“God forbid anybody thinks they’re the dangerous guys.”
Narcos’ largest problem in persevering with previous the dying of Pablo Escobar is cannily mirrored within the season three premiere’s dilemma of now lone DEA agent protagonist Javier Peña. (Boyd Holbrook’s Steve Murphy has exited the sequence, leaving the lead function and its attendant voiceover duties to Pedro Pascal’s dogged Peña.) Promoted after his extremely publicized function in taking down Colombia’s most infamous drug kingpin, Peña finds himself the article of hero worship, each at a marriage within the States, and from his bright-eyed new underlings at his U.S. Embassy workplace in Colombia. Again house, his realizing father (Edward James Olmos) reminds the conflicted Javy of his long-ago warning of the hazards of making an attempt to alter the world. “Extra doubtless, it’ll change you.”
Pedro Pascal, on this first episode, brings his signature soulfulness to Javier’s plight. Totally anticipating to be fired (a minimum of) for accepting the rival Cali Cartel’s help in lastly bringing down Escobar, Peña, as an alternative, finds himself recruited as the top of the DEA unit tasked with bringing the cartel down. In crisp white gown shirts and chewing nicotine gum in an try to surrender outdated habits, Pascal makes Peña’s battle intensely bodily. Penned in by each his new golden boy picture and the Cali Cartel’s cannier strategy to drug trafficking, Pascal’s Peña strains in opposition to his wonted cowboy cop instincts. When the officious ambassador congratulates him on his promotion, Peña, hunched on the workplace’s posh couch, watches warily, realizing there’s a giant “however” on the way in which. “Issues received’t be like Escobar, Agent Peña,” the ambassador tells him. “They’ll’t be. Issues have modified down right here.”
And issues have modified, a minimum of on the floor of the insanely profitable drug enterprise. The Cali Cartel, as Peña explains within the pat, over-dramatic voiceover that is still Narcos’ storytelling crutch, operates in virtually full opposition to Pablo Escobar’s flamboyantly violent strategies. “It’s just like the Soviet Union with good climate,” Peña’s narration informs us, as we see how the annual billion in bribes (“That’s ‘billion’ with a ‘b’,” Peña underscores) has everybody from the police to the phone firm busily working because the cartel’s spies. We see a suspiciously acquainted hot-dog DEA two-man crew (a smug gringo and his Spanish-speaking associate) organising an elaborate undercover operation. They stress a younger waiter to spy on an unprecedented Cali group get-together, just for the cartel’s easily environment friendly head of safety, Jorge Salcedo (Matias Varela) to tug the terrified child apart with an unconcerned joke concerning the costly DEA button digital camera he’s sporting, a rundown of all of the waiter’s family members and their addresses, and a warning to get out of city. As Peña—sidelined into exposition mode for a lot of the premiere—tells us, the 4 high males of the Cali Cartel (who name themselves “the Gents of Cali”) run their operation “like a Fortune 500 firm,” counting on bribery, intimidation, and nigh-omnipresence to keep up a veneer of, if not respectability, a minimum of of not being “as evil because the man earlier than.” The present’s portrayal of Colombian tradition stays intertwined with the drug commerce, with Peña suggesting that, so long as the Cali kingpins aren’t waging literal open conflict within the streets as Escobar did, most individuals are content material to allow them to function in relative peace.
However operating coke, on the earth of Narcos, is an inherently evil enterprise, and the Gents of Cali perform their vendettas simply as bloodily as did Pablo Escobar, if not as ostentatiously. (With one exception we’ll get to.) Peña tells us dutifully that the cartel’s most popular technique of physique disposal (involving rooster wire, pure decomposition, and a river crammed with obligingly hungry fish) isn’t “very gentlemanly.” Therein lies this third season’s (and Peña’s) downside—how you can get folks invested in a bunch of rich villains whose extra surreptitiously polished misdeeds appear dramatically unimpressive subsequent to the thrillingly grandiose, bombastic villainy of Wagner Moura’s Pablo Escobar. If Moura’s towering efficiency unbalanced Narcos’ narrative of murky morality in Escobar’s favor (particularly when the sequence started by positioning Holbrook’s wan Murphy as his nemesis), the post-Pablo Narcos begins in a muddle of largely nondescript new characters and exposition.
