Warning: Moderate spoilers follow
Another belated review for you this week with Narcos Season 3. I must admit this is one of those shows where I was seriously concerned with the writer’s plans in a post-Escobar world. Just to clarify that a bit for anyone who hasn’t seen the first two seasons (and if you haven’t they’re well worth a watch), they basically told the story of the rise and fall of Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. The documentary style combined with real footage and dramatisation of the major arcs really gave this show a unique flavour.
My major concern going into this season was finding another story as compelling as the Escobar one. However, luckily for Narcos fans it seems there are no end of compelling real life drug kingpin stories to adapt as this series (as promised at the end of season 2) focuses on the operations and investigation of the Cali Cartel. With the so called ‘Gentlemen of Cali’ being the prime beneficiary of Escobar’s death, season 3 basically charts the story of the Cali cartel and Agent Pena’s (Pedro Pascal) journey in trying to take them down.
What follows is a brutal and fascinating game of cat and mouse between Agent Pena and the overlords of Cali. The leadership team consists of two brothers, Gilberto Rodriguez (Damian Aclazar), Miguel Rodriguez (Francisco Denis), Pacho Herrera (Alberto Ammann) and Chepe Santacruz (Pepe Rapazote) – this makes for a more interesting mix than the single faceted Escobar cartel, and gives the writers some great dynamics to play with. The basic premise at the beginning of the series is that Gilberto has basically done a deal with the government to legitimize the Cali business in exchange for certain compromises, which will keep the leadership free from prison time.
Of course there are many who are distinctly unhappy at the prospect at going out of business and this starting pistol kicks off the season with an almighty bang. The cold machinations of the more level headed (at least initially) Rodriguez brothers combined with the more unpredictable, wild tendencies of Pacho and Chepe make for a great dramatic combination, as Pena works to incarcerate the entire leadership before the deal can be pushed through.
There are even some interesting struggles happening behind the scenes for Pena, as he clashes with the CIA and various officials over ways and means in the battle to take down Cali. Whats impressive here is that the way each arc is interlocked with whats going down on the ground and the way we see ripples at the top filter down lower into the foodchain.
For all the power struggles at the top though, it is a smaller story of senior level cartel security chief, Jorge Salcedo (Matias Varela) who turns informant that makes or the most compelling arc for the season. Although we’ve seen this arc play out in a million different cop shows over the years, this material is handled brilliantly by the writers, ratcheting up the tension at just the right moments and leaving you guessing on Jorge’s (and his family’s) fate until the very end. With this show being so unashamedly brutal you are never quite sure which way this arc will go (and I wont spoil it for you here if you’ve yet to see this). What makes it all the more compelling is that this is of course based on a true story.
Performances on this show are stellar across the board (although if you aren’t a fan of subtitles you should probably steer clear), with the main cast all turning in a mixture of different but well conceived turns, backed up by some terrific writing. There are of course a few moments where a couple of events feel manufactured, but by and large the story progresses at just just the right pace to keep the tension going and the plot moving. This is definitely one of those shows just begging to be binged!
A real tour de force of tension, fast paced action, gritty drama and amazing twists, Narcos season 3 really delivered. Proving there’s plenty of life left after Escobar, if you enjoyed the first two seasons this is definitely one to catch if you haven’t already. This is unflinching, brutal television that cuts deep but if you’re a crime fan of any kind, look no further.