Narcos season 3 binge recap
The war's not over
Pablo Escobar and Steve Murphy may be gone, but Narcos lives on. The third season of Netflix’s addictive crime drama hit Netflix on Sept. 1., and EW is here to guide you through all 10 episodes from the new season. Follow along with our recaps as you watch the “Gentlemen of Cali” make their moves.
Episode 1: “The Kingpin Strategy”
Javier Peña wants to make one thing clear:”I’m not a hero.”
Despite his protests, bringing down Pablo Escobar has earned Peña adoration from friends and family, as well as a promotion. And not just a promotion in the DEA — with the departure of Boyd Holbrook as Peña’s partner Steve Murphy, Pedro Pascal has taken the reins as the show’s lead and narrator. Peña’s prominence in the new season is the biggest stretch of the series’ true-story narrative, considering the real-life Peña left Colombia after the killing of Escobar. But with the loss of Holbrook and Wagner Moura, who captivated as the famed drug kingpin, keeping Pascal was important in connecting the stories and keeping an interesting presence at the center of the series.
After a trip back home to Texas for a family wedding and a heart-to-heart with his dad (Edward James Olmos alert!), Peña heads back to Colombia, where he has his sights set on some new but familiar targets. “To kill a monster, sometimes you have to get in bed with other monsters,” he narrates. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend until he becomes my enemy again.” It’s time to meet the Cali Cartel, a.k.a. the “Gentlemen of Cali.” We’ve previously been introduced to a few of these key players when they aided in the pursuit of their rival, Escobar. The men behind this empire, who were famously featured on the cover of TIME, are Pacho, head of distribution and security; Chepe (Pêpê Rapazote), head of U.S. operations; the trusted No. 2, Miguel Rodriguez; and his brother, cartel CEO Gilberto Rodriguez.
The four leaders are gathering all of their allies and associates together for a party where Gilberto will make a big announcement. Among those in attendance are Jorge, a trusted member of the security team, who is getting ready to leave the business (that never works out); Navegante, the intimidating enforcer; Pallomari, chief accountant for the cartel; North Valley Cartel member Claudio Salazar and his wife, Maria; and Andres, who is going undercover as a waiter for DEA agents Lopez and Duffy (what isn’t Shea Whigham in?).
Before we even get to Gilberto’s reveal, the party has plenty of significant developments. First, Andres’ not-so-secret camera (which is pretending to be a button) draws Jorge’s attention. But instead of letting Navegante handle it in a sure-to-be-deadly way, Jorge takes all of the photos and puts some fear into Andres, telling him to immediately leave Cali for good. In reward for his good work, Jorge is told that the brothers need him to stay on board for a little longer. Meanwhile, Miguel, who is clearly accustomed to taking a back seat to his brother, has taken a liking to Maria, which makes him unhappy to see Salazar forcing her to leave early.
Beginning with a toast celebrating the death of Escobar, Gilberto announces that the Cali Cartel is negotiating with the authorities to be get out of the cocaine business within six months. Such a deal will include minimal prison sentences and the ability to hold on to their illegal funds. “We have six months to make as much money as possible,” he declares to rousing applause. Despite the seemingly positive response, afterward, the four Cali leaders meet in private to listen to wire taps of their guests reacting to the news. Most of them are talking harshly about the move, prompting Gilberto to give the order to take them out. Salazar is also on the tapes, but his only crime is being a bad husband. While Gilberto decides to let him slide, a smitten Miguel jumps in to say otherwise, suggesting Pacho take care of it, considering he already has a beef with Salazar.
Peña is back in Bogotá, and he’s barely settled in when he has a run-in with his frenemy Bill Stechner. The CIA station chief deems the Escobar/Medellin mission a “failure” and says Cali will be done differently because “America’s got plans for Colombia. Another bloodbath complicates them.” Peña isn’t ecstatic to hear that the plan is for the brothers and company to surrender. “And those f—ing guys walk?” he yells. If that’s the case, then he’s not sure why he’s even there. “Always helps to have a hero on board,” quips Stechner.
The hero’s newest lieutenants, Duffy and Lopez, are in Cali at their safe house awaiting Andres’ return. When the buzzer continuously goes off, they get spooked, sending them downstairs, where they find only a roll of film. As Duffy develops the images, the phone rings — which is concerning since they don’t even know the number to it. Bad news: The photos are of the lieutenants meeting with Andres. Cali knows all, especially since they basically own the phone company.
Salazar is dancing with someone who isn’t Maria at a late-night outdoor club when Pacho and his crew ride up on their motorcycles. As a token of respect, Pacho brings a bottle of liquor to Salazar’s table. They will drink together, but first, Pacho must get his dance on with his gentleman friend. Everyone stops what they’re doing and watches the feared killer and his young lover passionately dance, sealing it with a kiss. Surely tired from his dancing and in need of refreshment, Pacho goes back to the table and picks up the bottle, but instead of drinking it, he smashes it over Salazar’s head. They proceed to tie Salazar’s arms and legs up to different bikes and rev up their engines before ultimately driving off — and taking his ripped limbs with them.
