Murphy was written off the show and Peña is stuck babysitting senators in the jungle, but Narcos has brought back their bumbling buddy-cop energy in the form of chilled-out DEA agents Chris Feistl and Daniel Van Ness. It’s Murphy and Peña: The Next Generation!
In the first two seasons of Narcos, our DEA BFFs had a sweaty atmosphere appropriate for the coked-out ’80s, with Murphy especially coming off like he just robbed a gas station. In comparison, Feistl and Van Ness are ’90s bros all the way — these guys look like they were recruited from a Pacific Northwest hacky-sack circle. Van Ness even wears the very ’90s baseball cap and a T-shirt under an open button-down. These guys are so ’90s, they debate Speed on a stakeout! Is this Narcos or Clerks?
The year may be different, but we’ve been down this road before. The boys get an early win with the raid on Cali accountant Guillermo Pallomari’s office, for example, only to see it fall apart when they trust a Colombian police officer on the cartel payroll. They’ve figured out Gilberto’s location, but that big break will no doubt be undone once someone higher-up gets involved.
At least there are enjoyable moments along the way, like when Feistl surprises their Colombian liaison (a.k.a. chaperone) with a search warrant they already filled out in Bogota. Seeing Van Ness, who was reluctant to get involved in Cali, turn into a heavy as he braces the extremely hateable Pallomari is good old-fashioned Narcos fun. Probably correctly, Van Ness sees Cali as a dead end. Fighting the drug war has certainly been a career quagmire for Peña, who spends the episode getting foiled by the shadowy machinations of CIA Bill. Just like old times!
Taken on a tour with senators of a supposed guerrilla drug lab, Peña quickly realized that CIA Bill and his mercenary friend staged the bloody scene to win more congressional funding. But Bill doesn’t really care that Peña has him figured out, since Peña needs the funding as much as he does.
Peña is all raw emotions and resentment, as usual, but Bill wants him to just kick back and enjoy the madness. (It’s funny how Bill has always seemed fond of Peña, even as he foils his underling at every turn.) “Did you ever stop to think that anyone who takes this as personally as you do is doing it wrong?” he says. Forget congressional allocations and paramilitaries — CIA Bill just wants a friend!
Although Bill comes off as somewhat insane, he makes a good point: Narcos hasn’t made a good case for why Peña or anyone else should be eager for a war against the Cali bosses. Maybe I’m letting my moral relativism show, but the cartel’s leaders are going to give up the business anyway. The kids poisoned with chlorine gas aren’t great, but as everyone except Peña seems to realize, far worse lies in the future if the government goes to war with Cali. Still, Peña is heading straight for a confrontation with Cali: He stacks up multiple leads in the form of Jurado, the money launderer’s increasingly fed-up, coked-addled American wife, and the discovery of Gilberto’s hideout.
Speaking of increasingly likable cartel bosses, Pacho is hanging out with Juarez Cartel leader Amado Carrillo, who parties so much even the Cali guys are thinking, “Hey, maybe just spend a night in with a book sometime.” Pacho’s brother, who’s presumably no stranger to luxury, is dazzled by Amado’s lifestyle, especially when Amado asks him if he likes margaritas. No, not the frozen lime concoction — he’s talking about women named Margarita.
Up until now, Pacho’s sexuality has either served to raise dramatic tension — as with the dance floor makeout that served as a prelude to Salazar’s dismembering — or simply as a tasteless gag. When the American lawyer played by Wayne Knight asks where Pacho is since he probably “has all the pussy in town on speed dial,” Pallomari all but mugs to the camera: Get a load of this guy! This Mexico interlude, though, offers the first acknowledgment that life as a gay man in ’90s Colombia came with serious risk. That’s why Pacho is a drug dealer: He sees it as a way to give himself unlimited power over a society that doesn’t want him to exist. “What kind of man would I be if I gave that all up?” he asks.
While none of the cartel bosses seem quite deserving of Peña’s wrath, Narcos still excels at creating hateable characters. Case in point: Miguel’s son David, who was responsible for last episode’s chlorine-gas disaster, crashes Jorge’s business meeting and makes clear that he’s a cartel associate. It’s pretty much the kiss of death for Jorge’s attempt to go legit.
But no one is worse than Pallomari. Fittingly, on an episode that features the actor who played Newman on Seinfeld, Pallomari emerges as a uniquely annoying bully, ignoring Jorge’s attempts to save his life while he tries to boss around other cartel subordinates. And perhaps worst of all, he keeps wearing those too-tight polo shirts.
• There’s been a lot of talk about how much Amado parties, but we’ve barely seen any of it. It’s out of character for Narcos to miss a montage opportunity!
• A lot of the details from Jorge’s story are taken from the real-life Jorge Salcedo’s account in At the Devil’s Table, a fast-paced book on his life as Gilberto and Miguel’s personal security chief. If you’re into true crime — and if you’re watching Narcos, you probably are — it’s worth checking out, in part because it confirms that a lot of the craziest things in this season actually happened. Warning: The book’s subtitle contains some spoilers.
• Feistl’s declaration that Cali is “muy hermosa!” is a masterpiece of American-accented Spanish.