Those of us with too much time on our hands have already binged the entire third season of Narcos since it premiered on Netflix on 1st September. If you’re a real adult with actual responsibilities and you haven’t watched it yet, skip reading this until you have.
It was difficult to see where Narcos could go after the death of Pablo Escobar at the end of season two, and unsurprisingly season three is certainly different to the previous two. Wagner Moura was so charismatic as Escobar, and he left some pretty big shoes to fill – so big, in fact, that it took three men to fill them, in the shape of Francisco Denis as Miguel Rodriguez, Damián Alcázar as Gilberto Orejuela and Alberto Ammann as Pacho Herrera. The bulk of the tension in season three surrounds the three Cali bosses and their struggle to hold on to the control over their empire.
Gilberto Orejuela is the overall boss, but he’s a not very imposing figure, especially as he spends most of the series walking around a jail cell in a tracksuit, talking on a giant 90s mobile phone.
Miguel Rodriguez is a more archetypal mob boss, who does a great line in simmering anger and brooding silences, and it is him who’s left to handle the day-to-day operations and the negotiations with the Colombian authorities.
Alberto Ammann really steps up to fill the Wagner Moura-shaped void, as the terrifying and vengeful Pacho Herrera, an already familiar Narcos character with a penchant for awful shiny shirts, who comes much more to the fore in season three.
Escobar’s Medellín cartel dissolved when he was killed, which left an enormous gap in the cocaine market which the Cali cartel was more than happy to fill. Where the Medellín cartel were constantly battling against the system – assassinating anyone who crossed them, including policemen and politicians – the Cali cartel’s approach was more to work with the system, their talent for bribery even allowing them to reach as far as the President of Colombia. Where Escobar was busy burying his cash in fields, the Cali cartel stashed their fortune by opening their own bank. Their approach was all business, but that means they were no less ruthless.
Season three opens as the Cali cartel are attempting to do a deal with the Colombian authorities which would allow them to surrender and set themselves up as legitimate businessmen. Despite the deal, DEA agent Javier Peña, played by Pedro Pascal, is still going after them, and his desire to see the bosses imprisoned instead of brokering a surrender deal is a huge source of tension between him and his superiors. With Boyd Holbrook exiting the show after season two, voiceover duties fall to Pedro Pascal, and Agent Peña is undoubtedly the star of this season. Also, the man rocks a tight shirt and a bulletproof vest like no other (my sincerest thanks go to the Narcos costume department).
Pedro Pascal slips into the leading role with ease, and his scenes with Edward James Olmos, playing his father, help to round out the character of Peña a bit more, as he ditches the drinking and womanising that seemed to take up most of his time in the previous two seasons.
We’re introduced to two new DEA agents, Chris Feistl (played by Michael Stahl-David) and Daniel Van Ness (Matt Whelan), whose main function seems to be to argue with Agent Peña. When they’re not doing that, they’re trying to work with their informant, Jorge Salcedo (played by Matias Varela), the somewhat reluctant head of security for the Cali cartel, who realises he is in over his head and wants to leave to start his own legitimate business. But it isn’t as easy as that, and the threat of his double-cross being discovered by the cartel will have even the most laid back viewer hiding behind a cushion.
The fight to bring the Cali cartel down is just as brutal as the fight to topple Escobar, with some eye-watering violence that surpasses even season two – one scene with an execution by motorbike springs to mind. By the end, Peña is burnt out and frustrated with the politics, and hands in his resignation, but we’re left with a teaser for where Narcos is headed for season four – Mexico. The question is, will Agent Peña follow?