A tighter focus ratchets up the intensity of Pablo Escobar’s final chapters. 10/10
The first season of Narcos was a sprawling historical drama, taking viewers on a journey that began with the birth of the Columbian cocaine trade in the 1970’s, through the heights of Pablo Escobar’s campaign of terror during the first Bush Administration, and finally, his mock imprisonment and subsequent escape from his personally designed luxury prison. Covering almost 15 years of history in 10 episodes provided no shortage of dramatic twists and turns with which to hook viewers on to the story of a mid-level thug who would become one of the world’s richest men.
That said, with this incredible wealth of material, it was surprising that the writers from the first season, led by showrunner Chris Brancato, allowed the story to reach all the way to Escobar’s escape from La Catedral in 1992, a mere 17 months before his story ends. After experiencing the rise of Escobar, the pursuit and slaughter of some of his closest (and most colorful) associates, as well as a campaign of narco-terrorism that will hopefully never be matched, would there be enough story left to be told for Season Two to keep our attention? Was Brancato leaving the cupboard bare for new Executive Producers Jose Padilha and Eric Newman?
The answer is a resounding no. One of the few faults to be found in the first season was that, with so much history to cover and minutiae to explain, it suffered from the weight of Murphy’s narrative exposition which was necessary to keep viewers from getting completely lost. With Season Two, the shorter timeline actually works in the show’s favor, allowing for a more intimate study of the drug lord on the run and the rippling effects of the chase on both those who aided and pursued him. Once you’ve viewed all 20 episodes of Narcos, it will seem as though the first 10 are merely the prologue to the real story the series is telling, which is that of a man who is feeling the past close in on him from every direction.
Boyd Holbrook and Pedro Pascal return as DEA agents Steve Murphy and Javier Pena but, with the U.S. Government prioritizing the capture of Escobar in an election year, are now just part of a larger team that includes a new ambassador to Columbia, a DEA superior to keep them in line, and a CIA presence, delightfully portrayed by Eric Lange as agent Bill Stechner. One definitive improvement made this year is that by minimizing Murphy’s family life that had earlier been such a large part of his arc, the spotlight is shared more equally between the two agents. Viewers are left to wonder how many of their principles will be left by the time they get their man.
Rounding out what are nominally the ‘good guys’ (though even Pena questions this at times) are the Colombian President, Cesar Gaviria (Raul Mendez), Vice-Minister Eduardo Sandoval (Manolo Cardona) and an increasingly obsessed Colonel Horacio Carrillo (Maurice Compte).
Still, all of the law enforcement forces arrayed against him may not even be the biggest threat to the renegade drug kingpin. On the other side of the law, the Cali Cartel, which was only hinted at in the first season, can smell blood and begins to move around the pieces necessary to eliminate their rivals in Medillin once and for all. They’re aided by the Judy Moncada, the widow of Escobar victim Kiko and a narco in her own right, as well as some very unlikely allies who will eventually become the bloodiest thorns in Pablo’s side.
Wagner Moura continues to be fantastic in the role of Escobar, a constantly simmering stew of cunning and rage, always keeping one step ahead of all his enemies. After his experience in La Catedral, he is newly committed to his wife, Tata (Paulina Gaitan), his children and his mother Hermilda, which permits us to feel a sliver of sympathy for an otherwise monstrous human being. Though his empire has shrunk, he is still aided by a loyal group of sicarios, among them familiar faces such as Blackie, La Quica and Velasco, and, as always, the people of Medillin who continue to regard him as a hero for the common man.
Where the tighter focus really pays off is the time spent with taxi driver Limon (Leynar Gomez) and his friend Maritza (Martina Garcia). Whereas before we had only fleeting glimpses of this war’s effect on the average Colombian, now there is time to explore how two heretofore innocents can have their lives upended by even minimal contact with a man like Pablo Escobar.
In our review last season the biggest outstanding question was whether or not this manhunt could keep us interested for another whole season. Not only do these 10 episodes provide a relentless buildup of tension and suspense that, despite the inevitability of its ending, will keep any fan of the first season enthralled, but they also allow for more depth to the show’s characters, increasing the stakes for all.
We will be reviewing each episode of Narcos Season 2 on our podcast beginning September 4th.