After two seasons decorating drug lord Pablo Escobar, Netflix finally broke free of the persona obsession to give a brilliantly assembled Narcos Season 3. The focus shifts to the Cali Cartel – who controlled 80% of the global cocaine business then – and goes in-depth into the capture of the cartel kings. The improvisation in this season is you breathe the story from point of view of the chief of security of the famous Rodriguez brothers, Jorge Salcedo. A person who wants to come out of this dirty business, (claims) has never killed anyone, willing to help the DEA close this cartel and whose sole objective is to protect his family and be a law abiding citizen.
The positioning shift
This is a massive ‘positioning’ shift from the Netflix series prequels. In Narcos 1 & 2, the ‘sicarios’ were generally reduced to trigger happy employees, partied with the best of girls and liquor and stayed ‘oh so loyal’ to Pablo Escobar – which isn’t reality though. The better series on Escobar, El Patron Del Mal, does detail at different points where Pablo’s henchmen dreamt of taking over the business or acting as rats. But Narcos, in its bid, to attract audiences and create a superstar, spent excess minutes dedicated to glorifying a monster. So Pablo staring at paintings, playing football with his son when not preaching moral science lessons, shedding tears while talking with wife on phone, their melodramatic separation scenes, different sex positions with Valeria, brotherhood scenes with Gonzalo preaching loyalty, staring at picture albums, a needless Gonzalo affair with Ochoa’s sister and many more such ‘masala’ weakened and dragged the previous seasons, notably Season 2.
The lessons learnt from Narcos 1 & Narcos 2
Narcos 3 has no steamy sex scenes (barring a necessary one involving Miguel Rodriguez), in fact hardly any notable woman character, no glorification of the Rodriguez brothers (who otherwise have absolutely suave outlook), no employee loyalty scenes and not a single cartel party scene. Pacho Herera (a brilliant Alberto Ammann), the gaylord, is kept a ruthless figure who even ponders breaking away from the cartel and Chepe Santacruz is the only one glorified as a one man ‘Colombiaan’ shooting around New York City. Miguel Rodriguez’s (Francisco Denis) character is well essayed as an unpredictable leader who oscillates between calm, respectful, classy to downright ugly; to the extent of side stepping his own brother and partner. Loyalty tuitions of Narcos 1 & 2, anyone? All these aspects improve Narcos 3 overwhelmingly. Also, removing, the weakest link in the prequel, Steve Murphy, and his constant expletive ridden sentences was another good move, although his stylish narration is at times missed!
Having eradicated most of the ‘masala’ components, Narcos 3 starts on a low note getting the audience used to the new regime and their complicated relationships. From episode three onwards it catches real steam and rolls on – episodes four, seven and nine, being real masterpieces. The key behind each of these, is the time, detailing, cinematography and brilliant camera work used in enacting the Rodriguez brothers arrests. These are episodes which will keep you completely glued to the screen and on edge of your seats. The way the DEA+ Colombian police fake a raid with a chicken truck to catch the kingpins off guard, how the local police try to help the antagonists and more of such cat and mouse twists. Filled with ‘eeks’ moments, the peak arrives when the DEA agents are drilling a hole on a wall to see if Miguel Rodriguez is hiding behind.
Entire Colombian Government on Narcos payroll
Narcos 1 & 2, while not investing desired time in the Colombian government’s efforts also miss out on the depth of corruption. Narcos 3 over compensate in such manner that you wonder if post the Pablo Escobar era, the entire Colombian government (from President to Defence minister to Cali police chief) got involved in taking bribes in excess. It’s this ‘can’t trust any government officer’ regime which makes you feel strongly for the DEA (well led by Javier Pena and decent additions in Chris & Van Ness) and their limitations. The DEA in Narcos 3, unlike in prequels, aren’t reduced to fuming agents, paying off bribes and screwing off whores for information just for a few unsuccessful chases on Sicarios. In Narcos 3, assisted by high ranking ‘rats’ and yet who can’t be fully trusted, the DEA get into leading solid leads or being part of each of the main arrests. The DEA roles are much well sketched here and no time wasted on showing whom they are humping and whom, adopting! Just hope the secondary role of Colombian police, is closer to the truth.
The Jorge Salcedo act
There is just one family the screen time has been invested on – Chief of Security Jorge Salcedo (brilliant Matias Varela). You view Narcos 3, amidst the mayhem, through Jorge’s ambition, expressive eyes and heart of hearts you want him to succeed in his objective of coming clean. Till the last episode, he doesn’t take a life, is only scheming to come out of this cartel ‘trap’, has the support of the DEA and is only shown trying to save lives of his colleagues or his men. That, he is a top notch security officer makes him be present at heart of the action, at the wrong end! During each of the chase sequences, you are on nail biting edge, wondering if the police + DEA will arrive on time or will Jorge get caught or can the drug lords escape or both! Jorge Salcedo’s expression and frustration are what you live this entire series with – especially when his bosses give him additional responsibility, change plans randomly or the bullying he receives from David Rodriguez (a menacing Arturo Castro) – notice Jorge’s eyes in the restaurant scene with David; You root for Jorge this entire season. The man responsible for single handedly bringing down the seven billion dollars a year worth Cali cartel.
Accountant Pallomari in dreamland
The other family given bit of air time -Accountant Pallomari who thinks himself to be equal to the bosses – is also hunted and reduced to nothing, quicker than he would imagine. Pallomari, all along, assumed himself to be as important and as in control as any of the Narcos leaders – and why not, he had the know how of how much bribe was being paid to which government official. He expected the sicarios to open the car door for him, pay him more respect. But as it happens in life, the hype means nothing. Pallomari was soon to find out that forget at work, even at home, he had no control. His wife was having an extra marital affair and his bosses looked at him, as nothing more, than an extra risk!
What to expect in Narcos 4
Season 3 ends with the promise that the following season would see Javier Pena leading the charge against Mexican drug cartel. Mexico is a heavy tourist country and here’s hoping post watching Narcos, the footfalls there don’t reduce. Colombia, for majority Netflix viewers, will surely be perceived as a drug menace affected country.
Also hope, actor Pedro Pascal, his DEA co-actors, Alberto Ammann (note his wonderful gay salsa dance sequence in Narcos 3), Pepe Rapazote, Wagner Moura, Tommy Vasquez, Maurice Compte (Carrillo of Season 1 & 2) as well as Matias Varela get prominent roles in Narcos 4. For now, Season 3 deserves multiple viewings, especially episode 4-10). Despite a slow start, it revives the Narcos brand dramatically from the lows of the drag Season 2. You miss Wagner Moura’s Season 1 screen presence and mannerisms, but it’s made up with a tighter script, brilliant camera work, meaningful editing and most importantly, removing all glorification of cartel lords.
IMDB viewers current rating: 8.9/10