“The players may change, but the game remains the same.”
Such were the words of Joaquín Guzmán Loera (Marco de la O) upon summoning a meeting of the cartel kingpins in control of the trafficking business in México. The date is February 2001. ’El Chapo’ has just escaped from the Puente Grande maximum security prison in Jalisco and now seeks refuge with his liutenants, the Bernal Leyda cousins, in Mazatlán. This is the season’s prelude: everything we’ve seen so far stays in the past, but all that’s been sown is now ripe for the reaping.
In photos: here’s the opening of season two of 'El Chapo'
The last time we saw Joaquín was in 1995. He was imprisoned in Almoloya and had been the object of humiliation at the hands of La Licenciada (Mariana Gajá), who has now accepted a bribe from Don Sol in order to concede him the transfer to the Puente Grande penitentiary. However, on the depiction of the six years elapsed between the present and last season’s ending, we discover this situation ends up being favorable for him.
On flashbacks, we see Joaquin feeling his empire under threat by the Avendaño Brothers, who seek control of all cartels. With El Chapo out of the game, they shifted their targets towards Rodrigo Abed, a.k.a. Amado Castillo, a.k.a. ‘El Señor de los Cielos’. They set him up on a fancy seafood restaurant in Mexico City, turning his evening into a bloodbath.
After miraculously surviving, Amado faces Conrado H. Sol (Humberto Busto) who warns him the Avendaño Brothers are dangerous. His opportunity to stand out in politics seems more and more elusive. The president he must answer to is a man deeply repulsed by the idea of striking pacts with drug lords, but he’s also insecure and indecisive. Don Sol tries to convince him he’s doing the right thing not starting a war with the cartels and instead seek to control them by making a deal with the Avendaño Brothers. This goes sour because they abuse their privilege and make a fool out of Don Sol.
‘El Chapo’ tries to regain Don Sol’s loyalty, but he turns down his millionaire offer in exchange for the strings to become a deputy and then the president.
While in prison, Joaquín is visited by Graciela (Juliette Pardau) and her son. During the conjugal visit, he reveals his plans to create a federation of all cartels against the Avendaño. Graciela tells him she would rather he spent more time with his family when he came out.
Amado Castillo decides to undertake plastic surgery to change his face and not have to hide all the time. However, he gets a heart attack during the procedure and dies, leaving the cartels in chaos and the organizations without a head.
Don Sol is being pushed on two fronts. On one hand, the DEA demands Guzman Loera’s extradition. On the other hand, elections are coming and he’s up to become a federal deputy. Joaquín can decide to economically support the candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) since he’s managed to set an operation from inside the prison: his cell is big and comfortable, he has access to women and booze, and he and his accomplice are close to taking full control with external help from Ismael Zambrano (Diego Vásquez).
This situation proves to be disturbing when a guard who refuses to be bought tries to impose the order by cancelling a private party on Guzmán’s cell and gets brutally beaten up by him. He then commands a woman inmate who reminds him of Chío (his last lover from last season) to be brought to his cell. When she refuses to have sex with him, he rapes her either way. The audience can’t see, only hear what’s happening while the camera pans along the prison hallways, making the sequence even more sordid.
The PRI candidate loses the elections and Sol loses his political chance. Now his feud with ‘El Chapo’ has become and obstacle, albeit indirectly. Meanwhile, he no longer has a plan to escape, and we’re back to the first scene.
The new season of the series asks many questions: how is power enforced and in what circumstances? Even though we know the story, we can’t help but feel attracted to the character, masterfully played by Marco de la O. He is an ordinary man living extraordinary events, moved by a profound ambition that leads him to break all the rules. The new season includes the promise to deeply explore the peculiarities and thoughts of the most famous drug lord in the world, and it will also try to keep the vertiginous rhythm of the previous season. It won’t be easy; the plotting resources are scarcer, it is a true achievement telling such a rich story with what’s available, and the audience will want to see what happens next week.