*** Warning – contains mild spoilers for Narcos Season 3 and a pretty big one for Season 2. ***
Narcos took many by surprise with its electrifying and superbly made first season and personally, I was hooked almost instantly. The second season, was in essence perhaps, an easy sell with it being a direct continuation of the story of the life and eventual death of Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar. Incredibly well written and acted, the story of the wildly ambitious and ruthlessly dangerous Escobar was so enthralling that I sometimes had to remind myself that this series was not a fictitious piece. Obviously with this being based on real life events, I already knew the ending and it was with a pleasant surprise that upon the conclusion of that final episode, a teaser trailer for a third season appeared shortly afterwards.
This third season definitely had a big space to fill with the demise of Escobar, who was played brilliantly by Wagner Moura. The Brazilian actor brought a great depth to a character that it would’ve been easy to instantly dislike. The writing and the aforementioned performance by Wagner had you at times, almost rooting for the bad guy. So this third season was definitely up against it without its main protagonist, coupled with the departure of one of it’s other main characters in DEA agent Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook).
The returning main character, Murphy’s partner, DEA Agent Javier Peña (Pedro Pascal) now takes on the lead role and this time the show centres on the Cali Cartel who used Escobar’s death to assume their role as Columbia’s new number one drug lords, without fear of retribution. The Calli Cartel were featured as Escobar’s main competition to his Medellin Cartel in the first two seasons but given little screen time and now instead of one villain, we are now given four with the Cali Cartel consisting of two brothers from the Rodriguez-Orejuela family. Gilberto (Damian Alcazar) and Miguel (Francisco Denis). Who are joined by Pacho Herrera (Alberto Ammann) who acts as their head of international distribution and Jose Don Chepe Santacruz (Pepe Rapazote), who looks after the American side of the business.
This season, as with the previous two, always reminds us at the beginning of each episode that dramatic licence has been taken in its writing and this is perhaps now the best time to address the fact that the real life Agent Peña had no further involvement with the Columbian Cartels after the death of Escobar. However, the show is still firmly rooted in reality, with stock news footage of the actual events inter-spliced throughout the episodes that keeps you from thinking of any of it as being overly exaggerated purely in the name of entertainment.
The show now has Agent Peña as a promoted boss of the DEA and Pascal assumes the role taken by Boyd in the previous two seasons of providing explanation and expansion through his on going narration throughout the episodes. His character is naturally given a lot more to do than just playing sidekick and he is joined by two new DEA agents Chris Feistel (Michael Stahl-David) and Daniel Van Ness (Matt Whelan). Feistel was in fact a real agent during the reign of the Cali Cartel and Van Ness is said to be based on his real life partner David Mitchell.
The plot for this third season centres around the aftermath of Escobar’s death and the rise of the Cali Cartel or the “Gentlemen of Cali” as they often refer to themselves. With their main opposition now gone they are free to expand their business quite freely but the shadow of Pablo hangs over them and gang boss Gilberto is perhaps the one most affected by it. As a result he makes a deal with Columbian Political Officials for the gang to hand themselves into the authorities custody in six months time, upon the proviso that they can keep their assets and receive minimal prison sentences.
What follows is the aftermath, with the Cartel divided over this decision, whilst trying to maximise their profits in the timeframe allowed. The DEA agents are naturally frustrated by the perceived Columbian government corruption that allows for such a deal to be struck and they do their utmost to bring the fugitives to justice whilst they still can, dealing with their own internal politics and backhanded political deals that were so frequently seen as the norm during Escobar’s reign.
This season also does a good job of expanding upon its main character base, with several personal stories layering throughout the episodes, including the true life tale of Cartel security chief Jorge Salcedo (Mantis Varela), who just wants to leave the Cartel and start up his own legitimate business but is constantly pulled back into the line of fire by the unspoken threats of his dangerous bosses. A lot of time is given to this character and his family life and it pays off down the line as the season draws to its end.
The third season of Narcos again comprises ten episodes and provides a very enjoyable and entertaining experience. It yet again, it has made for compulsive viewing and is well laid out with the narration filling in the expository blanks perfectly in addition to the always gripping, convincing and dynamic performances on display. The show has somehow managed to keep the same level of tension and compulsion without Escobar being present and leaves the door open for a fourth season that I would welcome without hesitation.
Film ’89 Verdict – 8.5/10
Narcos Season 3 is available on Netflix now.