Pascal’s Peña, ending the episode in mattress with a girl he’s picked up at a bar and lighting up his first cigarette in a very long time, stays a compellingly compromised protagonist. Confronted at a bar by native CIA man Stechner (Eric Lange, making his spook’s unkempt informal friendliness as subtly menacing as ever), Peña registers the reality behind the smug Stechner’s realizing condescension concerning the worth of his “hero cop” fame. “You’re the dashing DEA agent who took down Escobar,” smiles Stechner, taking his go away with the effortlessly emasculating, “It all the time helps to have a hero on board.” If, over the course of its first two seasons, Narcos regularly edged Peña into the highlight, it’s as a result of Pascal earned it, and even because the premiere lays out its new narrative mission with customary klutziness, the prospect of ten episodes targeted on Pascal’s Peña making an attempt to adapt to this de-centralized however equally harmful new adversary is promising.
Much less so is the Cali Cartel themselves, nevertheless. The present’s creators have all the time harassed how their examination of the beginning and progress of the Colombian cocaine enterprise was greater than one man. However Wagner Moura turned Narcos, for higher and typically worse, the actor’s highly effective embodiment of such an infamously larger-than-life determine maybe essentially overshadowing the overarching narrative. Now that each Escobar and Moura are gone, although, the Gents of Cali can’t assist however come off as underwhelming, a minimum of of their rushed introduction right here. We’ve seen Damian Alcazar’s Cali boss Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela beforehand, however his toothy, glad-handing menace isn’t the stuff main gamers are manufactured from. Newly launched characters like Gilberto’s cash man brother Miguel (Francisco Denis) has a subplot shoehorned into the episode about how his infatuation with the spouse (Andrea Londo) of an unruly sub-boss impacts his resolution making in terms of the person’s destiny. And NYC-based captain Chepe (Pepe Rapazote) conveys hints of being the cartel’s cruder free cannon (if his metaphor about how he plans to “fuck the Statue of Liberty in her ass” is any indication).
But when there’s one character positioned to take up the narrative area vacated by Pablo Escobar, it’s Pacho. When it was introduced that Narcos would proceed with the Cali Cartel as its point of interest, it was Pacho Herrera, Cali boss and, as Peña fills us in right here, chief of “a crew of younger psychopaths,” who appeared the inheritor obvious to Escobar’s sequence dangerous man crown. In my overview of the season two finale, I contemplated a Pablo-less Narcos, asking, “Do we really want a season focused on Pacho?” Well, we’re getting one, and, on the basis of the effort put into establishing Alberto Ammann’s character in this first episode of season three, it’s not as farfetched an idea as it once seemed.
Pacho—with his blow-dried hair and patterned silk shirts—was always positioned as a softer, more polished foil to Pablo’s bull-snorting machismo. But Pablo is dead, the Cali Cartel—here announcing a controversial deal with the Colombian to get out of the cocaine business after six final months of snorting up all the cash and power they can—is more successful than Pablo Escobar was, and Pacho Herrera is nobody’s foil any longer. After tracking a reticent under-boss to a roadside club (he’s the same boss whose wife Miguel Rodriguez has a thing for), Pacho roars up on a motorcycle with his men, orders a bottle to share with the man and for the bartender to put on a particular song (“Dos Gardenias”)—and then makes the entire club watch as he holds out his hand for a handsome young man to dance with him. As the swooning bolero plays and the dance floor empties, Pacho and his partner perform a passionate, romantic dance, finally kissing with abandon. When the song is done, Pacho walks back to the table where the under-boss sits averting his gaze and smashes the bottle over his head. (He then is shown killing the unfortunate guy via an Old West-style motorcycle drawing-and-quartering, riding off into the night with the man’s arm clattering from a rope behind him.)
