Diego Luna as Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo who rose to become one of the biggest drug traffickers in Mexico in the 1980s. ©Netflix.

One of the most gripping Netflix dramas is back with a new chapter in the sprawling history of the drug war. In Narcos: Mexico, the focus shifts to – you guessed it – Mexico and the burgeoning drug trade there.

Unlike Narcos season 3 (see our review) which chronicled the rise and fall of the Cali cartel following the death of Pablo Escobar and the end of his Medellin cartel in Season Two, Narcos: Mexico is not a sequel. It is in fact set in the 1980s, which means the action here is taking place at the same time as Escobar’s reign in Colombia.

The fourth season traces the backstory of the modern drug war by going back to a time when the Mexican drug trafficking scene consisted of several independent growers and dealers. Enter a shrewd and ambitious hustler named Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo (Diego Luna) who painstakingly builds an empire by consolidating all the key players in Mexico, including both traffickers and corrupt state authorities.

This eventually becomes the Guadalajara cartel. Gallardo’s influence runs deep, digging as far as into the Mexican government, and it’s said that he established the region’s first narco union.

Hot on his heels is a zealous DEA agent Kiki Camarena (Michael Pena), who moves his family from California to Mexico to take up a new post. Camarena quickly finds out just how challenging it is to do his job when the drug lords’ influence is so rampant and the bureaucracy so deeply flawed.

Michael Pena (centre) as Kiki Camarena, the fearless DEA agent who investigates the Guadalajara cartel. Image: Netflix.

What impressed me most about the series is that the creators aren’t afraid of reinventing the narrative when it’s time to do so. They closed the chapter on Escobar at the end of the second season even when it meant letting go of the series’ then primary character and star performer in Wagner Moura.

Now, by moving the story to a new place and another time, they’ve even had to retire fan favourite Agent Javier Pena (Pedro Pascal). This ability to close out storylines once they’ve run their course keeps the new seasons fresh with new characters and new intrigues that explore the many different aspects of the drug war.

Having been in major American blockbusters, Luna and Pena add some star power to the series, which is usually populated by less mainstream actors and actresses from both sides of the border. And I’m glad that this pair of underappreciated actors are pushed to the forefront by their respective leading men roles. As Gallardo (who is currently in prison in real life), Luna – who often plays the good guys – turns in a cool and calculated performance of an ambitious drug trafficker who sees himself as a serious businessman.

Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo (Diego Luna) and his Guadalajara goons. Image: Netflix.

As for Pena, who was most recently seen in Ant-Man and the Wasp (see our review), his portrayal of Camarena, who is determined to take down the Guadalajara cartel in spite of the bureaucratic nightmare in Mexico and the US, is passionate and heartfelt without being too boy-scout annoying.

Aside from these changes, Narcos: Mexico continues the series’ tradition of presenting a more nuanced portrait of the drug war and the people involved. The scene in Mexico is decidedly more chaotic and dangerous considering the unpredictability of the various factions and their propensity for violence, which makes for a tense and compelling season. Narcos is really as addictive as ever!

This review is based on the media preview of the first five episodes of Narcos: Mexico. The whole season is now streaming on Netflix. What do you think of this series reboot?