Why did Pablo Escobar become a drug lord? We know why he got into the cocaine business — the money! — but Narcos has never settled on a reason why Pablo decided to turn into "el Patrón del Mal." When was his infamous persona born? What turned him into a ruthless kingpin, the kind of man who sets off bombs and smuggles in mattresses with money?
Last season, Narcos posited that Pablo's origin traced back to the Colombian politicians who laughed him out of the state legislature. In "Los Pepes," the drug-lord lifestyle has served a more material purpose: It allowed Pablo and Gustavo to take over that racetrack, and, as he reminds his son throughout this Christmas-themed episode, it means that Santa will always bring them what they want. Whatever the reason, "Los Pepes" forces Pablo to face the grim consequences of his plans: Gustavo is long dead, and Los Pepes burned the sicarios guarding his cousin’s old car. The good times aren't coming back.
After another attack sends Pablo and his family fleeing to yet another hideout, the Escobars are stuck in a safe house on Christmas Eve. It's quite a bleak scene: It's freezing inside, with only canned food to eat. For all of this season's focus on the importance of having hard cash, Pablo resorts to torching bundles of money just to keep his daughter warm.
Meanwhile, Los Pepes are littering Medellín with the corpses of his men, inspiring Pablo — who immediately guesses who's behind the get-Pablo coalition — to respond by bombing a Cali Cartel wedding. But even as he escalates the violence, he's still losing to Los Pepes.
Back in Cali, cartel leader Gilberto is marrying off his daughter at the aforementioned wedding, which presents Pablo with an incredible opportunity to snuff out the rival cartel's leaders and cripple the Los Pepes alliance. But after Gilberto's daughter and her new husband pull an Edmure Tully and sneak out for some necking right before the wedding violence, Pablo's bomb fails to kill anyone important.
Instead, Pablo winds up hurting his own family. Tata's brother Carlos, desperately tries to convince him to send her out of the country, only to wind up executed in front of his sister by a member of Los Pepes. And before that happens, Pablo's mother, Hermilda, sneaks out for Christmas Eve mass. (Is she a devout believer, or is she suffering an acute case of cabin fever? You decide!) Her driver, who looks to be about 14 years old, has never been given a line of dialogue before this episode, so he's essentially a red shirt.
Narcos knows he's going to die. The viewers know he's going to die. Even he probably knows he's going to die, especially after he makes the baffling decision to break Pablo's orders and drive Mama Escobar to Christmas mass. Los Pepes follow Hermilda back to the safe house, setting up the raid that kills Carlos, nearly wipes out the entire Escobar family, and features a tracking shot that would make Rust Cohle proud.
On the other side of the law, Peña has his own reasons to question the decision-making process, as Encyclopedia Murphy inches closer to discovering his arrangement with Los Pepes. In a roadblock showdown outside Blackie's girlfriend's house, the Castaños nearly gun down the Search Bloc captain's son, ceasing their assault only after Peña intervenes.
For all the trouble they cause, it’s not even clear that Los Pepes are worth it. Are they really more effective than Search Bloc? After Peña tips the death squad to the location of cartel operator Jairo, they nab him right before Search Bloc would have — and don't even bother with an interrogation before killing him. Los Pepes were supposed to pressure Pablo in ways that Search Bloc couldn't. But now, all the communiques and mutilated corpses have marked the anti-Pablo alliance as targets — as the normally low-profile Cali Cartel is unhappy to realize.
When Murphy figures out what his partner's doing with Los Pepes, Peña pleads that his involvement means he can control the group. But after Los Pepes kill Blackie's pregnant girlfriend and her father, Murphy has no such illusions: "Shit's getting real."
The murder of Blackie's girlfriend puts more pressure on President Gaviria and Ambassador Crosby, who have practiced a deliberate indifference to Los Pepes and their methods. Not enough pressure to actually do anything, though: When Martinez asks for permission to pursue the death squad, Gaviria pushes him off, telling him to focus instead on Pablo.
Perhaps Gaviria and Crosby can afford to ignore Los Pepes while their activities are limited to killing sicarios, but it won't stay that way for long. Gilberto demands that Los Pepes kill anyone who's ever met Pablo, which promises to ratchet up the bloodshed even further.
- The church has a string of lights that say "Feliz Navidad," which the episode's subtitles hasten to translate. Give us some credit, Narcos.
- Pablo might have avoided all this trouble if he just paid a priest to give a mass for his mom. These guys do house calls, especially for someone who offers a duffel bag of money for a new parish.
- We get a great tirade from Damián Alcázar, who plays Cali leader Gilberto. After Pablo bombs his daughter's wedding, Gilberto drops the cartel's low-key operating style to demand that Pacho add Pablo's secretaries to Los Pepes' hit list.
- How do we think the new American characters are doing? The deep-state jousting between CIA Bill (whom Narcos itself dubbed CIA Bill in this episode!) and Messina makes for a fun verbal showdown, but Ambassador Crosby seems to be taking Vice-Minister Eduardo's role as Gaviria's sounding board.
- Pablo's mom is so irresponsible, even Blackie and Quica flash "are you kidding me?" faces when she gets back from church.
- The chopped-up bodies arranged around Christmas lights!
- The episode's flashback to the race with Gustavo doubles as a reminder of what fun he was compared to Gloomy Pablo. This season's pace has definitely picked up from its earlier episodes, but it's hard not to miss the capers from season one, like Gustavo's seduction subplot.
- It's weirdly satisfying to see Pacho score an invite to Gilberto's cartel wedding. The other Cali members always treat him like a junior member, so it's quite a coup for him (even if the bomb gets dirt all over his suit).
- Of course, CIA Bill's real offense against Colombia's anti-drug efforts was not dressing up for the state dinner. Come on, the president was there!