Anyone with even the most limited knowledge of Colombian recent history knows when Pablo Escobar died. Fully aware of this, Netflix made the brilliant decision to not hide behind a veil of false secrecy (::cough -J.J. Abrams- cough::) and instead base all the advertising of season 2 on the fact that it would see Escobar die in the end. And guess what? The series is still as watchable as ever, if not more so, and knowing how things will end does not make it any less entertaining. One of the main questions I had at the end of season 1 was how the show would adjust to a more limited timeline. The first season ran through, in just a handful of episodes, two decades worth of story, leaving a limited amount of time before Escobar’s final swan song. Turns out the show fared even better in its second season, able now to focus on better character development, while still maintaining thrill and intrigue. It doesn’t hurt that the final days of Escobar’s life were filled with incredible amounts of violence and warfare – the more trapped he was and the closer he was to be apprehended, the more he fought back intent on destroying everything and everyone in his path. All of this results in extremely compelling, albeit hyper violent, television.
My favorite thing about the show is once again the fact that Spanish is spoken almost exclusively. Nothing is more jarring than people speaking to each other in English when it doesn’t make sense for the characters to do so. Narcos refuses to play this game, and the result feels much more authentic and takes me less out of the action at hand. My biggest complaint about the first season was how sexualized the female characters were, how useless they were beyond the mere showcasing of their nude bodies. The second season does better by the female cast in this respect, but compensates by taking almost all female characters out of the narrative completely. Wives, lovers, family members, most of the women who appeared in the first season show up briefly or not at all. That said, Escobar’s wife and mother are showcased more than ever (I’ll come back to that), and two female additions join the cast: a new boss for the American FDA agents and a rival cartel leader for Escobar, who is craving revenge after he killed her husband in the first season.
Speaking of FDA agents, this season their presence is a little less welcome. Javier Peña makes more sense and his character is given the chance to stretch a bit more. It doesn’t hurt that Pedro Pascal plays his inner conflict brilliantly, as someone who sees himself blurring the division between man of the law and criminal. I’ve liked the actor since his Game of Thrones arc, so I’m always happy to see him work, he has a lot of talent and deserves all the work he can get. Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook) is just annoying though, and he is played throughout the season with a chip on his shoulder and a wannabe bad boy. At one point we see a real image of Murphy – bald, with glasses, a true 80s nerd – and if he looked like that, the character would make so much more sense. But he doesn’t, Holbrook is a male model, and the performance suffers as a result. His character felt completely useless all season, with the exception of the helpful voiceovers throughout the narrative. I’m also glad the show kept the true footage interspersed throughout the series, like in the first season. Sure, it’s a bit jarring to see the real people alongside their fictional counterparts, but it’s necessary and it reminds the viewers that this is a fictionalized version of the events, no matter how close to reality they feel. This is not history, for history is much sadder and more brutal, and the images remind us of that.
At times I felt a bit angry with the show because it seems like they were trying to humanize Escobar a bit too much and make us root for him. Another show where the hero is the bad guy (The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Dexter, Boardwalk Empire, the list goes on, and on, and on…). But that’s not exactly what Narcos does. We are never allowed to forget what the drug lord has done, nor the fact that his actions had very real victims and the horrors he left in his wake were truly reprehensible. But we should also not forget his humanity. It’s too easy to paint bad people as these mythical monsters, larger than life beings from which we can so clearly separate ourselves from, who we do not have to confront ourselves with, empathize with. This show doesn’t let us off the hook so easily. We see Escobar in his domestic sphere, the fights and gentle moments with his loyal wife, his tenderness when interacting with his children, even the infantilized moments when interacting with his mother – these all make him into a much more humble and human man, so when we see the last breaths of this man, we know exactly what his last thoughts are. We identify with him, for better or for worse.
Netflix has already renewed the series for two more seasons, at least, so the story of Narcos does not end with Pablo Escobar’s death. We are given some hints as to where the show will progress, and I am no longer worried, because I trust the writers and producers. It will be difficult to replace Wagner Moura, as he was the most compelling reason to watch the show, but those of us who remember the events that come next know that there is no shortage of story when it comes to the war on drugs and cartel history in South America.