Episode Grade: B+
Episode 2: “The Cali KGB”
The second episode picks up the day after the events at the end of the season 3 premiere, and many characters wake up to harsh new realities. Maria, concerned that her husband never came home, even calls his unpleasant mother to try to find him. Speaking of Salazar, Gilberto wants Pacho to head to Mexico to meet with drug lord Amado Carrillo, though the real reason is to let things calm down in Cali after the string of murders they just executed. Lopez and Duffy are also being sent away since their cover was blown when their pictures were plastered on the front page of the Cali newspaper. The Colombia government is pissed, so Peña is forced to put them on a plane back to the U.S.
We’ve met the Rodriguez brothers, but now, it’s time to get acquainted with their sons. Gilberto sent his son Nicolas to law school to keep him out of the family business; surprisingly, Miguel is the one who is grooming his son to follow in his footsteps, which currently doesn’t look like a great idea. David (Broad City scene-stealer Arturo Castro) screwed up big time. His plan to empty tanks of chlorine into nearby sewers left many innocent people dead, prompting unwanted media coverage and investigation.
With Peña promoted and Murphy gone, we meet our new on-the-ground DEA officers. Chris (Michael Stahl-David) and Dan (Matt Whelan) are engaging in some classic partner banter when Chris comes across some info he deems valuable enough to share with the boss. While there’s currently no team in Cali, despite having arrest warrants out for the bosses, Peña shoots down Chris’ request to head down there to follow a lead.
Still unable to track down her husband, Maria returns to her hotel to find Navegante waiting. That’s usually game over, but instead, he brings her to see Miguel, who tells her what happened to Salazar. Respect for being upfront about the fact that you murdered her husband; most people wouldn’t do that.
Chepe’s quest for more ether hits a bump when his usual supplier is fresh out because a new crew of Dominicans is buying all of it up. Ignoring Gilberto’s request to stay low profile, Chepe goes to scope out the competition at their beauty parlor in Queens. His relaxing hair treatment is interrupted by a group of gun-wielding Dominicans, including Gabriel Iglesias for some reason, emerging from a back room. Wanting Chepe and his associates gone, they begin counting down from 10, but Chepe soon helps them out by joining in the countdown. The two factions engage in a shootout that leaves only Chepe and one of his men standing. That’s going to be pretty, pretty high profile.
Jorge’s boss Cordova has tasked him with finding some information to blackmail the safety inspector who’s looking into the gas leak. After putting the whole team on it, tracking the man’s family, and listening to all of their calls, they’ve got something on him. On David’s suggestion, a reluctant Jorge is sent to confront the inspector with the information. It turns out that the wife is the one having an affair, but in another twist, the husband already knows about it, so he refuses to lie about the reason behind the leak — until he’s asked what everyone around him would think of his wife’s infidelity. This leads the inspector to officially declare the incident an accident.
Watching from Bogotá, Peña sees the inspector’s press conference and immediately goes to tell Chris that he and his partner are headed to Cali.
Episode Grade: B-
Episode 3: “Follow the Money”
We’ve met the “Gentlemen of Cali” and some of their underlings, but it’s now time to meet the “behind-the-scenes MVP.” Perfectly paired with Wu-Tang Clan’s “C.R.E.A.M.,” Peña gives us a helpful rundown of how the cartels launder their money. This leads to a lesson on The Clinton List, which bans U.S. companies from doing business with any organizations suspected of being involved with money trafficking. The threat of landing on this list leads a Bogotá bank to give Peña the name of Cali’s money launderer: Franklin Jurado.
“For all intents and purposes, he’s their money,” Peña says as he introduces us to Franklin, a cultured man with an American wife, Christina (played by Halt and Catch Fire‘s magnificent Kerry Bishé). We get a brief insight into their relationship when he becomes frustrated over her doing coke and she’s pissed at him for leaving her in Colombia as he heads off for business. Peña is tracking Franklin, and after spotting Christina, he puts a legally questionable tap on her phone.
Following the money launderer isn’t the only thing on Peña’s busy agenda. His plans to trail Franklin to Panama are shut down when Stechner shows up at the airport and says they need to give a tour to two visiting senators. Hanging out with his frenemy to escort around a couple of politicians is pretty low on Peña’s to-do list, but the feuding government agents take the senators to the jungle, where they find a camp with a crazy amount of dead bodies.
Peña soon realizes it was completely staged for the benefit of their visitors and threatens to expose the operation, but when he gets his chance, he backs Stechner instead and says a big win is coming. Despite seemingly landing on common ground, Peña and Stechner engage in a feisty back-and-forth. “I’m thinking about the next battle, the one that really counts,” argues the CIA station chief. Peña, who is pissed about Cali being allowed to surrender, forcefully responds, “Which means you’re willing to lose this one!” A baffled Stechner replies, “The drug war? Oh c’mon man, we lost it.”
Upon their arrival in Cali, Chris and Dan are greeted by Captain Calderon from the local police. They’re there to connect the dots with a list of addresses that could be related to the Rodriguez brothers. “If they didn’t own half of the city, I couldn’t even be sure they exist,” Calderon says. Ongoing negotiations with the government over their surrender have sent Miguel and Gilberto into hiding. Maybe Chris and Dan should do the same; they’re on Jorge’s radar as soon as they arrive. Jorge assigns Enrique to keep an eye on the agents. Meanwhile, Jorge is tasked with picking up the cartel’s American lawyer, Starkman (played by Wayne Knight, best known as Newman from Seinfeld). During the car ride back to the Rodriguez estate, Jorge is shocked to learn that he even needs the immunity that the impending deal will provide.
