Many people were eagerly awaiting the release of Narcos Season 4. The series, which is called Narcos: Mexico, is now here. And, yes, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the Mexican kingpin now in a U.S. prison, makes an appearance. (Warning: Plot spoilers ahead).
The show streamed on November 16, 2018, and it’s now available on Netflix. The show’s return marks its fourth season. The Hollywood Reporter reported in September 2016 that it had been renewed for two additional seasons at least. As to whether it features Mexico and El Chapo, there were clear clues early on that pointed to that, although Pedro Pascal, who plays DEA agent Javier Pena, wrongly broached the possibility that the show could deviate to Aghanistan instead.
However, the unsolved murder of Narcos Season 4 location manager Carlos Munez Portal, in September 2017, exposed that series 4 was going to be, at least in part, based in Mexico and that El Chapo’s rival, Juarez, may play a larger part in it. It turns out that season 4 went back even farther in time than that to the cartel where El Chapo got his start in a bit role.
Once the show streamed, fans learned it would focus on Felix Gallardo and his birth and demise of the Guadalajara cartel. Gallardo built his cartel out of warring Mexican drug factions but his clash with a Drug Enforcement Administration agent named Kiki Camarena would prove his downfall.
According to El Pais, a Spanish-language daily newspaper, Carlos Muñoz Portal, 37, “was killed Monday (September 11) in a rural area of … Mexico, a violent region in the center of the country, while looking for locations for the filming of the Narcos series by Netflix, which will arrive in Mexico in its fourth season. Muñoz was a seasoned veteran filmmaker to find filming locations for the major US film productions working in Mexico.”
The Spanish-language newspaper added that “Production will soon portray the Cartel de Juárez, an organization headed by Amado Carrillo, better known as El señor de los cielos.” The newspaper added that there are fears that Netflix will shoot the series somewhere other than Mexico because of the violence. You can read more about Munoz’ death here.
That wasn’t exactly right. The show starts out earlier in time by featuring Gallardo and the rise of Guadalajara; clever and ruthless, he managed to get fractious bands of warring outlaws with years of bad blood to unite in what was Mexico’s first cartel. El Chapo makes an appearance as the driver of another warlord who is almost killed – and then given a reprieve – by Gallardo. He then has various cameos in small ways that show he played a small role in Gallardo’s operation but enough of one to learn the drug trafficking operation from the inside out.
When Gallardo and his men abduct and murder the DEA agent, Camarena, it makes his downfall and gives an opening to El Chapo to build his Sinaloa Cartel out of the ashes. The death of Camarena led to a massive clash between the U.S. and Mexican governments and almost the shut down of the border. It’s also regarded by some as the true start of the “drug war.” In squashing Gallardo’s operation, the U.S. government learned a valuable lesson: The end of one thing usually creates a vacuum that can lead to another thing that might be even worse. In any enterprise, someone will fill the need.
El Chapo rose through the ranks of the Guadalajara Cartel, which evolved into his drug empire, Sinaloa, according to a Chicago Tribune timeline of his life.
There is a lot of fodder for the show to take the storyline into another season.
The deadly Juarez cartel was his rival; the blood feud between Sinaloa and Juarez cartels drove up the body count; “in 2010, more than 3,000 people were killed during a bloody turf war between the local Juarez cartel and its rival the Sinaloa Federation,” CNN reports. There’s tons of fodder there for a Season 4, and 5, for that matter. El Pais says that Carrillo will be played by actor José María Yazpik. He already made a bit appearance as the drug lord in Narcos Season 3, foreshadowing a fuller exploration of the character, although this has not been confirmed by Netflix or the showrunners themselves.
Who was Amado Carrillo Fuentes? Potential plot spoilers are ahead for future seasons, since Netflix often hews closely to the real story.
According to CNN, the Juarez drug lord was known as the “Lord of the Skies” for “his pioneering use of jetliners to ferry cocaine,” and he died “while recovering from plastic surgery and liposuction in a Mexico City maternity clinic. Police believe the surgery was designed to change Carrillo Fuentes’ appearance in an effort to help him evade capture.” He’s a lesser known figure to the American public than El Chapo, though, but Season 3 showed that sometimes the fresher characters (in that case the Cali godfathers) can be the most interesting.
Carrillo was worth over $25 billion and “used high-tech surveillance devices during his reign as Juarez Cartel head in order to spy on other cartel leaders. He had the idea to move his industry to the United States because he was so powerful,” according to Crime Museum.org.