Narcos has never been the most gracefully written show. Tonight, expository dialogue clunks to the floor as the pieces for this third season are dropped into place. (“Congratulations on the promotion, sir,” beams Peña’s new aide, adding, “You know, you’re kind of a big deal around here. You know, since Escobar.”) And there’s an effortful strain here in propping Pacho up as the new badass in town. But Ammann rules his big scene, an ostentatious demonstration of his unquestioned power that flies in the face of the homophobic abuse he’s suffered, no doubt, during his rise. Sure, Pablo threw gay slurs at a lot of people, but the cultured Pacho bore some of his harshest, and Pacho’s long-implied sexuality is presented here as intrinsic to his violent response to being shown disrespect. Earlier at the Cali party, Pacho had only said of the under-boss, “You know I have a personal issue with that son of a bitch.” In the club scene, that issue is never explained to us directly, but Pacho uses his sexuality to underscore just how far above anyone’s opinions of him he sees himself to be. That his show of pride and power partakes of the sort of over-the-top, very public violence that was Pablo’s preferred style hints that his inner conflict is going to bring Pacho into promising clashes with both his own allies and with Peña. Narcos’ third season begins with two restless men, bristling for a fight.
- A pair of admirable fake-outs reveal the extent of the cartel’s reach. A group of men gathered in preparation of the party seem like police, bidding an ominous farewell to the officer doing one last job before retirement. (No word if he’d bought a boat called the “Live-4-Ever.”) As it turns out, the impressive mobilization comes from the army of cartel operatives who will be scanning the gathering for any intruders, and the retiring man is Cali security chief, Jorge Salcedo, as revealed when he threatens the spying waiter.
- In the other, Gilberto is presented with a bulging envelope filled with audio cassettes, suggesting damaging information, perhaps blackmail. As it turns out, the cartel had bugged every one of the under-bosses in attendance, and—like Pacho’s victim at the club—every one who expressed reluctance to go along with the six-month plan is summarily executed.
- Jorge’s plan to go legit is scuttled by Miguel, who informs his security chief, “We didn’t get where we are by allowing good people to leave.” It sets up another potentially interesting conflict within the Cali organization, although that the show felt it necessary to saddle Jorge with a worried wife angry that he’s breaking his promise to quit falls back on some worrisomely tired tropes.
- Cali’s more nuanced way of dealing with problems (chicken wire and arm-amputating aside) is seen in the fact that Jorge allows the terrified young waiter to split town for good (without even telling his mother or his girl), rather than killing him. Also, the clumsy DEA team (including Shea Whigham, continuing to mark out the “undeservedly cocky lawman” territory, post-Fargo) is allowed to find out their surveillance is blown, not with bullets, but with pictures of their meeting with the waiter—that they’re allowed to develop themselves.
- Peña’s narration, on Gilberto: “They called him the chess player because he was always one move ahead.” Thanks, Javy.
- Gilberto cites Joseph Kennedy’s bootlegging background as proof that the Cali Cartel can retire from crime and still maintain their standing and power going forward. His people are not impressed.
- Pascal doesn’t get to do much in this first episode, but his confrontation with the oily Stechner sees the actor registering Javier’s warring guilt, shame, and contempt, rousing himself finally against the CIA man’s manipulations with a contemptuous, “You don’t care about American streets or dead Colombians.”
- Stechner’s unfazed. “If there were any justice in this world, Javier, you’d be in jail.”
- And we’re back for season three of Narcos, everyone. I’m Dennis, and I’ll be your reviewer. Look for new reviews at noon every day until, one assumes, the last body falls. As usual with streaming shows, I’ll be reviewing the series in order, without reference to future events, so let’s keep things a spoiler-free in the comments as possible. Don’t be spoiler-person. No one likes spoiler-person.