Anyone who listens to the Podcast is probably already aware that I (and indeed, Dave) are pretty big fans of the Netflix series Narcos, and at the beginning of September, the series returned for it's third season, and first season since the conclusion the the Pablo Escobar story at the end of season 2.
So how does the new season hold up?
Oh, and rest assured, I am going to stay spoiler free for Season 3, but there will inevitably be spoilers to earlier seasons...because...yeah...
First off, I have to admit that it was a little bit weird to be watching that first episode of the season and not to have Wagner Moura's spectacular Escobar present--he was such a driving force in the first two seasons for the series, however the shift into covering the fall of the Cali Cartel was really good. I think their decision to include bits and pieces of Cali around the first couple of seasons, so you already had a sense of this new antagonists for the DEA was a great idea (and as it would be historically plausible, if not accurate, a sound choice for realism as well to show Cali rise along side Medellin).
I've read that Narcos attempts to present a story that is 50-60% accurate, taking liberties to fill in gaps, and to make everything more dramatic (because we are still watching a show for entertainment, that is appreciated), and I guess a big shift for Season 3 was returning Agent Pena (Pedro Pascal) to head up the DEA side of the story, using him as a composite of the real Agents ...which was an excellent idea on the creators' part to keep a recognizable face (and very well played, interesting character) at the heart of one of the sides of the story, to balance off the real overhaul on the other, with the Cali "Gentlemen" stepping to the fore.
The main players in Cali (in Narcos) are Gilberto Rodriguez (Damian Alcazar), Manuel Rodriguez (Francisco Denis), "Pacho" (Alberto Ammann), and "Chepe" Santacruz (Pepe Rapazote), and later in the season, Manuel's son David (Arturo Castro), and each one is given several moments to shine throughout the season, particularly Manuel, with Denis needing to put the character through a helluva mental transformation, and the wonderfully terrifying Pacho. The one thing that Narcos has always nailed is the ability to portray its' villains/antagonists as both grounded and human--you may not like what the characters do, but you will at the very least come to appreciate and/or understand them as people. It's weird, but Chepe feels like that guy at work we all know, or even that uncle we all have by the end, even though he is, at his core, a ruthless cocaine trafficker.
If I'm talking about characters though, for me the standout of Season 3 was Jorge Salcedo (brilliantly played by Matias Varela) as the head of the Cartel Security. He was not only a fascinating character, but his character arc was subtle, yet beautifully handled, with a thoughtful and nuanced performance, and I found myself looking forward to getting back to his story every time the show returned to him. Hanging almost a third of the framework of the season around a "new" character is a gamble, but in this case, it paid of in spades.
The style of Narcos has always really appealed to me, and I feel like they continued to execute that in this season incredibly well; as the soundtrack moves into the mid-90s, it gets more recognizable, and the use of locations is always appreciated, as there's nothing that can feel like a place better than the place itself (sorry backlots). I've always been a fan of the fact that the show fluidly switches between Spanish and English, rather than forcing it all into English, or *shudder* dubbing it...it's hard to describe feel, but for whatever reason, that choice has always just grounded the show for me in a way that many fail to.
Check out the Season 3 trailer to get a sense of what I mean (again, spoilers for Seasons one and two):
Narcos just feels different than almost any other program out there, and I love it for that.
If I had any problems with Season 3, they were largely to do with the sudden accelerated timeline at the very end. I don't want to say anything (to keep with my no spoilers promise) but I feel that, while the final two episodes of the season were some of the best the series has ever had, the ending suddenly kicked into another gear and covered a lot of things that I would've been happy spending more time with. I suppose this could be down to wanting to have the action-heavy finale that we ended up with, but it also feels like it was necessary to push the series in a new direction for Season 4...which...I don't know it remains to be seen how that all plays out.
That said, there's a gut-punch of realism in there that, while risky, works out well, and upon refection feels pretty awful (but in the best way possible).
If you have never seen Narcos, I do suggest checking it out (and starting from the beginning), and if you have enjoyed the first two seasons, I think you are really going to enjoy everything Season 3 has to offer. This is a show about a subject that I knew very little about, but seeing it dramatized like this has gotten me to look into it a bit, and even if you don't, you're in for a good story.
Plus, we all could use more CIA Bill in our lives.
Because CIA Bill.