chris Feistl and Daniel Van Ness chase mob accountant Guillermo Pallomari, a known money launderer, who inadvertently leads them to Gilberto, whom they arrest.
Gilberto's brother Miguel (Francisco Denis) succeeds him as Cali boss.
Pena, likewise following the money, pursues banker Franklin Jurado (Miguel Angel Silvestre) and is drawn into a crisis when FARC rebels kidnap Jurado’s wife Christina, without whom he will not co-operate.
Jurado is subsequently murdered in prison but the DEA make steady in-roads into Cali operations, turning reluctant enforcer Jorge Salcedo (Matias Varela) into an informant who they hope will lead them to Miguel. The Cali grow suspicious about the prospect of a mole in their midst, placing Salcedo in serious jeopardy.
After narrowly avoiding escape when the Cali execute the wrong man, Salcedo eventually engineers Miguel’s arrest. He and Pallomari testify against the cartel and are disappeared into the witness protection programme.
Pena realises that the demise of Colombia’s cartels is not the end and the new frontline of the war on drugs is Mexico, where he watches armed men ferry boatloads of contraband up the Rio Grande.
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