At the end of Narcos’ first season, the epic antihero and Medellín Cartel mastermind Pablo Escobar had just escaped his posh prison. Come time for Season 2 of Netflix’s somewhat perversely seductive series, and Escobar (played by Brazilian actor Wagner Moura) is ready for more law dodging, high-stakes coke dealing, gazing at clouds with his children, commanding the slaughter of 30 policemen, and embarking on other adventures on his slow path to an untimely end.
Whatever most people know about the man who made Colombia the world’s cocaine capitol and who became one of the most mythic and richest criminals, the expansive canvas of a close-up, serialized account fills in a lot of information gaps. Maybe more than we want, at times.
Hollywood writer Chris Brancato is responsible for the project, although the second season has passed to other writers. Narrative-wise, it follows the story both inside and around the enterprises of Escobar and his allies and foes. We are led inside the story from the perspective of our dogged but usually frustrated DEA heroes Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook) and Javier Peña (Pedro Pascal) while also being privy to the inner workings of the drug traders.
Brazilian director José Padilha, who was behind the award-winning film Elite Squad and the RoboCop redux, is well-suited to the job. He brings artful action and blood-lined suspense to the series — which is set and filmed in Colombia — establishing the tone and sweep in the first two episodes, which he directed, laying out the historical backstory of what became Escobar’s brutal reign and the choke hold of the Medellín Cartel. What began as a business smuggling TV sets before “pivoting” to cocaine in the late ’70s grew to epic proportions in the 1980s, to the point where Escobar had more money and power than he knew what to do with.
Moura, who starred on the other side of the law in Elite Squad (about Brazil’s SWAT-like contingent), brings a new level of suave menace to his role as Escobar. He coolly dispenses his retaliatory justice but is also a family man with a gentle manner at home, who proudly tells an interviewer that, despite the mayhem around him, he “sings in the shower.” But he doesn’t mess around when it comes time for doing business, which can result in severe consequences.
Toward the end of Season 2’s second episode, after a raid by the law that nearly ends the massive manhunt for Escobar, his revenge impulse is piqued (as we hear in DEA agent Murphy’s voice-over narration, “Close doesn’t count, and Pablo is never more dangerous than when you almost have him”). In a montage sequence with nods to The Godfather, Don Pablo dances romantically with his wife while his minions perforate the bodies of 30 policemen with machine-gun fire, the rat-a-tat in stark contrast to the sway of the music. Cut to end credits.
The story of Pablo Escobar, a supremely, efficiently evil man with the charisma to become a folk hero and even (briefly) win a seat in the Colombian congress, seems too strange to be true, and the sure appeal of Narcos illustrates our capacity of curiosity and even empathy with this cool agent of transgression. We want to hate him but can’t quite manage.
The Netflix series Narcos’ second season premiered September 2; the show is confirmed for a third and fourth season, as well.