Narcos (2016) Season 2 Review!!

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Synopsis – A chronicled look at the criminal exploits of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar.

Episodes – S02E01 to S02E10

My Take – It took me a while to get around to watching the 1st season of this excellent Netflix original series. Narcos is a very consistent, non-exploitative look at the world of drug smuggling. It has great characters and offers some of the most dramatic approaches to real live events. This series is a prime example of new media’s ability to generate content that is not beholden to the advertising driven content creation of yesteryear. While employing many mundane story telling devices such as voice-over and smash cuts for dramatic effect, it also offers the viewer a rare cultural emersion through lenses focused on the lush jungles that surround Medellin and the cityscapes of Bogota and more importantly, the shows bilingual dialogue. Often times, having to read subtitles reminds the viewer that he/she is watching something foreign and thereby limits the willing suspension of disbelief, however, the easy back and forth between Spanish and English here allows for a viewing experience that doesn’t let cultural disparity get in the way. Before I say more I must warn the following contains spoilers.

NarcosWith overwhelming enthusiasm, I started watching Season 2, while the early episodes build up the momentum, its the final four were the intensity reaches its maximum. Few of the startling twists in the plot have been portrayed well. Standing on its own, Narcos is a brilliant mind numbing portrayal of a man who embodies everything wrong with being on the other side and still no sign of remorse till the very end. Its a story about the never ending greed and narcissistic ambition to conquer the world by ruining nations and destroying umpteen lives. Escobar has been everything which mankind has seen time and again for notoriety to the likes of merciless dictators without any thought about consideration for doing the right thing. Narcos shows what that life has been all about in depth in turn creating that fine balance between the grey characters and Escobar himself to justify the expected conclusion. The second season of the Netflix original series Narcos continues to tell the story of Columbia drug lord, Pablo Escobar (Wagner Moura), and the DEA (Boyd Holbrook and Pedro Pascal) hot on his trail. The first season captured the rise of Escobar to great wealth and prominence in the business of cocaine, and the second season captures his fall. Frustrated after the prison escaped that capped off the first season, the Columbian government, the DEA and CIA turn to more drastic methods to overcome Pablo and his gang of thugs by making allies with many questionable characters. Season one of Narcos was a sublime firecracker: a ten-hour gangster movie that applied the genre’s most satisfying clichés to the real life rise and fall of Colombian cocaine baron Pablo Escobar. Season two is perceptibly darker. Last year’s faintly absurdist chronicling of Escobar’s ascension from small-time smuggler to internationally notorious multi-billionaire has given way to the grittier story of a dirty war raged for the hearts and minds of an unstable South American democracy. The switch in tone asks uncomfortable questions of the audience. Early on we knew who to root for, with DEA agent Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook) the white-hatted sheriff dispatched by Uncle Sam to help bring order to Eighties Colombia.

