Narcos began as a show about Pablo Escobar, a real-life gangster who outperformed all the most outrageous fictional characters. The show produced a gripping two-season crime drama based on his extraordinary life and death. Although Escobar died, Narcos — a smashing success that debuted in 2015, when Netflix was quickly expanding its streaming empire — needed to continue. Another Colombian cartel was the subject of a third season. Then, in Narcos Mexico, a parallel cartel in Central America was pursued. The first season focused on its growth, while the second season focuses on its decline. If there was ever a reference to all of this, it’s been difficult to keep track of. The show is so preoccupied with the cocaine.

Narcos Mexico

Narcos Mexico tells the story of Miguel Angel Félix Gallardo, Mexico’s first drug lord (Diego Luna). The ten episodes that debut this week depict the explosive implosion of Gallardo’s empire, which allows for highly binge-worthy tv. Nonetheless, fatigue sets in amid the exciting spectacle. Despite its desires to be more, Narcos Mexico does not seem to have aspirations above that of the criminals it follows, pushing more merchandise.

On the surface, the second season of Narcos Mexico tries to make a case about consequences. The fall of Gallardo’s reign is directly related to foolish acts taken during his rise. Most notably, the assassination of DEA agent Kiki Camarena (Michael Pea) sends agent Walt Breslin on a reckless vengeance quest. Many bridges have been burnt along the way, partnerships that have been set ablaze to be used as fuel for ambition, which has many people anxious to see Gallardo removed from control.

Throughout the series, Narcos makes hints at the larger meaning of the story it’s told. Across ten seasons, Gallardo’s suicidal manoeuvres to keep hold of his company and punish those that have wronged him have far-reaching repercussions that extend beyond the criminal underworld, culminating in a rigged presidential election. The show’s narrator winks, “Sound familiar?”

Narcos Mexico

It is based on a long list of stereotypes, some of which have been present in Narcos from its inception, even though they have only been mentioned in passing: that Central and South American nations are lawless playgrounds for the corrupt, where wealth can only be stolen by crooks and violence reigns.

Narcos occasionally complicates this picture, almost entirely through narration: a tossed-off line that mentions the Mexican and Colombian drug trades exist solely to serve the appetites of the rich in the US and Europe, or another about the fundamentally weakening influence of US foreign policy that caused trouble in exchange for the glow up of “solvin’.”

The show’s real moral world is much simpler: dope smugglers merit whatever comes their way, the bad guys always prevail, and the good guys should be able to do whatever it takes to save them.

Narcos can’t get any more complicated because doing so will admit that all of these storylines are the same. By sharing them, the show becomes complicit. Midway into the first season of Narcos Mexico, Gallardo (Diego Luna) departs for a clandestine meeting in South America. Pablo Escobar (Wagner Moura) is waiting for him in a scene intended to be a huge surprise for longtime Narcos fans.

Pablo Escobar

“I’ve always seen this as a Marvel superhero world of linking narcotraffickers coexisting,” showrunner Eric Newman told The Hollywood Reporter shortly after the season debuted in 2018. It’s a crude way of explaining the dynamics at work in these cartel and exploitation tales, but it’s still really American. The gringos, as the Mexicans who do the dirty work for the cartel bosses are known, are still hungry for more. And what better way to express “more” than by the excesses of the contemporary cinematic universe?

This is how Narcos has survived and will continue to survive as it continues its run. Much like Narcos Mexico alluded to Narcos with a well-placed Escobar appearance describing a meeting that almost certainly never existed in real life. The show proceeds to hint at the directions it can expand outward and say these kinds of stories now that it has drained Gallardo’s Federation’s drama.

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It isn’t discreet about it either, ensuring that you remember Gallardo’s driver Joaquin Guzmán goes by “Chapo” and spending a significant amount of time this season set the groundwork for feuds that he will take into the future, for what will be one of the longest fights in the history of Mexico’s drug war.

This story could go on forever. It is being told now, with every story of a white person offended at the sound of Spanish being spoken, with every ICE raid, with every slogan for the wall.

Cartel dramas like Narcos and Narcos Mexico are fairy tales for a declining society, flattening complex and complicated nations to benefit a nation that refuses to recognize the devastation it has wreaked on the rest of the world.