Narcos: Mexico streamed a bit behind scnedule. “The first season landed on August 28th, 2015, the second on September 2nd, 2016 and the third on September 1st, 2017.
Season 3 did the almost unthinkable for a series: It eliminated the seasons 1 and 2 protagonist, drug lord Pablo Escobar (well, real life pretty much eliminated him). Instead, Season 3 focuses almost entirely on the rise of the “four godfathers” of the Cali Cartel that took his place (and on the cartel’s compelling head of security, Jorge Salcedo. Yes, he’s a real person.) Whereas Escobar was an outlaw, the Cali Cartel godfathers moved in the highest echelons of Colombian political power.
However, at the end of Season 3, things aren’t looking up for the Cali Cartel, either. Their Netflix demise pretty much matches their real-life trajectory into graves and prisons. Where does that leave a Narcos Season 4?
El Chapo, with his daring prison escapes, beauty queen wife, and ruthlessness, seems made for Netflix. At the end of season 3, an official tells DEA agent Javier Pena that Mexico is where the next fight lies, and the season ends with scenes of the Rio Grande. Whether Pena would be back is far from certain; in a conversation with his father about Mexico, he says he’s “through.”
In real life, Pena wasn’t through; he continued working for the DEA for decades, but he was posted in Puerto Rico, Texas and Colombia again, according to Biography.com. He retired from the DEA in 2014.
The fact the show is called “Narcos” was purposeful; it set it up to continue beyond Escobar.
In a September 2017 interview, Pascal told EW, when asked about a Season 4 and whether he would be in it: “It’s in their hands. I have no control over it, so I don’t ask questions. I got the script for the end of season 2 and I saw that the board was not firing me but actually asking me about Cali, and I was like, ‘Holy s–t. What’s this mean? Am I coming back?’ And they’re like, ‘Yeah, nobody talked to you?'” He continued speaking about Season 4 to EW: “…I think that they’re just really trying to understand the best way into the other worlds that have been suggested to us. So they’re being really, really smart about how to go into Mexico — if they do indeed go into Mexico. Because, really, they could just go to Afghanistan, or we could go all the way back in time to the opium wars if they wanted to.”
He added that the drug wars are “centuries-old” and concluded to EW: “They can go wherever the hell they want, I guess.”
It’s true the show was always designed to be about the drug war overall and not Escobar in particular.
“From the beginning when we decided to call the show Narcos and not Pablo Escobar, I had always had in mind to tell the continuing story of cocaine,” showrunner Eric Newman told The Hollywood Reporter.
Will we see more of El Chapo in future seasons? Almost certainly. El Chapo’s life is certainly rife with drama, right down to dramatic escapes from prison; he’s currently in U.S. custody facing trial for running a multi-billion dollar drug enterprise that ran massive quantities of cocaine and heroin to American cities like Chicago. He’s represented by a lawyer who once represented John Gotti. There are many colorful characters in the real-life El Chapo’s world that are tailor-made for Netflix; consider as a possibility Vicente Zambada-Niebla, once Sinaloa’s number two man, described as a flashy and handsome “billion-dollar Narco Junior,” whose lawyers claimed was secretly working for the DEA.
The series backed up in time to truly sketch out the rise of Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel. According to a timeline of El Chapo’s life, Sinaloa grew out of a faction of the Guadalajara Cartel in 1989; in 1993, a Mexican cardinal was mistakenly killed in an airport shootout by rivals of Guzman who thought it was him. By 1995, Guzman was in prison, but he soon escaped – in a laundry cart no less. It’s hard to imagine the series skipping something as dramatic as the shooting of a cardinal, so it’s possible it will back up a few years and show Guzman’s rise to power, and the conflicts with Guadalajara, with Cali drug lords making bit appearances, giving the show enough fodder and timeline left for at least a season 5.
“Cali was the cartel that really utilized the smuggling routes through Mexico and the Mexican heroin smugglers who were already incredibly successful. They very much got the Mexicans into the cocaine business, so there is sort of a natural evolution there. As to whether or not I would move directly into Mexico, it’s certainly a possibility,” Newman said to The Hollywood Reporter.
Will there be a Narcos Season 5? That’s unclear, but Newman told The Hollywood Reporter he would continue doing the show as long as Netflix allowed. There is a show on Netflix already called El Chapo, but that’s unlikely to get in the way.
Asked about the show’s future, Newman told CNN, “We plan on stopping when cocaine stops.” And we all know that hasn’t happened.