NARCOS: SEASON 3
NETFLIX OUT NOW EPISODES VIEWED 5
SHOWRUNNER Eric Newman CAST Pedro Pascal, Damián Alcázar, Francisco Denis, Alberto Ammann, Pepe Rapazote, Matias Varela
PLOT Following the death of its leader Pablo Escobar, the reign of the Medellín Cartel has come to an end, with the Cali Cartel rising to take his place. DEA agents begin work trying to take it down, but soon discover the magnitude of the task in front of them.
“PABLO DIES” ANNOUNCED the pre-release publicity for Narcos Season 2, signalling the end for Pablo Escobar was nigh. And so he did. He had to — he died in real life, and there’s very little to be done in terms of writing around that. Which makes Season 3 a soft reset — some characters remain, most notably Pedro Pascal’s DEA agent Javier Peña who takes over voiceover duties, but it’s conceivable (if you concentrated really hard) that you could skip the first two seasons and start here.
With its leader shot through the head, the Medellín Cartel is no more, but the cocaine trade didn’t stop, and neither did the United States’ ill-fated War On Drugs. The Medellín’s place was simply taken by another group — the Cali Cartel. With four men at its head — brothers Gilberto (Alcazar) and Miguel (Denis) Rodriguez, Pacho Herrera (Ammann) and their man in New York, Chepe Londono (Rapazote) — the Cali are a different proposition. Where Pablo was fire, these men are ice. Pablo would kill then use the bodies as theatrical warnings not to cross him; the Cali simply wrap their victims in razor wire, throw them into the Cauca river, and let the barbs rip them to pieces as they bloat. The fish will do the rest.
But most importantly, the Cali Cartel has spent time and money integrating itself into Colombia’s administrative infrastructure. This means calls from the US embassy are monitored, informants are picked up as they gather evidence and undercover agents are splashed across the front pages of the papers. The DEA is hamstrung, its investigation initially struggling to get off the ground. And there’s a deadline. The Cali Cartel is pulling a Michael Corleone — they’ve struck a deal, the aim being they’ll be legitimate businessmen within six months. After that, they can’t be touched.
More than ever it’s an ensemble piece but there are two characters who stand out — one on each side of the law. Pascal as Agent Peña is a compelling presence, effortlessly taking on lead good-guy duties as he attempts to navigate the bureaucracy the cartel has put in his way. And then there’s new character Jorge Salcedo (Varela), the Cali’s head of security. He wants out to start his own (legitimate) business, but he’s asked to stick around (told to, in effect — cartels don’t tend to give people options) until the illegal activity is wrapped up. He has a wife pulling him one way, potential business partners he needs to keep happy, the DEA to keep at bay and a member of the cartel who, feeling slighted, wants to sabotage his attempts to go straight. It’s a similar balancing act to the one Tony Soprano had to manage — the spinning plates threatening to come crashing down at any moment.
Rewarding and intricately plotted, this latest season balances its drama with set-pieces of excruciating tension (Salcedo hiding evidence during a raid stands out) while doling out just enough information to allow you to follow the complex world of the ’90s cocaine trade without it becoming a history lesson. It remains one of the finest shows on TV.
VERDICT Continuing after the death of a main character, especially one as charismatic as Pablo Escobar, is hardly an easy task, but the writers have managed it without breaking sweat. Pablo is dead, long live Narcos.