Pacho has made it to Mexico with his brother to meet with Carrillo, a.k.a. “Lord of the Skies.” The man has rightfully earned his reputation, as he lands in style via a plane full of $320 million. Carrillo, trying to convince Pacho to stay in the game, offers to take him to Juarez to show him “the future.” Discussing Carrillo’s offer with his brother, Pacho hints that he might not be ready to give up this life. “I made a place for myself,” he says. His brother insists he should just enjoy his billions (I often do the same).
Not knowing that her husband is dead, Maria is faced with quite the dilemma. Miguel has offered her a fancy new apartment in Cali, but it’s sure to come with strings attached. Meanwhile, Salazar’s mom is pissed at Maria and wants vengeance against the Rodriguez brothers. Maria decides to accept the apartment on the condition that Miguel get her son back from his evil grandmother. When she begins to undress, he stops her and tells her to settle in. What a classy guy — besides the whole “drug kingpin who killed her husband” thing.
Chris, Dan, and Calderon have come up empty at their first few stops, but they think the latest office building might be worth checking out. Calderon suggests they go back to Bogotá to get a warrant. Much to his displeasure, it turns out they already have a warrant. Reluctantly, Calderon requests backup. Jorge hears the call over the radio and realizes the location is Pallomari’s office, so he begins hauling ass to get there. This is especially bad news since Pallomari is preparing some big-money bribes and ignores Jorge’s orders to get out.
Even though Dan thinks this is a waste of time, the team goes in. Somehow, Jorge has already beaten them upstairs, and as the police search the floor, he’s trying to hide the large pile of cash on Pallomari’s desk. Dan spots a present and goes into the accountant’s office, but luckily for the cartel, Jorge is hiding behind the door with all the money in a trash can. Not knowing they’ve missed out on the good stuff, Chris and Dan are confident in the haul of files they confiscate as evidence. They are less thrilled when Calderon, who reports back to Jorge, tells Dan and Chris that the evidence stays in Bogotá. The agents, on the other hand, are being sent back to Cali.
Jorge gets a much-deserved night off, which he spends at dinner with his wife, Paola, and some of the investors in his new business. As they discuss the delay in launching the security firm, David walks in and waves at Jorge, who ignores his boss’ son since he isn’t exactly proud of his work for the cartel. David doesn’t like being big-timed, so he goes over to put on a show and make the sure men know Jorge’s true business, telling them, “He’s one of our best men.”
While waiting for their plane, Dan tells Chris about his time spent in Chile. Why bring this up? Because he detected a Chilean accent from Pallomari — and if the accountant is from Chile, he can be extradited. They blow off their flight and go back to stake out Pallomari’s office. Eventually, the agents trail Cordova and Pallomari to a house, where they spot Gilberto. The shocked duo report the news to Peña, who goes to one of the few men in Colombia he can trust: Colonel Martinez.
Episode Grade: B+
Episode 4: “Checkmate”
Peña and Martinez aren’t wasting any time; when this episode kicks off, they’re gearing up to capture Gilberto. While Martinez and soldiers are loaded into a chicken truck, Peña, Dan, and Chris are gathering the cell phones of Calderon’s men, whom they won’t tell the identity of the target. When they arrive at the location and key in Calderon, he looks more than a tad nervous.
Before they go in, Peña does his narration duties and gives us further insight into the identity of the Cali Cartel CEO. He has three wives, and they all get along. Armed with more friends than enemies, Gilberto is determined not to “die on some s—ty rooftop.” Burn on, Pablo. “You have to be crazy, stupid, brave, and lucky all at the same time,” Peña says of going after him. Well, Peña is all of those things, except for lucky, apparently. Bursting inside, they come up completely empty.
While Peña has Calderon’s guys still looking, Martinez’s chicken truck pulls up to another house, where they ambush security. When wife No. 3 answers the door, Gilberto is upstairs, thus giving him the chance to hide. Peña, Dan, and Chris soon arrive after asking Calderon for a ride to the airport, only to request a slight detour at the last minute. Knowing the likelihood of Calderon screwing them over, they take his keys and make him wait in the car.
This would seem to be a good time to have Jorge around, but he’s been tasked to go with Navegante to retrieve Maria’s son. The two very different men spend the ride discussing how Jorge avoids violence, which is why he doesn’t carry a gun. To a killer like Navegante, this is very confusing. Well, Navegante hates to say, “I told you so,” but a gun ends up being necessary when Jorge’s hope for a peaceful talk with Mrs. Salazar and her sons doesn’t work out. Thankfully, Navegante sneaks up and grabs the old lady, giving Jorge the chance to snatch the boy.
Gilberto isn’t able to stay hidden for long as Peña notices a creak when he lands on the steps to the tub. He opens them up to find Gilberto holding a gun. “I’m a man of peace,” argues the kingpin after he drops the weapon. Meanwhile, outside, Calderon has hot-wired his car and rushed to the nearest pay phone to call for backup. This leads to a high-speed chase through the streets of Cali. The dirty cops catch up and pull over the truck, but psych — it’s the wrong one. The real truck arrives at the airport, where they’re greeted by more police. Martinez is quickly able to talk them down, paving the way to safely load Gilberto on the plane for Bogotá. Despite the less-than-ideal circumstances, the kingpin is convinced the arrest won’t stand.
