“You’re not an idea guy, Chapito.” So says Palma, the head of the Sinaloan branch of Mexico’s cocaine cartel, to his doofus underling Chapo.
Famous last words, am I right?
With his Moe Howard haircut and pipsqueak voice, Chapo comes across like an overgrown child, an impression he complains about in Narcos Mexico Season 2 Episode 4…to his mommy. But as even a casual observer of the news knows full well, he will one day become El Chapo, one of the most powerful and dangerous narcotraffickers in history. This episode takes its title, “The Big Dig,” from the innovation that proved he was “an idea guy” after all.
Chapo’s brainwave is to buy a warehouse on the Mexican side of the border along with a run-down house on the American side, then dig a tunnel to span the short distance between them. Voilà—no wall, no patrols, no cameras, no spy planes, nothing to get in the way of moving cocaine across the border. What’s more, it’s a way around the expense of using the port to move the product, as well as a way to dodge the tax imposed on the Sinaloans by their Tijuana rivals. “Cocaine Alley,” he dubs his tunnel proudly. If indeed digging tunnels to get across the border was Chapo’s invention, he has every right to be proud. It’s a billion-dollar idea.
If there’s a connective tissue to this episode, it’s how necessity is the mother of invention. In much the same way that Chapo dreamed up the tunnel as a solution to his outfit’s problems, Félix Gallardo has a bright idea to get himself back in the good graces of the United States. But it takes rejection from his one-time friend and ally Don Neto for him to see it.
Imprisoned ever since Félix ratted him out to save his own hide after the Kiki Camarena debacle, Neto isn’t happy to see his old partner when Gallardo pays him a visit in prison. (Rafa, the third man in their one-time trinity, just stares daggers at him through a fence.) Neto’s advice to Félix is to “give Uncle Sam what he wants,” i.e. turn himself in. That’s the only way the DEA will stop their quest to avenge Kiki’s torture and murder.
But it turns out Uncle Sam wants other things besides Félix. A downed gun-smuggling plane has just revealed the Reagan Administration’s secret arms-for-hostages deal in which the United States illegally funded and armed the right-wing Nicaraguan Contras against their communist enemies the Sandinistas, and the Iran-Contra Affair is about to be in full swing. So Félix uses his gun-runner contact, Matta, to arrange a meeting with the CIA’s man in Latin America, Bill Stechner, the wild-haired cynic who’s been a liaison between America, fascist guerillas, and the cocaine cartels since the original Narcos series.
In a genuinely tense scene, it looks as if Stechner is simply going to seize Félix and drop him off at the DEA’s doorstep, earning himself brownie points with the government. That’s when Félix reveals what he’s there to offer: not cocaine cash, as Stechner suspected, but a whole new airborne supply route for the guns the Contras require. As Walt Breslin’s world-weary narration notes, by the time Iran-Contra became a household term, Félix had already double-crossed his man Matta and stepped in to fill the void himself. Now he controls the routes both in and out of Mexico, as well as the entirety of the Mexican plaza crime system. (Honestly, the whole scheme is worth watching just to see Diego Luna finally get to act a bit flustered instead of maintaining his usual icy demeanor.)
Some of Félix’s plaza bosses have issues of their own to take care of. His man Amado has finally returned Juárez chieftain Pablo Acosta to his city in order to get the construction of runways and storage facilities back in full swing, but Acosta’s American girlfriend Mimi wants him to retire. When Amado points out that people in their line of work don’t have that luxury, Mimi suggests that Amado himself simply step in to fill the gap Acosta will leave behind. Amado doesn’t think Félix will go for it, but who knows? Everyone’s innovating these days.
Back in Tijuana, the pecking order is equally dicey. Enedina, sister of the Arellano Félix brothers, toes the family line, but wishes she had more power of her own. Isabella, the one-time player whom Gallardo forced out, has a ton of coke she can’t move because the brothers won’t allow it. It nearly comes to blows, but in the end Enedina agrees to move Isabella’s product, even though doing so risks Gallardo’s wrath. It’s kind of a Lean In situation.
That leaves us with Walt himself. In an opening flashback, we discover that his brother, an addict, was a casualty of the drug wars. Subsequent scenes of Walt back in Houston make it look like he’s tied to another in Narcos‘ long line of long-suffering wives—but in a welcome swerve, it turns out this is his brother’s widow, who’s upset by the way Walt keeps trying to butt into the lives of her and her son. Still, with Walt’s big conspiracy case going well, it looks like they’ll be spending time together.
Until his star witness, Zuno, reverses his testimony in front of the grand jury, and the State Department prevents Walt even from using the names he coughed up during his interrogation. Féllix’s crooked cop Calderoni appears to have gotten to Zuno, warning him not to testify, while the deal Félix cut with the CIA effectively granted him clemency with the American government. Just like that, the whole case has gone to shit. Walt…does not take it well.
But once again, inspiration strikes. After everything goes tits up, Walt manages to get the drop on an unseen figure who’s been following him for most of the episode. That person turns out to be Calderoni, who pleads his case to Walt at gunpoint in a crowded bar, telling him he had no choice but to help Félix escape last season and help shut down the Zuno case now. But he liked Kiki personally, he says, and doesn’t want the bastards who killed him to get away with it. He offers to be Walt’s inside man in the Gallardo outfit, and in the end, with no other alternatives, Walt decides to take him up on the offer.
Will it work? Well, this is Narcos, so you can probably expect the usual cat-and-mouse, one-step-forward-two-steps-back kind of stuff to happen. You know how it is: In one half of this episode, Félix Gallardo becomes even more powerful than before, while in the other, chinks in his armor form before our eyes. It’s like the drug war itself, constantly snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, and no amount of eureka moments on either side of the conflict will change that. “Take down enough of these assholes, you’ll get even?” Walt’s sister-in-law asks him at one point. “There is no ‘even,’” Walt replies. That’s Narcos in a nutshell.
Sean T. Collins (@theseantcollins) writes about TV for Rolling Stone, Vulture, The New York Times, and anyplace that will have him, really. He and his family live on Long Island.
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Original Post http://decider.com/2020/02/17/narcos-mexico-season-2-episode-4-recap/