Warning: This contains spoilers. Not seen Narcos Season 3? Read our spoiler-free review of the opening episode.
“The drug war? Come on, man. We lost it, you were there.”
Having comfortably established that the new enemy is just as dangerous as Escobar, Netflix’s drug-trafficking drama sets about presenting how, since Pablo’s time, the grey areas have become a lot more complicated for those trying to catch the Cali Cartel.
The most powerful scene of these three episodes occurs without the Cartel’s involvement at all. Eric Lange’s smirking CIA Agent has appeared on occasion – usually to make a nuisance of himself with a holier-than-thou speech that often involves the phrase ‘the lesser of two evils’, but Episode 3 sees him truly outdo himself. Bringing two Senators to a very obviously staged cook site in order to show the ruthlessness of the Cartel, it’s a unbelievable few minutes devised to show that Pena’s new job is to win an unwinnable war. Underfunded, ignored, and overshadowed by the CIA’s belittling tactics, not only does Pena have a more serious adversary this time around, but far more hoops to jump through to get to them – a fact the Cartel mock, stating that any foreign law enforcement coming after them “need permission to wipe their asses”.
While Pedro Pascal’s hero becomes further disillusioned, the Cali Cartel are portrayed as becoming stronger and stronger. Painted as a far-reaching web of power and talent, we are introduced to Miguel Angel Silvestre’s money-launderer extraordinaire. Explaining the process in patented Narcos style, the cash-heavy montage arrives at the best lead the DEA have found so far: a totally random accounting error. Even their wins give the impression they stand no chance against the Cartel’s incredible operation.
Another of Cali’s major talents is proving to be Jorge. Jorge’s moral struggle may paint him as Cali’s ‘good guy’, but after the raid on the office block, it’s clear he’s willing to risk everything in order to protect his employers – though this makes it no less exciting to watch him do his job. A new concept in Narcos, Matias Varela’s conflicted security expert has all the courage and expertise to be a bad guy, but is demonstrated to have a moral compass second only to Pena. Calmly saving Salazar’s son, as well as trying to leave the Cartel, his quick-thinking in an office full of cash makes it quite obvious why none of ‘the Godfathers’ will allow him to leave.
Narcos continues to balance the silent tension of scenes such as the hunt for Gilberto with the explosive edge of bloodier scenes, such as Chepe’s visit to the competition’s hair salon. Narcos may be famed for it’s smooth, philosophical approach to the multi-billion dollar cocaine trade, but the story is fantastically unpredictable, woven by talented writers who are turning facts and history into an epic tale that gruffly whispers threats through cigar smoke, schemes brilliantly in dimly lit mansions and is always, always one step ahead.
Narcos Season 1 to 3 are available on Netflix UK, as part of a £7.49 monthly subscription.