A confused Jorge returns to Cali, where, after reuniting Maria with her son, he and the other cartel soldiers must deal with an angered Miguel. He wants to know how this could have happened. David insists it was Calderon’s fault, while Jorge tries to take the blame, but Miguel is more curious why Cordova, the head of security, wasn’t on top of this. Now the new de-facto head of the cartel, Miguel updates his remaining partners, Pacho and Chepe, on the news, telling them to keep the business running.
Peña doesn’t exactly receive a hero’s welcome following Gilberto’s incarceration. Many high-ranking Colombian officials are pissed and debating the validity of the arrest, but the new president rules that it will stand. Peña celebrates with a drink, which turns sour when he’s informed that Martinez has been ousted from his position. “Men like me would give our lives to arrest a man like him,” says Martinez. “But now, you’re all alone.” After Martinez leaves, Peña goes to the board with photos of all of the “Gentleman of the Cali” and puts an X over the elder Rodriguez brother. In his narration, he declares, “Gilberto’s arrest proved that these guys could be caught.”
Episode Grade: B
Episode 5: “MRO”
Life in jail isn’t going too badly so far for Gilberto. He’s getting solid meals delivered and unlimited phone privileges, which he uses to call his brother, who seems even more upset about the imprisonment than he is. That might explain why Colombia and America’s governments are concerned that the war against the Cali Cartel could turn more violent with the loss of Gilberto’s “steadying influence.” After learning that his dad’s deal is delayed due to the wavering loyalty of some of their political allies, Nicolas goes against Gilberto’s orders and gets hands on with the family business. Following a meeting with an influential figure, he returns with a newly negotiated deal, much to the chagrin of his father. The new terms include three years of jail time and the requirement to surrender their illegal holdings. Nicolas pressures Gilberto to take it, but there’s one person who could be a problem down the road: Pallomari, who’s currently being followed by Chris and Dan, who in turn are being followed by Enrique.
With his brother in jail, Miguel has officially taken the reigns of the organization. His first task is to turn up the heat on his men in hopes of discovering if there’s a leak. As Cordova and Miguel go to search for answers at the phone company, Jorge tries to convince his friend/boss to take this matter more seriously, considering Cordova is dismissing Miguel as paranoid. Meanwhile, on the advice of his brother, Miguel is wining and dining Heneo, the head of the North Valley Cartel. The quiet meeting only gets more awkward when Maria and her son are spotted by the visiting kingpin, who upon leaving cracks a smile and tells his associate, “Miguel was scared. These guys are in big trouble.”
Our continued check-in with the “Gentlemen of Cali” takes us to Mexico, where Pacho and Carrillo are trading stories of their sexual escapades. Pacho recounts how his father kicked him out of the house as a teenager upon finding him with a boy. While some of his own family wouldn’t accept him, the Rodriguez brothers and Chepe always did, which is why he feels a sense of loyalty and can’t leave them to go into business with Carrillo. The “Lord of the Skies” respects the decision.
Cordova soon discovers that Chris and Dan never went back to Bogotá, so he and Jorge go to confront Calderon outside the police station. Jorge believes their inside man and wonders instead if they found Gilberto because Pallomari was driven there by Cordova. “You think Miguel will let this slide?” Cordova asks Jorge. “Not a f—ing chance.” He attempts to convince his “brother” to throw Calderon under the bus. “It’s either him or us,” he insists. Despite Jorge providing a small defense of Calderon, Miguel wants an eye kept on the officer.
Having taken down one fourth of the Cali bosses, the next step in Peña’s plan is to score a witness, and he has his eyes set on Franklin. The not-so-legal wire tap of Christina’s phone is working, as he learns that the money launderer’s wife is “panicking.” Peña tries to put his ladies’ man skills to work by following her to a bar and offering to buy her drink since they’re both “strangers in a strange land” (sorry, I just had a scarring Lost flashback). His moves don’t work on her, as she quips, “I get the feeling that just talking isn’t your forte.” When she gets up to leave, he reveals his true identity. She’s still not interested…for now.
The always persistent Peña later makes a house call to Christina, who’s busy dipping her nose into her husband’s business. “You’re running out of time,” he says, urging her to convince Franklin to help. He seems to have gotten through to her, because she calls her husband, but he isn’t particularly interested in discussing the matter, especially on the phone. While he’s most likely worried about the cartel hearing the conversation, Peña is the one listening, and he think he knows where Franklin is. Christina then reaches out to Peña, asking for time to get Franklin to cooperate and assurances that they’ll be protected. He’s cool with it, but what he doesn’t tell her is that he’s headed to Curacao to arrest her husband.
Perhaps due to a combination of guilt, worry, and regret, Jorge makes a surprise trip to see his daughters and wife. He’s quickly pulled away by a call from David, who says Miguel has called a meeting. Jorge’s immediate attempts to get ahold of Cordova are unsuccessful. If that weren’t reason enough to be nervous, the ominous vibe upon his arrival is sure to do it. With Miguel nowhere in sight, David welcomes Jorge and takes him for a walk through the property.
