Narcos Recap: El Patrón del Mal

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Paulina Gaitán as Tata, Wagner Moura as Pablo. Photo: Juan Pablo Gutierrez/Netflix
Narcos
Show
Narcos
Episode Title
Cambalache
Season
2
Episode
2
Editor’s Rating
3/5

Pablo Escobar is on the run and he's not happy about it, as the bodies of dead cops and prostitutes strewn across Medellín readily attest. Another day, another failed police raid, another cascade of Pablo-orchestrated violence. Like Murphy intones, "Pablo is never more dangerous than when you almost have him."

Unfortunately for Narcos, Pablo is also never more boring than when the police almost have him, again and again and again.

Remember when Harry Potter and his pals spent a book away from Hogwarts to play fugitive in a magic tent? It was terrible, and I fear Narcos is tunneling itself down a similar path into the Antioquia countryside. Let's be real: We're here for Pablo's desperate schemes and Peña's absurd womanizing, not to see the Escobar family hustle into a hidey-hole at the end of every episode.

A constantly beaten-down Pablo just makes for bad narrative. If the noose is going to tighten around our fugitive drug lord in such slow, obvious ways, we're left with even less to surprise us. This is a big problem, since we already know how and when Pablo will die. Of course, he's still got one potential route of escape: Tata's doomed pleas for Pablo to abandon his kingpin dreams and flee Colombia. So far, though, Narcos hasn't revealed which government would so eagerly accept a man known for destabilizing every country he visits.

Episode two also lacks the one thing everyone loves about Narcos: crazy drug lords. Not only does it not include the dentally menacing Prisco gang, we don't even see Pablo's greatest enemies, Don Berna and Judy Moncada. Has Don Berna found a new hapless accomplice to sacrifice? I guess we'll find out next time.

Also missing in action: the metrosexual Cali Cartel, which decided not to destroy Pablo last season because he can do a fine job of it himself. We're stuck waiting for them to reappear, too.

At least Pablo's growing desperation adds one new thing to season two: truly haunting violence. The slow execution of Limón's women might be the most upsetting act ever shown on Narcos. Other Pablo-ordered attacks have had bigger body counts — the airplane bombing and the supreme court takeover among them — but none have been more upsetting to watch than Quica methodically shooting each woman in the head.

While Pablo's fugitive status hampers his operation, the DEA crew gets some restrictions of their own. This time, though, the hindrances are actually interesting. Yes, Narcos hired its very own hardass character actor to take charge as the new American ambassador. He's joined on the flight to Medellín by Messina, the new DEA chief. Apparently, someone in D.C. got wind that Murphy and Peña spend most of their time beating up investment bankers and visiting prostitutes, respectively. "Get ready to get your balls snipped!" Peña moans, a not-so-subtle acknowledgement that Messina is a ball-buster straight out of central casting.

Still, watching Messina handle her fratty underlings while the new CIA chief sets up cartel alliances is loads better than the usual DEA plot sink. You know, that go-nowhere story line where Murphy complains that his wife opted to take their baby back to Miami instead of hanging around a narco-state? If nothing else, Messina's threats to kick Peña and Murphy to the curb have pulled the latter out of his apartment sulk.

Affection for the Medellín's resident doofuses aside, it's hard to argue that Murphy and Peña don't need a boss. These guys are dope dopes. Their failure to resolve a hot tip and catch Quica led to the execution of Limón's brothel staff and, less directly, to Pablo's coordinated attacks on Medellín law enforcement. Whenever they screw up, people die.

One more victim might still be added to that body count, too, if Quica ever manages to catch up with Pablo's one-time cab companion Maritza. So much for that budding taxi service, I guess.

Cartel Club:

  • How good is the opening-credits sequence? It's got redactions over documents and faces, it's got some cheesecake shots, and it's even got a tenuous connection to Strokes legend Fabrizio Moretti.
  • I'll admit it: Deep down, I admire certain things about Murphy and Peña's lifestyle. I wish I didn't, but I can't help it: the mustaches, the constant beer-swilling, the aviators, and the cruising around Medellín make them irresistibly cool idiots.
  • The new CIA chief doesn't say much at the meeting, but he's definitely up to something. That something might involve acting as the bridge between the U.S. and Don Berna's crew. To be continued!
  • In a surprising turn, Narcos has started to focus on Pablo's relationship with his son. Although it's natural that the Escobar family looms larger in this fugitive season, it's hard to buy the scene where Pablo knows how his son can find weapons in a video game, but doesn't know how to pause the game itself. Is Pablo 1337 or not?
  • There's nothing Narcos loves more than juxtaposing Pablo's music sessions with cuts to some Pablo-arranged assassination, an editing technique the show leans on twice (!) in this episode. Nevertheless, any chance to eclipse The Godfather's baptism scene was undercut in this episode's opening sequence by the poor lighting on Pablo taking a shower. Unless you've been closely studying Wagner Moura's silhouette, it wasn't even clear that the naked man we saw onscreen was Pablo.
  • Did Pablo look ready to abandon his wife and kids during the raid? Seems like he grudgingly decided to take them along.
  • After executing Limón's prostitutes, Quica is a shoo-in for the position of "Escobar crony we're most eager to see killed." This title was held last season by Poison, who was eventually murdered at the hands of a death squad. Good thing, too: It made the DEA's role in his killing seem remarkably bloodless. Can't let those guys catch too many losses.