Narco-Saints once again leans against some clunky storytelling devices in its second episode, but the stakes are beginning to raise considerably, and Ingu is a great protagonist.
This recap of Netflix’s Narco-Saints season 1, episode 2 contains spoilers.
You’ll recall that, at the end of the premiere, the intrepid Korean fishman — his words — Ingu was arrested for smuggling cocaine in amongst his shipments of skate. Of course, we know he wasn’t doing that or at least didn’t intend to, which puts him in an interesting predicament. Most everyman-over-their-heads protagonists do the bad things for the right reasons, but Ingu didn’t even do the bad thing. He earnestly thought he was selling fish. So what happened?
Narco-Saints season 1, episode 2 recap
The second episode wastes little time in explaining. After being transferred to the Dutch-owned Caribbean country of Sint Maarten, Ingu is able to finesse a call to the Korean Embassy and his wife by bribing a prison guard, but it doesn’t do much good. However, the sudden arrival of Choi Changho, an agent of the National Intelligence Service, helps to fill in the blanks.
Here, Narco-Saints once again leans on somewhat clunky narrated flashbacks to do the heavy lifting when it comes to backstory. This time, though, we’re not learning about Ingu, but Pastor Jeon, from his time as a meth dealer in Korea to his current status as the cocaine godfather of Suriname, controlling 60% of all European narcotics trade.
There are two constants in Jeon’s rise. The first is religion. He masquerades as a holy man and uses religious rhetoric in order to appeal to the masses. But his real secret weapon is his own product. He initially gained followers by sneakily getting them hooked on meth, and it seems to be a tactic he has continued to use. His adherents are all addicts. They’re unswervingly loyal because they need their next fix. He has built a private army he can keep controlled with the very product that has made him so wealthy and powerful. It’s a pretty fool-proof business strategy.
This is Changho’s problem. Jeon has amassed immense power in Suriname, and the country never signed an extradition treaty with South Korea, so the NIS can’t arrest him. However, if he were to smuggle drugs to the U.S., the DEA would be able to intervene without foreign approval. This is where Ingu comes in. If he can infiltrate Jeon’s organization, win his ear, and convince him to smuggle to the States, he can trick Jeon into making himself vulnerable.
In exchange for a hefty sum of money to replace his life savings, to be paid to his family in installments, and at least in part out of a sense of revenge for Eungsoo, who we learn is dead, Ingu agrees. With help from Changho he becomes a pusher in prison, serving seven months there while inadvertently convincing one of Jeon’s bodyguards, who is serving time in the same prison, that he’s on side. Sooner than expected, Ingu is free.
But he still has work to do. His idea is to go after Chen Zhen. Since Jeon is the only person allowed to sell coke in Suriname, but he still hasn’t managed to find a reliable way of getting the drug to the Korean mainland, Ingu figures — correctly, it turns out — that he can coax Chen Zhen into a deal. After interrupting him lopping a dude’s feet off with a chainsaw, Ingu persuades Chen Zhen to supply him with a ton of coke that he can get to Korea. They’ll both be rich.
Of course, the Pastor gets wind of this quickly, and at the end of the episode, Byun Kitae arrives with several more of Jeon’s goons to wave their guns around and challenge Chen Zhen for breaking the terms of their arrangement. Zhen is adamant that nobody told him he couldn’t sell coke in Korea, only in Suriname, but it falls on deaf ears. Ingu offers to speak with the Pastor to straighten things out, which one has to imagine is only the first stage of a plan that might well land him in much more danger than even this.