Against his will, Calderon soon joins them. Navegante proceeds to suffocate the officer with a bag over his head and finishes the job by drowning him in the pool. David is into it; Jorge is not. The house tour moves to another room, where a beaten Cordova is being held. They caught him making a run for it with his family. Jorge argues for his friend’s life, but all Cordova asks is that Jorge protect his wife, who is also being held on the premises. As David shoots Cordova in the head, Jorge runs to check on Mrs. Cordova, only to find her already dead.
With the dirty work done, Miguel finally shows up to rally/scare the troops. “My brother is in prison because we were weak,” he declares. “These are the consequences.” It doesn’t matter that the body is still warm; Jorge has been promoted to Cordova’s job as head of security. He really doesn’t have a choice in the matter. When he makes it back home, he needs a minute alone to throw water on his face and look at himself in the mirror. Later on, he heads out for a late-night drive, which, it turns out, isn’t just to clear his head. He stops at a building to use the phone but opens it up and puts some sort of blocking device on it. The recipients of his call are Dan and Chris, as Jorge warns them that the cartel knows where they are, adding, “I think we can help each other out.”
Episode Grade: A-
Episode 6: “Best Laid Plans”
“The body kept right on going.”
That’s how Javier Peña describes the Cali Cartel after the takedown of Gilberto Rodriguez. As big as that was, it didn’t stop the cartel’s production, and it certainly didn’t put an end to the violence. In fact, with the Cali Cartel staggering, everyone is keeping an eye on them and looking for an opportunity to take advantage of their weakness. When a chemical spill leads to an explosion in one of their New York labs, the North Valley Cartel takes note, setting off a chain of events that destabilizes the whole drug trade.
While the North Valley prepares to make their move, Jorge is doing his own moving and shaking. He’s spent much of the season trying to escape his situation, but with Cordova dead, there’s never been more of a need to escape; Jorge knows he could be the next dead body. So he meets with Chris and Dan and tells them that he’ll give them Miguel Rodriguez in exchange for immunity and safe passage to the U.S. Dan doesn’t believe Jorge is on their side, but Chris doesn’t see any other lead and thinks they should listen to Miguel’s new head of security.
Essentially, this episode boils down to two stories with similar structures: Peña trying to locate and arrest Franklin, the Cali Cartel accountant, and Jorge doing everything he can to hand over Miguel to Chris and Dan. Those two chases imbue the episode with a hefty amount of intrigue, adding some tension and stakes to a season that’s only managed a few highs so far.
While Peña travels to Curacao to go after Franklin, Jorge tries to play it cool back at the Rodriguez household. He’s butting heads with David, who’s been put in charge of Miguel’s personal security, but other than that, he remains a trusted member of the team. As a party approaches though, one that Gilberto usually attends, David needs Jorge’s help in protecting his father, who will be making an appearance where his brother normally would.
That means that Jorge knows exactly where Miguel will be and at what time, and he relays that information directly to Dan and Chris. Jorge hopes this will be the moment where they finally take out Miguel, and he can start a new life with his wife and daughters in America. Of course, nothing is ever that easy on Narcos.
As Chris and Dan debate whether to trust Jorge, Peña tracks down Franklin. They follow him to a restaurant, and once they spot him, the foot chase is on. Franklin nearly escapes, but Peña catches up to him in a crowded market square. The cops swarm and arrest him, bringing him to a plane for extradition. With that done, Peña calls Christina and tells her about the arrest. He urges her to get to the U.S. embassy quickly so that a deal can be made and the two can be given safe passage to the United States.
None of that goes as planned. Christina is kidnapped by Navegante on her way there, and the cartel’s shady lawyer comes to defend Franklin. Starkman tells Peña that his deal won’t hold up and that Franklin will be free in no time. Like I said, nothing is ever easy on Narcos.
As Peña’s plan falls through, so to does Jorge’s. Because of their hesitancy, Chris and Dan show up at the party without any backup; rather than preparing for an arrest, they’re scoping out whether Jorge is telling the truth. That turns out to be a huge mistake, as the North Valley Cartel hits the party, shooting up the place while other cartel members do the same at Pacho’s home. It’s a bold move meant to strike a significant blow to the Cali Cartel, and while they make a lot of noise, it isn’t exactly successful.
In fact, after Chepe murders a journalist in New York and hops on a plane to escape, the Cali Cartel regroups with a new goal in mind: total war. They’re not going to stand idly by while North Valley tries to move in on their turf. Miguel takes the lead and calls for war, and everyone else seems prepared to follow suit. As the episode comes to an end, Jorge has been promoted as Miguel’s personal security, the North Valley and Cali cartels are ready to go to war, and Peña is watching Franklin slip through his fingers. That’s a lot of conflict and intriguing storytelling possibilities as the season crosses its halfway point and begins to prepare for its endgame.
Episode grade: B+
Episode 7: “Sin Salida”
Every new season of Narcos begs the same question: How many failed raids can I watch across 10 episodes? That may sound snarky, but it’s true. Every single season focuses on the need to capture cartel leaders, and since you can’t have them all immediately arrested because that wouldn’t make for very good TV, there has to be a number of failed raids peppered throughout the season. That can make the show feel rather repetitive, as the structure becomes predictable: Peña gets new information, he organizes a raid, Narcos dedicates an entire episode to said raid, and once again it’s unsuccessful. It’s an endless cycle.
