Life can be just so disappointing. You get the house, the car, the pool and pots of money, but all for what? The characters in this adaptation of Roberto Saviano’s novel are living life on the edge of a dangerous precipice. Whether they were born there and like it, want to get away, got there by accident or have simply wandered over to cop a thrill, will dictate their ultimate fate.

The series, from the creative team that brought us Gomorrah, traces the tentacular reach of organised crime as members of Calabria’s ’Ndrangheta negotiate a drug contract with international partners in Mexico and North America. Don Minu looks harmless enough, if a bit grimy; he lives in a dungeon, but at least it’s equipped with CCTV so he can keep an eye on his pigs. Meanwhile, in town, handsome grandson Don Stefano can’t move for people glad-handing him and doffing their caps. Don Minu calls a meeting in a forest to inform a bunch of shifty-looking fellows that he’s back in charge, with a sweetheart deal on cocaine that no one can refuse: “The best price ever!”

“Laws are for cowards. Rules are for men,” says the voiceover. But soon someone who doesn’t care much for either laws or rules makes a surprise move. Things get messy quickly, and the throbbing soundtrack, courtesy of Mogwai, won’t do much for your nerves either. Over in Monterrey, Mexico, in a jalapeño chilli factory staffed almost entirely by ladies wearing only hairnets, bras and pants, each spicy can comes with a hidden extra. The old “chasing a fugitive through a busy market” scene has never been bettered, as soldiers with code names such as “Vampiro” and “Gordo” pursue the hapless factory manager with maximum intent. His reluctance to linger is entirely justified.

In New Orleans, pontificating shipping magnate Edward Lynwood (Gabriel Byrne) is about to discover there are serious drawbacks to being greedy, pitfalls his sombre daughter Emma (Andrea Riseborough) foresees clearly: “We’re not drug dealers, we’re shipping brokers.” Dane DeHaan, who was probably born looking as though he had a hangover, plays Edward’s downbeat son, left on the periphery of the business due to what’s seen as his incapacity. However, Chris Lynwood seems to be taking everything in.

It all feels very authentic, though one might wonder whether cartel bosses really have business meetings in high-end restaurants where they can be easily surveilled. Whatever — those huge plate glass windows will look absolutely brilliant when they’re being raked by gunfire. It’s a blast.


On Sky Atlantic/Now TV from February 4 at 9pm

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