Here’s the thing about Narcos season 3: it can be a tense and exciting cat-and-mouse game that quite literally makes your heart pound. It’s also a near-reboot of the Pedro Pascal-starring Netflix series. Gone is drug kingpin Pablo Escobar (Wagner Moura), and in his place are Escobar’s former competition, the godfathers of the real-life Cali Cartel, led by the Rodriguez brothers. If you’ve noticed anything about the previous three sentences, it’s filled with genius, ambitious, and powerful men — and they’re all absolutely devoid of women. In Narcos season 3, when women aren’t the objects of pure lust, they’re either crying or screaming in a corner.
The problem with Narcos’ treatment of women is immediately evident from the season premiere, “The Kingpin Strategy.” The first woman viewers see is Lorraine (Bre Blair), Agent Javier Peña’s (Pascal) ex, whom he could never fully commit to. Now, years after their breakup, Lorraine is a happily married woman with two adorable children. In this moment, Lorraine isn’t a character, she’s a pure symbol for the life Peña could have lived if he wasn’t so obsessed with his DEA work.
The next woman to pop up is Katie (Laura Londoño), whose name is never said and was only found by rampant Googling. Katie pops up in a DEA elevator behind Peña and then later again at a bar, just so she can give him flirtatious eyes. The last time we see her in the installment, she's asleep in bed next to Peña. Throughout all of this, she never actually says anything. She simply fills the role of “Pretty Girl,” as CIA agent Bill Stechner (Eric Lange) calls her.
The third woman to appear in “Kingpin” is the one to truly fill Narcos’ Crying Woman trope: Maria Salazar (Andrea Londo). Maria makes her debut as arm candy to her husband Claudio Salazar (Carlos Camacho). Maria is made to follow her spouse like his trusty canine companion as opposed to his actual human wife. The beautiful young woman immediately catches the eye of druglord Miguel Rodriguez (Francisco Denis). When drug drama ends with the murder of Claudio, Miguel decides to break the news to Maria, since his associates did all the killing. Immediately, the newly-minted widow crumples into a basket of tears in an empty restaurant. Of course, this emotional display follows an episode of a wide-eyed Maria running around Cali, near tears, asking if anyone has seen her husband.
Maria then switches back to the sex object role in a deeply confusing move. In episode 3, “Follow The Money,” Miguel gifts the object of his lust with an apartment, to make up for the murder of her husband. She eventually asks if the cocaine king could send for her son, since his paternal grandmother won’t hand him over. When Miguel agrees and confirms he’ll give Maria a stipend to take care of the boy, she starts undressing as a thank you. Miguel, the murderous gentleman that he is, stops her from making the deal a sexual transaction. This is good, but not anything to applaud, since Miguel is simply showing basic human decency. However, the next time we see Maria, she’s naked in a massive bed and riding Miguel. I thought this wasn’t supposed to be a sex thing? We never even see a “change of heart” from Maria. All she does is rub Miguel’s gray-haired chest and assure him, “It’s good to be here.”
The other woman forced to go along with the whims of whatever man is closest in proximity to her is Paola Salcedo (Taliana Vargas), the long suffering wife of Cali Cartel security chief Jorge (Matias Varela). When we first meet Paola she has tears in her eyes over the fact her husband won’t leave the drug business, as they had planned, for at least six more months. The next few times we see her, Paola’s sad eyes stare at Jorge, assuring him either she doesn’t need a mansion or understands why he protects bloodthirsty criminals. At least after all the stress Jorge puts Paola through, (spoiler alert) he’s the one who’s sobbing at her feet by the time the season is up.
The only woman who isn’t a teary, sad mess throughout Narcos season 3 is Carolina Alvarez (Margarita Rosa de Francisco) a journalist who is hot on the trail of the Cali Cartel. We never see Carolina even come close to shedding a tear over the men around her. In fact, she’s usually the one manipulating them into doing what she wants. When Carolina is introduced, she’s smart enough to try to get a police officer to spill a story over an alleged gas leak — which was actually a Rodriguez scheme gone awry — by questioning whether she should smoke in the area. If the incident truly was natural, lighting up would be the most dangerous option possible. Soon enough, we also see Carolina working with Peña, and she’s the one asking the tough questions.
Yes, the real life story of Narcos was filled to the brim with men, not women. Such was life in both the drug and federal agency business during the early 1990s. If the series wants to tell a true(ish)-to-life story, they need to at least attempt to stay close to the actual facts of the DEA’s investigation of the Cali Cartel. But, the scenes with Peña and Carolina have a level of tension and spark to them that the interactions featuring the other, usually very sad, women are sorely lacking. I’m not saying Narcos needs to invent women simply for the sake of having women on camera, but would it be so hard to give the women the series does need a character trait other than “needs a tissue and a better man?”
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