Ex­pand­ing the car­tel

How Nar­cos’ lat­est sea­son restarts from scratch — and crosses into Mex­ico


WHEN A TV show ‘re­boots’, it’s a sign its story has run out of steam. In the case of Nar­cos, the show is un­der­go­ing a re­boot, of sorts, be­cause its story is just too big. Its uni­verse needs to be split into man­age­able parts.

For its fourth sea­son, the co­caine chron­i­cle — which so far has fol­lowed Pe­dro Pas­cal’s DEA agent Javier Peña as he brought down Colom­bia’s most pow­er­ful drug car­tels — is wip­ing its cast list clean. Agent Peña is out. The ac­tion is trav­el­ling back from the early 1990s to the late 1970s and north from Colom­bia to Mex­ico City. This sea­son, we’ll see what led to the events of the first three sea­sons — how co­caine be­came big busi­ness.

“From very early on I had a plan to con­nect Colom­bia and Mex­ico,” says showrun­ner and ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Eric New­man. “Any­one do­ing even a cur­sory anal­y­sis of drug traf­fick­ing would see there is an un­avoid­able con­nec­tion. What I had not fig­ured out was where the story would be­gin. Then I re­alised you have to be­gin with the Guadala­jara Car­tel. That was the begin­ning of the mod­ern drug busi­ness.”

Be­fore the Guadala­jara Car­tel, led by Félix Gal­lardo (Diego Luna), the world of co­caine traf­fick­ing was chaotic. With Gal­lardo, it be­came or­gan­ised. It grew into an em­pire. New­man calls Gal­lardo “a Cit­i­zen Kane fig­ure, who achieves his des­tiny but finds out it’s lonely at the top”. He’s not a swag­ger­ing gang­ster with a ready trig­ger fin­ger. Luna de­scribes him as “a busi­ness­man who just thinks about money, not what the busi­ness does. For him, it’s num­bers and profit”.

Try­ing to stop Gal­lardo be­fore his em­pire gets too big is DEA agent Kiki Ca­marena (Michael Peña), who is charged with gather­ing in­for­ma­tion on Gal­lardo. As he gets deeper into his case, the peo­ple he’s in­ves­ti­gat­ing go to more and more vi­o­lent ends to try to stop him. “[What hap­pened to him] is the rea­son the war on drugs came about — it was the turn­ing point,” says Peña, who first met New­man about the part in 2015. “What I re­ally love about this show is that you never know who to trust.” Peña was so im­pressed, he binged all three sea­sons in just a week.

The story of the bat­tle be­tween Gal­lardo and Ca­marena will take twists and turns far more hor­ri­ble than any­thing we’ve seen in the pre­vi­ous sea­sons. “We’re go­ing to darker places than we’ve gone be­fore,” says New­man. “This is the first chap­ter in a hor­ri­ble tragedy.” And there’s plenty more story left to tell. Welcome to the Nar­cos Uni­verse.

Em­pire vis­ited the swel­ter­ing Mex­ico City set of Nar­cos on 12 Fe­bru­ary. Clock­wise from left: Guadala­jara Car­tel leader Félix Gal­lardo (Diego Luna) lets Rafael Caro Quin­tero (Tenoch Huerta) know who’s boss; Gal­lardo (Luna) and some of the cast on lo­ca­tion; Michael Peña as DEA agent En­rique Kiki Ca­marena gets di­rec­tion from di­rec­tor An­drés Baiz.

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