Can we talk about the Narcos switcheroo? It’s that thing where we think our heroes have been foiled, only to discover they had a whole other plan that we — and the DEA’s latest antagonists — know absolutely nothing about.
It’s not a new plot technique for the show, but Narcos is leaning on it harder than ever this season. This episode’s first ruse comes when Feistl and Van Ness lead the treacherous Calderon on a raid of an empty luxury house, while, unbeknownst to us, the real raid is happening at another house with Colonel Martinez.
Then, Feistl is intercepted by corrupt cops as he tries to smuggle Gilberto out of Cali in a chicken truck — only for the episode to reveal that Gilberto is actually in a second chicken truck we never knew existed. All the drama we saw leading up to Feistl’s scheme, including the trademark Narcos overhead car chase scene? It didn’t matter! Even though Narcos is really stacking up the surprises, the overall effect is that you can’t be sure which events really matter and which ones just exist as ruses to ramp up the drama.
Aside from us viewers, the real loser from all this trickery is Gilberto. The Cali capo di tutti capi ends up in a jail cell, thanks to the DEA’s suddenly flawless execution of its plan.
Until now, Gilberto was the most with-it character in Narcos history. He’s far from the first womanizing cartel boss, but he’s the only one to have three wives at once (and remarkably, their biggest issue with him is that he watches too much soccer on Sundays). He’s not the first one to move global amounts of blow, but he’s the first one to do it with a smile on his face, avoiding Escobar-style rage or Miguel’s paranoia. He even seemed like he’d the first cartel boss to retire on his own terms. As Peña says, “He wasn’t going to die on some shitty rooftop.”
But all of that changes with the raid, which climaxes with Gilberto aiming a gun at Peña from his closet hiding spot, then admitting he’s not crazy enough to do it. “Don’t shoot,” he says. “I’m a man of peace.” Gilberto can’t exactly trade his surrender for a light prison term when he’s already in jail, which sends Cali into a tailspin — spelling much more trouble for the people who captured him.
Suddenly, what should have been a carefully managed surrender threatens to erupt into an all-out, Escobar-style war. Colombia’s presidential palace is thrown into chaos, with all the people who ostensibly wanted Gilberto behind bars furious that he’s actually there now. Meanwhile, Peña is warned that without Gilberto in charge, Cali will turn dangerously unpredictable. This makes sense: Gilberto’s hobby is watching soccer and having sex, while the other candidates for cartel boss like to pull people apart with motorcycles, shoot teenagers in salons, or stalk and murder their crushes’ husbands. No wonder even the Colombian government is Team Gilberto!
CIA Bill, apparently back from last episode’s Metal Gear cosplay, sums it up in a note: “You broke it. You bought it. Asshole!”
The Gilberto raid also represents the last hurrah for Colonel Martinez, who was brought out of Narcos retirement to be the one incorruptible law-enforcement officer left in Colombia. On his way out, Martinez gets some much-needed shading for a character who has until now been blandly upright. His career is over, he tells Peña; his name was found in Pallomari’s seized files on a list of crooked cops. But Martinez never explains (and Peña never asks) whether he actually did take money from Cali.
Martinez isn’t the only Colombian cop facing career demise now that Gilberto’s in the clink. The arrest is also bad news for Calderon, whose one job was keeping a pair of slacker DEA agents from capturing the world’s biggest crime boss. Calderon’s cooperation with the cartel has always been more about desperation than greed, and his brazen escape from Martinez’s custody to warn the rest of the cartel, which guaranteed that he’d never work as a police officer again, proved it. Presumably, Calderon won’t be babysitting Feistl and Van Ness anytime soon.
The episode ends with Peña sulking as the American embassy staff celebrates Gilberto’s arrest. They’re just about the only ones who are.
• Calderon and Peña find some common ground: rolling their eyes at Feistl carrying his kid’s drawing as a good luck charm. Now everyone’s gonna feel bad if he gets killed.
• Peña asks his embassy flunky for the “Jurado tapes,” the illicit wiretap on Gilberto’s money launderer. His response: “We probably shouldn’t call them that, because they’re not legal, per se.”
• The Colombian soldier charged with guarding Calderon did not do a good job! If you’re going to effectively put Calderon under arrest, don’t him sit in the driver’s seat of his Jeep and hot-wire it.
• Navegante is the most fully realized character on Narcos: impish, balding, and totally enamored with his own menace. In this episode, Navegante both tries to impress a kid by handing him a gun and puts said kid’s grandmother in a headlock. What a guy.
• Gilberto’s closet setup is grail status. Some nice boat shoes, a hidden compartment to hide out when the feds comes, and what look to be Italian-made Tod’s driving shoes? It’s enough to make a guy consider a life of crime.