It’s uncommon for already launched TV show to slow down, come to shore, and pick up a few more passengers for its third season. And yet, that’s just what Narcos, Netflix’s original drama focusing on the Colombian cocaine trade in the ‘80s and ‘90s, is doing. On September 1, viewers who have slept through the Narcos phenomenon can get a taste of what makes Narcos so good: An intertwining of historical events and narrative, fascinating and morally ambiguous characters, and the violent business of the drug trade.
The first two seasons of Narcos focused on the most notorious figure associated with Colombian cocaine: Pablo Escobar Gaviria, the wealthiest drug kingpin of all time. The first season tracked Escobar’s (Wagner Moura) rise, and the extreme (and violent) tactics he took to hold on to his corner of the market. Season 2 followed Escobar’s emotional landscape as he was backed further into a corner by the DEA and Los Pepes, a vigilante group that hunted down Escobar’s men in a campaign that rivaled Escobar's own violent tactics. Alternating between Escobar and his extended network was the DEA’s scrambling to catch him.
What emerged from this taut dynamic was one of the most violent, gripping, thrilling cat-and-mouse games depicted on TV. Wagner Moura portrayed Escobar with such nuance that, by the season’s end, you were sad to see him go — despite the knowledge of the awesome havoc he wreaked on the people of Colombia by plunging them into a drug war. The end of Season 2 shouldn’t come as a surprise: Escobar was killed.
Escobar’s death left a vacancy in the Colombian cocaine market. Enter the Cali Cartel, the subject of Season 3 of Narcos. Fans of Narcos’ prior seasons will recognize members of the Cali Cartel as being part of Los Pepes, the group that helped bring Escobar down. As Escobar fell, Cali had been plotting its triumph.
In Season 3, the action moves from Medellin, Colombia, where Escobar had made his headquarters, to the lush city of Cali. Instead of following one drug kingpin and his gang of interchangeable henchmen, we have the four godfathers of the Cali Cartel, each with his own idiosyncrasies and Myers Briggs typing index. It might take you a minute to remember their names — Gilberto Rodríguez Orejula (Damian Alcazar), Miguel Rodríguez Orejula (Fransico Denis), Josè "Chepe" Santacruz Londoño (Pepe Rapazote), and Pacho Herrera (Alberto Ammann) — so crowded is Season 3 with fascinating characters.
“It was almost like a shooting a new show in a sense. Because we bring in all of these incredible new characters. And so there was a freshness to that,” Pedro Pascal, who continues his role as DEA Agent Javier Pena, told Cinemablend of Season 3. In Seasons 1 and 2, Pena gained a reputation as the DEA agent who brought down Escobar. Now, he wants to be the DEA agent that brings down the Cali Cartel.
As Pena will find out, taking down the Cali Cartel’s insane conglomerate won’t be simple. Unlike Escobar, who was showy with his persona, the Cali godfathers operated way under the radar, but still managed to control 90% of the world’s cocaine market. They were expert money launderers, operating behind 400 drug stores, and 6,000 pieces of property.
The Cali Cartel grew to control 90% of the market through cooperation, a skill set Escobar didn’t quite possess. The Cali godfathers incorporated other Colombian regions’ cartels under their umbrella. By giving the Cali Cartel a cut of their profits, the smaller cartels would have access to Cali’s distribution network and ruthless security.
Pretty good system, eh? So then why, at the height of its power, would its founder, Gilberto, decide to surrender to the police? Season 3 of Narcos starts just as the Cali Cartel has announced that in six months, they’ll be completely dissolving their links to the cocaine trade. Not everyone is thrilled with this announcement, including the cartel’s smaller groups, and even some of the godfathers themselves.
The DEA, now manned by Pena, isn’t keen on the surrender deal, either. Pena, joined by two new DEA agents, Daniel Van Ness (Matt Whelan) and Chris Feistl (Michael Stahl-David), decide to catch the godfathers — even if the Colombian and American governments don’t support their plan.
In Season 3, Narcos blossoms into its full maturity. If the prior storylines had been games of cat-and-mouse, then Season 3 is a game of chess from the very start.
“I think it’s more interesting. It’s more complex,” director Andrés Baiz told Decider of the show’s focus on the Cali Cartel.
This season of Narcos will have you guessing until the very end – and unlike as with Seasons 1 and 2, the plot twists can’t be resolved by going on Wikipedia.
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