In a way though, that endless cycle contributes to the thematic underpinnings of the show. Each failed raid makes a statement, showing that the War On Drugs can never succeed because there’s always a new bad guy to catch, or a new set of corrupt bureaucrats who will get in the way. The DEA only recently arrested Gilberto Rodriguez, which was a huge win. But now they’re right back at it, trying to capture Miguel. There’s no end in sight.
Despite the repetition, this may be the best episode of the season. Peña’s latest raid may not succeed, but there’s significant tension in watching him, Chris, Danny, and a team of soldiers aggressively search Miguel’s home while he hides behind a wall with an oxygen mask strapped to his face. The episode works well because we know how much is at stake here: This raid represents perhaps one of the final opportunities for the DEA to snag Miguel, and it’s certainly the last time Jorge can give up his boss’ location without arousing any suspicion.
Of course, the episode isn’t strictly focused on the hunt for Miguel. In fact, an all out war is underway. At the top of the episode Pacho and some of his men stage a hit on some North Valley Cartel members, sending a message to the higher ups like Gerda Salazar and Orlando Henao that despite Gilberto’s arrest and the original plans for surrender, the Cali Cartel isn’t going anywhere.
Whatever plans the Cali Cartel may have, they mean nothing if Miguel goes down. That would be a huge blow to the cartel, and Narcos stages the raid in a way that underlines just how important it is for the DEA to get their man. The whole sequence is beautifully shot; it’s both patient and manic, embodying the ebbs and flows of the search. The team goes from feeling empowered and determined to uncertain about their role. When they can’t find Miguel anywhere, they begin to question the entire operation.
Then Danny discovers that the bathroom in Miguel’s apartment is different from the rest in the building; it’s much, much smaller. They begin drilling behind the wall, and Narcos once again indulges a stirring stylistic choice to underscore the tension of the scene. As Danny drills into the wall, we see Miguel cowering in the tiny space, barely dodging the drill before one finally gets him in the leg. He somehow stifles his scream, and the DEA doesn’t have him yet.
Just as it looks like Danny is about to break through the wall with a sledgehammer, Miguel’s lawyer shows up after being tracked down by David. He puts a stop to the operation, saying the DEA doesn’t have the authorization to knock down that wall. Once again, the Cali Cartel’s hired bureaucrats have stifled the DEA’s plans.
The raid isn’t a total failure, as the DEA comes away with a ledger that might contain information on coke shipments and briberies, but things aren’t looking good. Jorge is now potentially exposed, and his wife has taken the kids and fled the protection of their home; Chris and David have no options left; and Peña is stuck looking like a chump who can’t get the job done. As the episode comes to a close, the Cali Cartel makes a big play and hits the North Valley’s most valuable and essential port for smuggling drugs. The war is heating up, and the DEA seems to have no way of stopping it.
Episode Grade: B
Episode 8: “Convivir”
As the third season of Narcos nears its end, seemingly every single person is running out of time. Javier is running out of time to prove that he can make a significant dent in the Cali Cartel’s business. Jorge is running out of time to get his family out of Colombia and safe from any retaliation from his boss and his men. Miguel is ever closer to being caught, struggling to plug the leak within his organization that keeps sending the DEA to his doorstep. The nooses are tightening, and that means the action is really picking up.
The episode’s cold open is one of the shorter and more effective ones this season. Navegante, fresh off his kidnapping of Christina, pulls his car into the middle of the dark jungle. He tells Christina that nothing bad is going to happen to her, but as she’s walked through the jungle and into the hands of some soldiers, it’s difficult to know if that’s true. The soldiers walk all night, bringing Christina to a camp and putting her in a makeshift cell. She looks around, tears in her eyes and dirt on her face, and realizes she’s completely helpless. Then the credits roll, letting us steep in that uncertainty.
In many ways, this episode is all about the aftermath of two brutal events: the kidnapping of Christina in order to take away the DEA’s leverage with Franklin, and the near-arrest of Miguel Rodriguez. The Cali Cartel boss knows that he has a leak in his camp, and yet he can’t find it. Now though, the lead suspect is Enrique. He was the one who failed to radio in, and he was the one whose post the DEA flew through. So, Jorge gets a call to bring him in. While Miguel suspects Enrique, it’s clear that David isn’t even close to trusting Jorge.
As if the leak isn’t enough, Miguel is also dealing with his brother behind bars. The two are consistently butting heads over the direction of the cartel. Gilberto still wants to wind down operations and surrender, while Miguel is clearly taking a stand and fighting for regained control of the drug trade. There’s no compromise between these two, so Gilberto decides to finally cross a line he didn’t want to: He brings his son, Nicolas, into the fold and instructs him to lend a hand with everything that’s going down.
In the meantime, Peña is off to the Colombian jungle after getting word from Don Berna that Christina is being held there by communist revolutionaries. Thankfully for Peña, Don Berna loves killing communists, and he has private militia at his disposal. The partnership isn’t ideal, as Berna is an enemy of the U.S., but it’s a necessary evil for now. In exchange for helping him get Christina back, Peña will give Don Berna one “get out of jail free” card.
