Narcos Recap: David the Goliath

Photo: Juan Pablo Gutierrez/Netflix


MRO Season 3 Episode 5
Editor's Rating 3 stars

We need to talk about David. What is this guy’s problem?

The Cali Cartel partners are dealing with Gilberto’s arrest in their own ways. Chepe moodily sips whiskey while wearing denim overalls. Pacho considers jumping ship, but ultimately decides against it. Gilberto comes to terms with his incarceration by putting on a tracksuit and going out to the yard to get swole. Meanwhile, Miguel reacts another way entirely: by giving unchecked power and an army of sicarios to his son David, a.k.a. Lil’ Caligula.

So, how does David assert his rise in the cartel? By hosting a purge at his modern-art house of horrors, of course. First, Calderón gets drowned, with an underwater camera trained on his face in what’s maybe the most brutal murder we’ve seen on Narcos. Then, Jorge’s pal Cordova gets killed in a torture scene that lasts just too long for Jorge to rescue Cordova’s wife, whom he discovers in a pool of blood.

Curiously, David is motivated less by a desire to secure the cartel and more by his hatred of Jorge, who has become something like Miguel’s surrogate son. But is that really enough to justify David’s rampage? Jorge’s the guy who saved him during the chlorine-poisoning fiasco. It’s a big cartel, surely he can find another job to make his dad proud.

I’m also not buying that Miguel’s friendship with Jorge is enough to turn David into a maniac, not after he was portrayed as such a buffoon in the chlorine-gas episode. Instead, David’s motivations remain inscrutable, partially because actor Arturo Castro plays him as an icy killer rather than a spoiled playboy who wants his dad’s attention. The rise of David the psychopath seems more about finding a new, unsympathetic character to blame for the show’s increasingly shocking violence. Narcos can’t make us care about Miguel’s budding relationship if he’s the one ordering the murders of innocent women, so they’ll just outsource the job to his son. Plus, David’s violent tendencies give Jorge another reason to betray the cartel to the DEA: If turning informant is less about snitching and more about finding a way out before this crazy guy kills him, it’s not much of a choice at all.

But David’s rise is pretty concerning for another reason: He isn’t an interesting character. This has been the Serious Season so far, and Narcos will get even more tedious if the cartel plot becomes all about David killing Jorge’s friends and glaring at him while he does it. If we’re already getting Calderón’s terrified face in episode five, where are we going to be by episode ten? How much more violent can it get?

David might be taking the reaction to Gilberto’s arrest too far, but the cartel does have reason to worry. In prison, Gilberto finally realizes that the token prison term he had hoped to win in negotiations will now turn into a three-year sentence. Meanwhile, the cartel’s allies are smelling blood: Even Miguel’s hit on Salazar comes back to haunt them, after an ambitious North Valley drug lord notices that Miguel is now living with his late ally’s widow. Thanks to Gilberto’s arrest, Peña can even pitch Jurado’s wife on the idea that the money launderer needs to be the first to cooperate or he’ll get slapped with a lengthy prison term.

Gilberto’s arrest also offers a new opportunity for Pacho to reveal how his sexuality ties him to the cartel. Amado wants him to join the Juarez Cartel, which is poised to flood the U.S. with cocaine now that NAFTA has been signed into law. It looks like the obvious right move: Cali is descending into internal purges, and Pacho doesn’t really want to leave the drug trade. But Pacho reveals that Miguel and Gilberto didn’t care when a blackmailer told them that Pacho was gay. That’s why he’s sticking with Cali for now.

To be honest, it’d be nice if Pacho had a plot in Mexico beyond “he’s gay.” But then again, his only other defining characteristic is that he, too, is a sadistic murderer, and Narcos isn’t running short on those.

Alas, the mansion murders have one more casualty: Van Ness and Feistl’s sweet bachelor pad. In a scene reminiscent of the first episode, when another pair of DEA agents got a phone call at what was supposed to be a secret apartment, Jorge calls the agents to tell them that they’ve been made. This time, though, it’s not a threat — it’s Jorge’s first betrayal of the cartel. David will be furious!

Cartel Club

• Van Ness and Feistl hit Panama, armed to the teeth in their extremely ’90s style: “The world’s deadliest fanny pack, back in action.”

• Adios to Cordova, who distinguished himself mostly as the guy Jorge bossed around. Cordova’s murder is the rare case of cartel justice actually finding its target, since Cordova was actually to blame for Gilberto’s arrest and he had no compunctions about trying to frame Calderón.

• Navegante may not be the “hit man with a heart of gold” I believed him to be.

• The Jurado angle is going great for Peña so far — he even got to do some old-fashioned Peña flirting at the bar with Jurado’s wife. In fact, it’s going a little too great. Those illegally recorded tapes will definitely come back to haunt him.

• The mansion massacre echoes a scene in At the Devil’s Table, journalist William C. Rempel’s book about the real Jorge Salcedo’s life inside the cartel. As that book recounts, Salcedo arrived at a cartel mansion to find it stocked with Panamanian cartel associates who were suspected of making off with a shipment. The Panamanians thought they were there to party; instead, the cartel’s hit men went from room to room garroting them.

• Gilberto’s position has earned him some lopsided prison privileges. He can have a tracksuit and a phone, but he can’t get a nicer cell or a mirror that doesn’t have “pussy” written on it. What are all these bribes meant for?

Narcos Recap: David the Goliath