Narcos Season Three review: Is Narcos Watchable Without Pablo Escobar?
Short answer: Season 3's one helluva drug
Season 3 of Narcos is back on Netflix and you're probably wondering... why? Because where could it go from here? Pablo, history's most ruthless purveyor of Columbian Marching Powder, has been iced. The Escobar is closed. Worse, you may have also spotted that the cast has lost yet another epic pornstache: DEA agent Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook) has retired after much Medellin Cartel meddlin'. Be that as it may, I'd still argue that the third outing of this cocaine opera is nothing to sniff at.
New Cartel, Same Ol' Addictive Ruthlessness
Season 3 focuses on a Columbian cartel trying to go legit. The four Dons have read between the lines, made more money than they need and can see that cocaine isn't any sort of solution (unless you dissolve it in water). During the first two seasons this Cali Cartel was the lowly Pepsi to Pablo's coke empire – a number two outfit that drew very little heat because the DEA was obsessed with taking down the Columbian lookalike version of Ron Swanson. When everybody's favourite potbellied villain hit the ceiling of his career – by getting himself shot on a roof – the Cali Cartel went to public enemy number one with a bullet.
As an act of goodwill for the intelligence role Cali played in Escobar's downfall, the fuzz have offered these new top dogs and their partners six months to surrender. The deal is accepted. However, before they shut up shop, the CEOs of this Fortune 500-esque empire want to use the time to feather their nest eggs, and to clean house of any malcontents who do not wish to honour the deal.
Agent Peña is the Man
DEA Agent Javier Peña (Pedro Pascal) isn't a fan of handing out lenient deals for drug lords, but the Cali crew play a different ballgame to what he's used to, opting to keep off the radar and use bribes instead of violence. Any bodies that do need to be created are discretely dropped into a river wrapped in chicken wire (home crafting tip: when that corpse bloats, the netting dices the remains into bite-sized fish food cubes!) When the greed of some Cali foot soldiers causes a rare mistake and the mass-murder of innocent civilians, a cat and mouse game begins in earnest.
Yeah, sure, the old buddy cop dynamic is gone now that it's just Peña, however he's positively magnetic as the flawed hero who's a reluctant mentor to a new breed of baby spooks. Enter the two new eager beaver agents, Chris Feistl (Michael Stahl David) and his partner, Daniel Van Ness (Daniel Whelan). They're a great team who deliver more personality and more welcome humour than the old Holbrook-Pascal partnership, but there's just no putting old heads on young shoulders. For example, these rookies don't know how to sniff out bad apples until it's way too late.
Another noteworthy player in this mess is David (Arturo Castro), son of the least-vicious cartel Don. Though you may know him for his comedic stylings as Jaime in Broad City, Castro's playing well against-type here as an obnoxious, inept brat who's eager to please daddy with his sadistic, heavy-handed solutions to any cartel problem. Think: a South American Joffrey Baratheon, and you're not far off. He's just the kid you love to hate.
Bad Luck Jorge is a show-stealer
Also on the Cali side of the fence is Jorge Salcedo (Matias Varela), the most likeable character in this ungodly mess. At home he's a loving family man; when he's on the clock, he's a private security consultant desperately trying to extricate himself from this sinking ship before his career choices catch up with him. The Dons value his services too much to let him just walk away and start his own business. Worse, as Peña and his team turn up the pressure and the amnesty deal gets more unlikely, the higher ups demand that the clean-handed Jorge step outside his comfort zone more and more. We all make risky decisions in life, and watching this cautionary tale unravel from episode to episode is edge-of-your-seat stuff.
It seems that despite all of your best efforts and intentions, you just can't win sometimes. And this is the bleak fact that Narcos explores so well. The little guy almost always gets screwed. Meanwhile, if you manage to chop off one head of the hydra, the bloody thing will sprout a few more elsewhere. The struggle for money, power and drugs is basically eternal now and the only silver lining is this: that awful truth makes for damn entertaining television. The magic of this series most certainly didn't die with Pablo. Line Narcos season 3 up and inhale it all in one go.