While Peña wades into the jungle in the night, Jorge is scrambling. He secretly recorded David saying that he doesn’t trust the head of security and that he’s likely the “Natalia” informant the DEA keeps talking about. When Jorge gets a call to show up at a random address, he’s almost certain he’s been found out and that his days are numbered.
When Jorge shows up though, it’s Enrique who’s strung up, beaten, and bloodied. Miguel and David confront Jorge with Enrique’s claims that the head of security has been working with the DEA. Jorge looks panicked for a moment, but before long he does what he needs to do to stay alive, going after Enrique and secretly slipping his DEA-approved pager into his pocket. When it begins buzzing, it looks like Enrique was the snitch all along, and Jorge is allowed to live to see another day. Enrique isn’t so lucky.
That leads us to a devastating scene where Jorge storms into the house where Paola, his wife, is staying and breaks down in front of her. Despite all of their problems and conflicts she’s there to comfort him when he’s scared, tired, and hurting. We get to witness the emotional toll this war is having on Jorge, and it’s not the final bit of moral reckoning in this episode.
That’s because Peña, at the end of the episode, has to reckon with the fact that he essentially commissioned the deaths of numerous men so that he could get one woman back. Christina lays into him for creating meaningless justifications for his violence, and then things get much, much worse. As Peña prepares to board a plane with Christina and finally bring her and Franklin together in order to take down the Cali Cartel, he gets a phone call. Franklin is dead, stabbed in prison in a truly brutal, gory scene.
The architect of this hit? Nicolas, Gilberto’s son. What does this mean for the cartel, and what does it mean for the relationship between Gilberto and Miguel? More importantly, does Peña have any other cards to play in his attempt to take down the cartel? With only two episodes left in the season, the answers should be coming at a furious pace.
Episode grade: B+
Episode 9: “Todos Los Hombres del Presidente”
With the season finale right around the corner, “Todos Los Hombres del Presidente” is focused on knocking down every piece that’s been set up over the previous eight episodes. Considering that Franklin’s dead and Peña’s latest plan to take down the Cali Cartel is suddenly no longer viable, everyone is scrambling. Peña is looking for another way to arrest Miguel before their informant is compromised, and Miguel is eager to put an end to the war with North Valley and reestablish Cali as the dominant cartel.
In the name of putting an end to the war and securing his spot at the top of the Cali Cartel, Miguel sends quite the message to North Valley. He dispatches a truck full of body parts with a note that simply says “call me.” We don’t get much of the details after that, but by the end of the episode Miguel has assured his men that they won the war and that North Valley is backing off. I guess severed limbs tend to put people in their place.
While Miguel works to shore up his business, Peña is convinced that somebody within their circle is working with the cartel, notifying them of the DEA’s arrival every time they organize a raid. Peña suspects Colombia’s Minister of Defense, but it doesn’t really matter: Peña’s off the case. He has until the end of the day to wrap things up and hand everything over to the Colombian authorities.
Of course, such strict orders only motivate Peña. He lies to Chris and Danny about the Ambassador’s offer to get Jorge and his family out of Colombia immediately, instead choosing to use him one last time to get to Miguel. It’s a dangerous play, but with only a few hours left on the case the DEA decides to go for it. They persuade General Serrano to help with the capture, which involves concocting a threat on Miguel’s home and then arresting him when he’s on the move. Jorge gives them the planned route of escape, and it looks like everything is in place.
Where “Todos Los Hombres del Presidente” really succeeds is in finding the emotional core of its action sequences. As is often the case with Narcos, the raid in this episode is wonderfully filmed. It’s tense, chaotic, and visceral, but it’s the emotional element that keeps the chaos grounded.
That grounding begins with Jorge heading home to his wife and helping her prepare for the worst. They pack a set of bags and then he shows her how to use a gun. He knows this could be the last time he sees his family, but at the very least, he wants to make sure they have a way to escape should the Cali Cartel come after them. Jorge’s story of wanting to escape the violent life of the cartel has been one of the season’s better subplots, and this short scene adds some welcome emotional stakes to the raid that comes later in the episode.
When the raid finally goes down, it’s a race against the clock, and not because Peña’s time on the case is almost up. No, the real threat comes from David, who finally puts all the pieces together and discovers proof that Jorge is working with the DEA. He calls his father and relays the video evidence, just as Jorge is trying to get Miguel and his whole team out of their apartment building and on the road so that the DEA can get their collar.
Chris, Danny, and a bunch of Colombian soldiers wait in the tall grass outside the apartment. They see Jorge emerge and wait by Miguel’s car, only to get called back inside moments later. Chris knows that Jorge’s cover is likely blown, and that they have to move now, otherwise Jorge and his family are dead. While Danny heads off to rescue Jorge’s wife and daughters, Chris and the soldiers head inside. They make their way through every floor, taking out cartel members as they go, but up in Miguel’s room Jorge is slowly dying.
Miguel has a plastic bag secured over Jorge’s head, attempting to suffocate him. As Jorge takes his last breaths, other cartel members drag their reluctant boss away before the DEA can arrest him. That move ends up saving Jorge’s life, as he’s not quite dead yet. The DEA storms the room, and Chris lets Jorge know that he’s going to be okay and that his family is safe. For once, it’s looking like the “good” guys might finally win.
