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.
NARCOS: MEXICO IS ON NETFLIX FROM 16 NOVEMBER
Empire visited the sweltering Mexico City set of Narcos on 12 February. Clockwise Guadalajara leader Félix from Gallardo Cartel left: (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.