NAR­COS: SEA­SON 3

NETFLIX OUT NOW EPISODES VIEWED 5

Empire (UK) - - ON.SCREEN - JONATHAN PILE

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.

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