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As the story resumes, Escobar has escaped prison – a glorified holiday camp to which the authorities turned a blind eye – and is determined to rebuild his empire. On the back foot, he is more ruthless than ever, prompting Colombia’s new hardline President Gaviria (Raúl Méndez) to respond in kind. Reflecting the true-life trajectory of the country’s narco wars, there are atrocities on both sides. Murphy and his associates’ claim to the moral high ground is soon precipitous at best.  This is a skilful sleight of hand by the show’s creators and writers Chris Brancato, Carlos Bernard and Doug Miro. An early scene in which ruthless police chief Carrillo (Maurice Compte) shoots one of Escobar’s street urchin spies through the head (a warning to others in Pablo’s employ) is followed by him chucking two minor drug runners from a helicopter, an act with chilling echoes of the Argentine junta’s treatment of political rivals. Escobar was clearly a monster – but did that justify the monstrous response of the Colombian state? As the bodies pile higher and higher, Narcos sheds its action movie outer skin and evolves into something smarter and more ambiguous. Season two builds to a suitably grand climax — no spoilers here, but, uh, if you know anything about Pablo Escobar, you can probably guess what I’m referring to. This is not to say you shouldn’t watch it. In particular, fans of season one — and of Wagner Moura’s performance as an Escobar who seems to constantly be positioning himself for ironically doomed foreshadowing — will likely feel that season two is a suitably impressive step forward. Pablo Escobar was the one thing about Narcos’ first season that kept me watching. The DEA agents and Colombian police officers tasked with bringing him down were comparatively dull — especially as the show dug into the drastically different sides of Escobar’s personality, which could help Colombia’s poor with one hand while the other was ordering the murder of dozens. Part of that was thanks to Moura’s performance, which carried with it a heavy grandeur, as if Escobar knew his operation could only end in his death, even when he was becoming one of the richest men on Earth. Moura so ably played Escobar’s many personas, from loving family man to ruthless criminal, that he could briefly make you forget how much TV has overdosed on antihero shows. So it’s a relief that season two spends much, much more time with Escobar than season one did. Where season one frequently felt like a dry informational seminar on the techniques the DEA used to disrupt Escobar’s distribution networks in the ‘80s and ‘90s, season two is comfortable with the idea that the viewer might want to see Escobar escape into the night — all historical evidence to the contrary. And by shifting the focus more forthrightly to Escobar, Narcos also subtly refocuses its look at law enforcement. Sure, the DEA agents who took up so much of season one are still around, but Boyd Holbrook’s Steve Murphy — the show’s narrator — takes a backseat to Pedro Pascal’s Javier Peña (who entertains various deals with various devils) and the Colombian police officers who grapple with what it might mean to take down a national folk hero. One of the few things I liked about season one was how heedlessly it plunged forward through time. Even though it knew Escobar’s death came at a fixed point in history — December 2, 1993, to be exact — it began in the 1970s and came within spitting distance of that death by the end of season one. Make no mistake: Narcos thinks it’s a good thing that the DEA and Colombian law enforcement brought down Pablo Escobar. It knows he was an agent of chaos, responsible for the deaths of hundreds, and maybe even thousands if we include the indirect deaths that came about as the result of the growth of drug-related crime. But in season two, the show is more willing to grapple with the fact that, in their single-minded pursuit of Escobar, law enforcement officials did some terrible things — while inadvertently clearing space for the Cali cartel (Escobar’s rivals) to expand its own operation.

narcos-season-2-review-04I was especially taken with an episode in which the DEA leans heavily on every government official it can think of to make sure that Escobar’s wife, mother, and children — all innocent of any crime other than being associated with the man they all loved — aren’t allowed to escape to another country. If they can make it into Germany (the country they choose to flee to), they’ll be safe. Back in Colombia, they’ll be threatened by Los Pepes, a group with ties to the Cali cartel (and other drug traffickers) that’s killing anyone associated with Escobar. But if they remain in Colombia, the DEA reasons, Escobar might be more likely to slip up and put himself out in the open, where he can be arrested or shot. Narcos doesn’t back away from the cold calculus inherent in this equation. My major complaint about Narcos season one was that Murphy was constantly telling the viewer exactly what was happening onscreen, via voiceover. It felt a little insulting — like Narcos didn’t trust viewers to follow along, or to pay attention to a show with so much Spanish language dialogue. Well, season two has improved on Murphy’s voiceover in one regard: There’s a whole lot less of it. Murphy might narrate a couple of scenes in each episode, but the wall-to-wall chattering that defined much of the first half of season one is gratifyingly absent. The 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, makes little sense and feels wedged in to create a story that isn’t just about American government agents or members of the cartel. A special mention to Cristina Umaña as rival cocaine kingpin Judy Moncada, who she plays with equal parts vengeance and scheming, put that character in a flowy high-fashion pantsuit and cast her in a telenovela. The DEA agents played by Pascal and Holbrook really rock the “moustaches and Aviators” look for all its worth, especially when they show up on raids, as required by the federal law enforcement handbook, probably. The rest of the cast is equally amazing and they all perfectly capture the duality of their characters. From a doting father and a loving husband to a crazed drug lord or vengeful cop, every emotion is perfectly portrayed. The cast raised the show to a whole new level. On the whole, ‘Narcos’ Season 2 perfectly concludes Escobar’s arc with perfect realism, right amount of emotional content and new levels of tension. Must Watch!

4.5

Creators – Carlo Bernard,  Doug Miro,  Chris Brancato

Starring – Wagner Moura,  Boyd Holbrook,  Pedro Pascal

Status – Season 2 (Completed)

Network – Netflix

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