Wait -- Is 'Narcos' the Best Show on Netflix Now?
I was nervous for Season 2 of Narcos. Season 1 of the Netflix Original Series detailed the rise of Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, so it was inevitable that he would fall in Season 2. But off-season chatter about conflicts behind the scenes (plus the ousting of showrunner Adam Fierro for Eric Newman and José Padilha) made it a toss-up as to whether it would go off the rails. And no, that wasn't a coy drug reference, DAD.
Because I don't want you to waste your finite, precious peak TV-watching hours, I crushed through the entire second season of Narcos over a few days to find out whether you should dig right in, or save your strength for the return of Gilmore Girls.
How does this season compare to the last one?Narcos Season 2 is more contemplative and slower-moving than the first season, offering a deeper exploration into the mental and literal breakdown of Escobar, his empire, and the DEA agents chasing him. It's a morally bankrupt game on both sides: for Escobar, it's about survival and preserving his family; for the Colombian government and the DEA, it's about making deals with smaller devils to catch the biggest one.
The season makes up for what's often too static a focus on that fight with a mix of nefarious and mostly entertaining side characters, a sometimes touching story of a man who has nothing to hold onto except his family, and just enough magical realism to remind you that this is, first and foremost, a Colombian story.
How does Wagner Moura handle Pablo Escobar this season?I hope you like Pablo, because the season centers on him as he hides himself and his family throughout Colombia. There's a lot of scenes featuring Escobar sitting in a house or lying down in grass or walking around an empty swimming pool and talking on a radio. Because this is the "downfall” side of things for the drug lord, his moods basically range from glum to psychopathically enraged, and Moura captures that somewhat limited range of emotional space rather well.
Also, Moura reportedly hated gaining 40lbs for the first season (his cholesterol was terrible and he had to go vegan to lose the weight), so he's very clearly and quite hilariously wearing a fake belly in this one. In one scene, it looks like Moura glued a dozen World Book encyclopedias together and stuffed them up his shirt.
Has Moura's Brazilian-Portuguese-accented Spanish improved this season?I don't speak Spanish, so I don't know! But I made my Brazilian friend watch an episode with me, and she said he no longer just sounds like a Brazilian who "went to university in Colombia for a semester and watched a lot of gangster movies." I assume that's a positive.
Are there any new characters worth watching?Well, Eric Lange as the basically omniscient CIA station chief is a revelation. He always looks like he just came from playing 20 consecutive hours of video games in someone else's mother's basement, but then he sits with a smug smile, says nebulous, vaguely threatening things, and knows everything the DEA is planning to do. His over-casualness both in attire and demeanor (especially in a scene with the newly installed head of the DEA in Colombia that takes place at a formal embassy party) somehow makes it all feel much more dangerous.
But what about the cartel guys? Can anyone compete with Luis Guzmán's character from last season?Sadly, there is no one who possesses quite the crazy of Guzmán's rocket-launcher-toting, Mexican-culture-loving José Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha, but the most fascinating aspect of the show continues to be the cartel character scheming and plotting and murdering around Escobar. This season features a mishmash of criminals rising up to fill the void left by Escobar, or -- in the case of the homicidal vigilante supergroup Los Pepes -- openly trying to murder everyone ever associated with him.
You get the right-wing paramilitary psycho Castaño Brothers (who have a predilection for posing murdered narcos in Museum of Natural History-style dioramas); the chubby, deep-voiced CI for DEA Agent Pena and General Dangerous Person Don Berna; Judy Moncada, the wife of recently murdered-by-Pablo narco trafficker Kiko, who has a giant painting of herself with a white tiger (as per the early '90s trend); Ricardo Prisco, a cartel associate who doubles as the world's worst medical doctor; and the upscale, classy gentlemen of the Cali Cartel, aka the drug association of choice for people who went to boarding school in New Hampshire.
Does DEA Agent Murphy still narrate in an annoying manner?Not as much! Although I enjoy learning things, Agent Murphy's dual role as narrator and major character in the first season caused the show to over-explain things it could have just had us watch go down. Perhaps they did this because 75% of the show is in Spanish (which is absolutely the correct way to do it -- I've always disliked movies that, say, were about Russia during the Cold War, but the characters spoke to each other in Russian-accented English), and they felt like an English-speaking audience would miss their native tongue if Murphy didn't jump in and tell you the facts.
In Season 2, Murphy's narrations are cut down by 60%. His narration is even playfully interrupted in one of the final scenes, when he starts to get philosophical. Part of this is likely situational -- the first season covered many more years documenting Escobar's rise, while the second season only has one year to play with. Regardless, it is appreciated.
What are the best parts?Generally speaking, the eight episodes directed by both Colombian Andrés Baiz and Josef Wladyka (who spent years in a terribly dangerous part of Colombia to make the independent film Manos Sucias) are markedly improved over the first two from Gerardo Naranjo.
Specifically, there is one scene in which Pablo's sicario "Blackie" has been dispatched to the hotel where his wife and children are being kept under government supervision. Blackie clearly can't see them, but he recognizes that his boss is gingerly walking on thin crazy-person ice, so he pretends he has spotted them, closing his eyes and describing their outfits and demeanors to Escobar. It is a weirdly caring and emotional scene between two people who have played a major part in destroying a country.
Also, a few scenes in which a random family is shown having breakfast as one of Pablo's bombs goes off nearby, and again in a pharmacy after another bomb is planted. These segments follow that Six Feet Under style of suspense, in which you know something bad is going to happen to these innocent people but you're never exactly sure when.
Oh, and Pablo Escobar's outfits, which look like they were picked out by an '80s father of three managing an animal shelter in the cool section of a Midwestern town, are worth the price of admission. They're like Macklemore's ironic thrift shop wet dream.
Now give me some bad partsThe subplot involving an innocent woman named Maritza, forced by Pablo's new driver Limon to come along on a ride while Pablo hides in the trunk (See?! He's still a man of the people!), makes little sense and feels wedged in to create a story that isn't just about American government agents or members of the cartel.
The symbolism of Escobar giving his daughter a bunny, then being forced to take the bunny back and watch it in a cage BECAUSE HE TOO IS TRAPPED IN A CAGE, and then finally letting the bunny go is also a bit of an “OK, we get it” move.
And the ending of the entire season just rips a page out of The Avengers playbook. Hmmm, maybe that's a good thing?
Can you provide me with a ridiculous, awkwardly philosophical and out-of-context quotation from Escobar?"The men of always are never interested in the children of never."
In conclusion?If you enjoy watching somewhat historically accurate but exaggerated true crime shows featuring the fall of a faux-chubby Brazilian speaking Spanish and wearing Benetton rugby polos, you should absolutely dig into Narcos. Plus, they just announced there is going to be a third and fourth season, and trust me, you don't want to look like an estúpido malparido.
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