Narcos Recap: Helicopter to the Dark Side

Wagner Moura as Pablo. Netflix
Episode Title
Our Man in Madrid
Editor’s Rating

How far will the DEA go to kill Pablo Escobar? Is there any such thing as "too far" when you're hunting a drug kingpin who nearly toppled an entire country?

Narcos finds its moral quandary in this episode, as Colonel Horatio Carrillo triumphantly returns from his Spanish exile to terrorize some teenagers. Meanwhile, Peña and Murphy realize that maybe Colombia isn't the eternal rush week they were lead to believe it was. It's hard out there for a DEA frat boy.

After last episode's disastrous police massacre, the government calls on the only man tough enough to take on Pablo: our old friend Colonel Carrillo. At first, Carrillo's return from his Pablo-imposed exile is shot like a getting-the-gang-back-together scene. Murphy and Peña have their buddy again, and his first order of "business" is peeing on a mural of Pablo.

But then Narcos remembers that Carrillo's ruthless methods have transformed him into the government's very own Pablo. Neither is really interested in money, but both are totally driven by revenge. To make matters even more dire, this post-exile Carrillo makes the Carrillo we knew look like the Pope.

The last time we saw him, Carrillo shot up a nightclub without worrying about any collateral damage. That horrifying act pales in comparison to what happens in this episode: A newly empowered Carrillo shoots a teen point-blank in the head to send a message, then takes two of Pablo's lieutenants on a one-way helicopter ride straight out of Operation Condor.

At first, Murphy and Peña fight to go on a one-on-one murder date with Medellín's hottest new death-squad leader. Then they realize that maybe murdering children isn't the best use of their time. (Good call, guys.) The DEA wanted to kill a drug lord, but did things have to get this messy? And is there any way these goons can clean up the mess?

Of course not! The DEA isn't even finished making unsavory allies yet. Smarting from Jaime's execution, Pablo's rival Don Berna decides to drop a dime and tell Peña the location of a newly acquired Escobar lab. As the would-be drug lord explains, he and Peña aren't friends. They're just a snake and a rat: "There are times when they see a big rat, and they both want to eat it."

Narcos handles all this emotional turmoil the only way it knows how — with a brooding montage. Cue Murphy guzzling brown liquor, while Peña has sex with the prostitute who told him to maybe start keeping a journal. It's a nice gesture, but a terrible idea, given the inevitable congressional inquiry that awaits the DEA's Teen Murder Gang.

Murphy and Peña aren't the only ones cozying up to uneasy alliances, though. Judy Moncada is on the run, so she decides to trade captivity with Pablo for some drug lords who will … let her live a bit longer before they decide to kill her anyway. Luckily for us, that means the Cali Cartel finally emerges again. In their first appearance this season, they're suave and slick enough to make me wonder for the umpteenth time why this whole show isn't about them.

Pacho, the Cali Cartel's go-to rep, is as much of a front man as ever. We're also introduced to Gilberto, the new brains of the operation. He is more interesting, if only because he loves to quote another Pablo (Neruda) dismissively at Judy. Of course, the real star of the Cali Cartel is former Medellín crony Navegante, who, as the Varys of Narcos, plays the delightfully underwritten master spy.

And so, Judy tries offering up the locations of Pablo's labs, but the cartel isn't interested. They want to know where's he's going, not where he's been. (How would that even make sense, anyway?) As Tata's late-night fretting reminds Pablo, we all know where he's ultimately headed.

Cartel Club:

  • At this point, it seems safe to say that we won't be seeing the drug-lord playboy Pablo of season one. The reappearance of sexpot broadcaster Valeria Velez all but confirms it. Velez doubled as Pablo's longtime mistress and go-between back in the day, and she's initially thrilled to see Pablo show up for one of Carrillo's near-victim interviews, but then she realizes that he's only there for the interview.
  • Okay, Don Berna: Who is the snake and who is the cat? Peña's got a feline quality to him, I think.
  • Great tension during Carrillo's murder scenes. It's almost unthinkable that someone aligned with Murphy and Peña would shoot a teenager, but he goes and does it anyway. Then, it seems like he can't throw both of Pablo's cronies out of the helicopter. If he did that, who would be left to interrogate? Carrillo does it anyway. The parallels to Latin American dictators' fondness for murderous airplane flights aren't subtle, but they hit.
  • Carrillo's murder of Pablo's spotters isn't just bad politics, it's bad strategy. Does he really think there's a limited supply of teens who want to hang out with their friends and occasionally use walkie-talkies?
  • Judy Moncada continues to have the best gags, and ones that would be difficult to spot without a pause button at the ready. A day after standing in front of her tiger portrait, she stands in front of a standard-issue samurai painting in the Cali Cartel hideout and pronounces it "hideous." When she's getting big-timed by the cartel, she trashes their "bullshit art" to their faces. Will Judy live long enough to freelance for Artforum?
  • "He pissed on your mural, sir."