The death of Pablo
2016 / RATED MA15+ / CREATED BY CHRIS BRANCATO, CARLO BERNARD, DOUG MIRO / CAST WAGNER MOURA,
BOYD HOLBROOK, PEDRO PASCAL, JOANNA CHRISTIE, JUAN PABLO RABA, DIEGO CATAÑO, PAULINA GAITÁN
THE EVENTS OF Pablo Escobar’s life are well documented. Netflix hasn’t tried to hide them, either — splashing the events at the denouement of this series all over its advertising. But if you consider historical events — and frequently dramatised historical events at that — to be spoilers, now is the time to stop reading.
Pablo Escobar dies at the end of Narcos’ second season. This is set in stone, simply because if the first 10 episodes took us from his not-so-humble beginnings as a smuggler-turned-cocaine tracker in the late ’70s to his escape from the outrageous luxury of La Catedral prison in 1992, then that leaves just 15 months to play with until his death. It’s never been 100 per cent confirmed exactly who fired the bullet that killed him — some of those closest to him insist that it was suicide — so there is at least that to keep us in suspense. But it does lend an air of finality to everything that happens this time around.
Netflix and the show’s creators have already forged ahead with a third season of the show due this year — citing a Damian Lewis-less Homeland as an example of how this could be viable. And for sure, the world’s appetite for Colombia’s most lucrative export did not cease in the mid-’90s.
But even if you overlook the fact that the narcos who took over control of the drug trade were far less interesting characters — inheriting only the ruthlessness and none of the philanthropic posturing or ingenuity in manipulating people — it seems unlikely, on the evidence of the latest episodes, that Narcos the show would be as compelling without Wagner Moura as
Right from the second season’s opening moments when, deep in the jungle, he wanders slowly up to and then through a heavily armed contingent of the Colombian national army who’ve been ordered to take him in — “I cannot allow that to happen. Excuse me,” they are simply told — he owns every scene he is in. Time and again, sauntering out of hiding and silently into shot, every look, whether to a close associate or arch enemy, he exhibits an understated air of menace. Moura’s potency as Escobar has obviously been recognised by the show’s creators as their main strength: he now gets substantially more screen time than DEA agents Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook) and Javier Peña (Pedro Pascal), both of whom are reduced to what are essentially supporting roles, replete with troubled personal lives and other cop show clichés. Via a voiceover that increasingly feels superfluous, the former — it comes as no surprise whatsoever to learn — confides he is secretly pleased his target has eluded capture, and that, “The fox is out of the cage,” for him to chase after once more.
The re-introduction, three episodes in, of Colonel Horatio Carrillo (Maurice Compte) and his unhinged, ultra-violent methods of fighting back against Escobar — initially feels like it might be an exciting counterpoint to Moura’s performance, but it is not allowed to develop. Similarly, the narrative arcs of new characters often feel undernourished and predictable. Quite soon in, an innocent young woman plays a key role in Escobar’s new method of getting around Medellín without detection. She is assured by the enforcer who recruited her that she has nothing to worry about. What feels like seconds later, she is in hiding, fearing for her life.
Meanwhile, the scenes featuring political figures discussing what they are going to do about Escobar, and those featuring rival cocaine barons discussing what they are going to do about Escobar, feel endless. You find yourself just waiting for the subject of their discussions to return to screen. And whenever he does, that’s when the show sparks into life. The nagging feeling is there’s just not enough story here — what could easily have been tied up in two hours is instead stretched over another 10. With his rise to prominence, his attempts to break into politics and the Palace Of Justice siege already covered, the only truly significant event left in Pablo Escobar’s life is his death. And it feels a long time coming.
Narcos continues to be as stylishly made as its first season was, but there are only so many holdalls being hurriedly stuffed full of cash, brutal murders or hushed phone calls that we really need to see.
NARCOS SEASON 2 IS OUT NOW ON DVD AND BLU-RAY
Above: Pablo Escobar (Wagner Moura) plots his next move. Here: Pedro Pascal as DEA agent Javier Peña.