Sure enough, Miguel is finally arrested, as General Serrano rams his car with an SUV and puts the cuffs on the battered and bloodied cartel leader. It should be a huge moment for Peña and his team, but as is often the case with Narcos, the arrest comes with its own hefty grain of salt.
While doing some digging on campaign finances, Peña finds that a bunch of money from the cartel was contributed to the campaign of the current President of Colombia. In other words, putting these cartel leaders behind bars won’t matter if the politicians are in their pockets. Peña takes his concerns to Ambassador Crosby, and that’s when he gets a shocking surprise: Crosby knows all about the connection between the President and the cartel, and he’s not going to do anything about it because the President, for now, is a friend to the United States.
It’s a moment of reckoning for Peña, as he has to come to terms with the fact that the government he’s spilling blood for is perhaps only exacerbating the war between the cartels. He finally sees his government as the violent, meddling body it is, and he’s completely shaken. As Miguel and Gilberto are reunited in prison, and Pacho and Chepe consider surrendering for the good of the cartel, it looks like Peña is out of options and the Cali Cartel will once again rise up, sooner rather than later.
Episode grade: A-
Episode 10: “Going Back to Cali”
Every victory on Narcos is really just a precursor to disappointment. Every time the DEA makes a dent in the drug trade, something happens to make sure that everything returns to normal. New bad guys pop up, or the old ones are let off easy. As the season finale gets underway, that’s exactly what’s happening. Pacho takes care of his revenge duties with the Salazars before turning himself in, but that doesn’t mean the godfathers are suddenly powerless.
Sure, they may all be in jail, but that’s exactly what they wanted. They’re billionaires sitting in minimum-security prison, just waiting to be let out by the president they bought off during his campaign. That tie, that political corruption, is why the cartel will never die, and why Peña has little hope. Peña sees how this all turns out: The godfathers, behind bars for now, will be out soon enough if he can’t find new indictments to stick to them.
That realization sets another race against the clock in motion. Peña needs to find Guillermo Pallomari, the chief accountant for the Cali Cartel. He needs Pallomari to decode the cartel’s ledger in order to really take down Cali and make some new indictments stick. The trouble is, the Cali Cartel knows this and is looking for him too. David is on the hunt for Pallomari, trying to find the accountant so that the godfathers’ surrender doesn’t turn into something substantial.
And Jorge is wrapped up in all of this. Just when he thought he was out, he’s pulled back in. Peña needs him in order to find Pallomari, and despite his wife’s objections, he agrees. He doesn’t want to see the cartel return to power, so he’s willing to do anything to help the DEA’s case. He tells the DEA about Pallomari’s wife, Patricia, having an affair with one of her coworkers, and from there they concoct a plan to tap into their phones and see if they can get a location for the wanted accountant.
Sure enough, after Peña confronts Patricia’s lover, tricking him into calling her and therefore revealing their location, Chris, Danny, Jorge, and Peña head to the apartment to convince Pallomari to come with them. While Patricia doesn’t want to leave, Pallomari understand there’s no other option, so he has his wife and daughters pack their bags and leave.
The removal doesn’t go exactly as planned though, as Navegante shows up, hops into Jorge’s car, and puts a gun to his head. He’s there to kill Pallomari and anyone else who stands in his way. For a moment, it looks like he’s going to succeed, but then Jorge gets the jump on him and kills him. With Navegante dead and Pallomari in DEA custody as a witness, Jorge can finally breathe a sigh of relief. He and his family can never come back to Colombia, but at least they’re safe from the cartel, as the Witness Protection Program sets them up with new identities in the United States.
As I stated at the top of the recap though, there’s no real winning here. Pallomari’s arrest does lead to the Cali cartel going down for good — Pacho is killed in prison thanks to his North Valley feud, Chepe is killed when he tries to align with old foes, and the Rodriguez Brothers are extradited to the U.S. when the corrupt Colombian President needs to look tough on crime — but there’s no end to the chaos.
In other words, taking down the Cali Cartel is just a Band-Aid on a scratch, one that distracts from the larger wound. That wound? The endless “War on Drugs” and the lives it ruins. Jorge and his family may be safe, but what’s become of their lives? Living within the protection program is “its own kind of prison,” as Peña says. Then there’s Peña himself, jaded and cynical since discovering that the United States Department of Justice has no interest in going after Colombia’s corrupt president.
So Peña goes the route of the rebel. He does an interview with a local news station exposing the president’s willingness to take cartel money and the United States government’s willingness to let it happen. He resigns from the DEA and retreats to a simpler life with his father.
In the closing scene of season 3, Narcos leaves us with one question: Is that really it for DEA Agent Peña? He tells his father that he’s “done enough” and that he’s through with the “War on Drugs” and its endless string of violent dealers and corrupt bureaucrats. And yet he has an offer from the government to go to Mexico, where they say the drug war is really being fought.
Isn’t that what they always say? Isn’t there always a new danger and some new set of bad guys to fight? Peña knows that’s the truth, but as he stares out across a river, watching as smugglers load up and start to transport drugs along the waterway, you can’t help but wonder if he’s about to be pulled back in.
Episode Grade: B