Narcos season 3 review: Pablo Escobar’s absence almost made up for with a thrilling watch

This time around, the focus shifts from the cartel in Medellin to the one in Cali. Even without Wagner Moura and Pablo Escobar, Netflix’s flagship show is still a thrilling watch.
Hindustan Times | By Soumya Srivastava, New Delhi
UPDATED ON SEP 01, 2017 11:51 AM IST

Narcos (Season 3)
Cast: Pedro Pascal, Damian Alcazar, Matias Varela
Rating: 3.5/5

For two years, the best thing about Narcos was Wagner Moura and how he made us feel guilty for rooting for the biggest drug lord there ever was, Pablo Escobar. With the kingpin lying dead on a rooftop at the end of season 2, we were almost sure that it was our last tryst with the show. Certainly, nothing could eclipse the grandiose, drug peddling ways of potbellied villain. Which is why the idea of a season 3 didn’t feel inviting. But now, those premature doubts are all buried deep into the ground, much like Escobar’s dirty money.

This time around, the focus shifts from the cartel in Medellin to the one in Cali. We were introduced to them last season but this time, they take the foreground. Since Escobar’s takedown, Cali cartel too has started considering giving up the thug life. It may be run like a ‘Fortune 500 company’ or Narcos Incorporated with four godfathers at its helm, but even they can feel the DEA noose tighten around their necks. The drug lords and their partners are given six months to surrender by the Colombian government, with the promise of minimal punishment. They decide to pump up the gas (taking it to horrifyingly literal terms) and make enough cash for their retirement funds in the time allowed.

The DEA, this time represented by Pedro Pascal, has other plans. They want to dismount the four horsemen without letting them strike a clearly very lenient deal. And thus begins the cat-and-mouse chase.

After his charming and rather ‘mind-blowing’ act in Game of Thrones, no one really doubted Pedro Pascal’s ability to a headline a show of his own. With Narcos finally giving the boot to Boyd Holbrook’s dull Steve Murphy, Pascal takes the reins of the show and even of his role as the narrator. And he does it without making it sound like he is getting turned on by the cartel’s power. He fits the bill as a more serious, more focused man of the law, frustrated at losing in the drug war even as he wins every battle.

However, it’s the bad guys and their not-so-bad minions who take the best performance awards. Matias Varela as Jorge Salcedo, the Rodriguez brothers’ head of security, is the highlight of the show. He plays the enabler of the bad and thinks he is not made dirty by swimming in filthy waters just because he hasn’t killed anybody or sold drugs personally. He is so deluded that it comes as a surprise to him that even he could be tried in the court of law for working so closely with a drug cartel. Slowly, he spirals into making threatening visits to persons of interests, abducting children, hiding money from DEA and still doesn’t quite get a grip on the reality. He wishes to walk away, live a better life but without realising that he cannot blame everyone else for the one he lives right now.

History would have you believe that Cali cartel was far less violent than the Medellin cartel. They believed in bribing people rather than getting their hands and faces bloodied, chopping people up with axes in a fake prison they created for themselves. However, none of that translates much into the show. The violence may have gone down a notch but it is still here, pulsating under the thick stacks of dollar bills, threatening to pop up every time you expect a deal to go south.

What season 3 lacks in a terrifying but masterfully humanised villain, it makes up for in thrilling sequences in almost every episode. Each hour, you will be pushed to the edge of your seat as a thick cloud of tension starts swirling over your head. A man slow dancing with the intention to kill, another rushing to hide wads of cash from DEA agents, or one waiting for a showdown in a hair salon are scenes powerful enough to jolt you out of the heaviest bout of drowsiness.

Nothing has been quite the same since the first season of the show which, without any doubt, the few very best hours I ever spent on Netflix. But walking into its third season and without the towering presence of Wagner Moura, the show still manages to not make you wonder if he could somehow come back. That’s a feat in itself.

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The author tweets @soumya1405

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