Narcos season 3 review: Addictive and engaging, even without Pablo Escobar
Narcos season 3 is dominated by engaging conversations, and not by action sequences. You don't miss Pablo Escobar (too much), with a nail-biting narrative to binge on.
I'll admit this: the first thing to cross my mind at the end of the second season of Narcos was, how will the next one be without Pablo Escobar?
As it turns out, season three is far better than season two, even without the effortlessly amazing Wagner Moura playing the poster boy of cocaine.
The words "Colombia" and "Pablo Escobar" mean completely different things in the world of season three.
First and foremost, apart from the newly numero uno Cali Cartel, everything else is in hindsight. Escobar is now reduced to memories and news clippings.
In the second season you knew what was going to happen at the end, and you knew the big event that the show was getting to (Escobar's death).
The happenings in this exhilarating universe is new, albeit with familiar elements. The excitement, wonder and adventures of the first season is back with the third.
The main guys
Colombia's drug dealings now belong to the four core men who control the Cali cartel: brothers Gilberto and Miguel Rodriguez (Damian Alcazar and Francisco Denis respectively), an openly gay gangster Pacho (Alberto Ammann), who has no qualms about exhibiting his love for men (watch out for an applaud-worthy bold scene involving Pacho and his lover doing sensual Salsa), and their New York associate Chepe Santacruz (Pepe Rapazote).
Despite the Medellin cartel being a thing of the past, the drug problem may, infact, be far worse than during Escobar's reign, because the Cali Cartel is pegged as far more careful yet sinister with its dealings.
They call themselves the 'Gentlemen of Cali'; they believe in amicable dominance, as opposed to Escober's Plata O Plomo ways; they don't like to make a show of their dealings, instead they kill their enemies, wrap their bodies in chicken fat and drown them in a nearby river with weights.
We see the difference between the two cartels in the first episode, when Gilberto throws a huge party to announce that they are going to surrender to the Colombian police in 6 months, but not before they triple their business and profit. Everything is under their control as Gilberto has made a swift deal with the government. This begins a countdown to the big event of season 3, the so-called surrender.
What happens in the middle, is what forms the tight, almost roller-coaster like season three of Narcos.
Plot thickens (and how)
This "surrender" affects two people the most: Jorge Selcado (the man credited with the downfall of the Cali cartel), who plays the cartel head of security, and on being fed up of the several murders that this sort of occupation demands, decides to help the DEA agents in taking his employers down.
His fight then becomes yours. Every time either of the Rodriguez brothers ask him for an additional favour, you can see the frustration in Jorge's face. You root for him to GTFO and get a new life. His moral axis becomes yours.
The second person most affected by the cartel's "surrender" is Agent Javier Peña, this season's protagonist. Peña, played by Pedro Pascal, has the narrative voice and takes us the through the plot. Boyd Holbrook, who plays Steve Murphy in the past two seasons, doesn't return for this one.
Even though I miss Holbrook and his American-ness, this role is definitely better suited to Pascal. He has the Spanish tinge in his voice, which lends more authenticity to Narcos.
Black, white and grey
The first two seasons of Narcos championed Escobar's lineage and Colombia's unique dealings with crime. However, eventually it all fell down, and the clear enemy was the drugs.
In season three, while a lot else may enter the grey area, the depiction of the drug business is still shown in clear black and white. If you do drugs, or deal in them, you will be taken down.
The grey elements of the show are best portrayed through Peña, the Cali Cartel and their conflict.
Even though the DEA agents are aware of the Cali Cartel's "surrender" — and the government's compliance with their plan — three agents, Chris Feistl, Daniel Van Ness and Peña, decide to go after them anyway. However, if Escobar was protected by the masses, the Cali cartel is protected by economic and political systems in Colombia. Pena and his team have to dig much deeper, and put a lot more at risk to get to them.
Subjective questions like 'how far, is too far?' is something you find yourself thinking about. In one poignant scene, a DEA agent tells Peña (who
boasts of pitches for "justice" and "truth" in order to shake the complacent system), "if there was any justice in this world, you'd be in jail."
Not a one man show
What's refreshing in this season is that supporting characters are given a lot of play, and even though Peña leads the pack (the first and last episode begin and end with him and his fight), we get to know a lot about small pegs that hold the narrative together.
A coked-up couple who get into the drug business due to sheer dependency is a wake up call for anyone who gets lured by the manipulative portrayal of Cocaine in the show (don't do drugs kids, no matter how cool it looks). Miguel Rodrigeuz's son David fills the space of the secondary antagonist (first being the Cartel as a whole), with his evil, torturous ways.
Pacho and Jorge are my personal favourite characters — Alberto Ammann's understated portrayal of a homosexual thug is almost arousing for how many stereotypes he breaks.
The use of archival footage reminds us every once in a while that these events (even thought heavily dramatised) are real. These people are real, and their stories are real. The 10-episode season doesn't fall prey to gimmicky writing, but it does slowly unfold all the events.
There are far fewer chase sequences, and nail-biting, political action. Narcos season three is instead dominated by (hard-hitting) conversations. By episode five, you want things to speed up (pun-not intended), and when things finally pick up by episode 7, you'll find yourself watching with your heart racing (much like the cocaine experience?).
Barring a few characters here and there (Miguel's mistress, and a coked-up housewife who befriends Agent Peña), there are no note-worthy female characters in this season. I definitely missed the presence of a calculative character like Valeria Vélez, who played a journalist and Escobar's mistress in season one.
While I was binge-watching the season through most of last week, I felt the need to talk/discuss or analyse the show. One person asked me possibly the most obvious question there is, "do I need to have watched season two?".
I thought about it for a long time, before I finally said, "You don't. The beauty of the show lies in its gradual discovery."
Narcos season three is definitely my top pick for this weekend's 'Netflix and chill'. Binge away.
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