Going Back to Cali
Photo: Juan Pablo Gutierrez/Netflix
If I had to think up the most Narcos ending for the last-ever episode in Colombia, it’d probably start with flirty motorcycle assassins who are up to something, even though we don’t quite know what that is. Then there’d be a drug mansion massacre, a trash-talking grandma, and some really brutal violence. In the end, a bemused Pacho Herrera would watch as a naked woman runs by.
That’s exactly what Narcos delivered. The third season has had its downsides, and offered some rushed endings for its characters. Moving on past Pablo Escobar, and eventually Colombia itself, has made Narcos feel less like it is telling a single coherent story. (For the fifth season, maybe Peña should get in a time machine and take down the French Connection.) Still, this season delivered a lot of what makes Narcos fun.
After three seasons, “Going Back to Cali” is about who has learned how the drug war works and who hasn’t. The former get a little bit of what they want, the latter end up dead.
One guy who can’t run with the big dogs: Freddy Moya. The seducer of Pallomari’s wife is ’90s-era Colombia’s answer to what would later be called a fuckboy. All smirk and purple shirt, Freddy realizes that he can have the cartel kill Pallomari and get something for himself along the way. The flaw in his plan is that David is in no mood to negotiate, preferring instead to crush Freddy’s hand with a meat tenderizer until he gives up Pallomari’s location. Tough luck, Freddy!
Peña fares much better in his hunt, finally getting the payoff in Pallomari’s grand jury testimony for going against his original orders to respect the six-month surrender deadline. Peña’s plotting only works to a point, though. While the ambassador congratulates him on playing the system “like a goddamned fiddle” by nabbing Pallomari, he tells him it still won’t mean the Justice Department will do anything.
“A part of me was holding out hope, I guess,” Peña says.
The ambassador shoots back, “You should tell that part to grow the fuck up.”
Peña responds by doing an interview with his reporter pal. The exposé and the mysteriously leaked tape recordings between President Samper and Cali’s bagman outmaneuver the cartel. Suddenly, Cali’s partners go from toasting themselves in prison as they await light sentences to seeing their plans fall apart.
The Rodriguez Orejuela brothers are extradited, and Pacho is murdered during his prison stint. Just Chepe gets out of custody — only to walk right into a surprisingly slapstick execution at the hands of the Castano brothers. It’s hard to begrudge Narcos a season-finale montage, and Chepe’s prison “break” is neatly shot, but it did seem like an averted payoff after everything that came before it.
Speaking of a rushed ending, so much for Jorge. The wonderfully crass Pallomari got more of a send-off, spending the episode trying to negotiate with the DEA on the terms of his witness protection deal — “My family requires a certain amount of square footage” (!) — even as the cartel sicarios close in. Pallomari even tried to stiff the pilot of his jet out of Colombia, making sure to pay him the bare minimum once he realizes the private flight is a formality meant to give Peña deniability.
While Pallomari ends up hamming it up with the grand jury, Jorge is sent off with only a good-bye — a grudging “Adiós, Salcedo” — and a job in an auto shop working under a new name. Peña will come back for another round, but Jorge, who drove the entire investigation, takes a while to realize that he can never come back to Colombia.
Finally, just when you think you have Narcos figured out, it surprises you with another fridge full of heads. This finale serves up yet another out-of-nowhere surprise, this time for David, who had played his cards pretty well up until now. He rushes out for what looks like a climactic race to catch Jorge at the airport. His dad’s in jail, he’s sent Maria packing, and he looks set to solidify his position atop the cartel once he kills Jorge.
Instead, North Valley gunmen kill him and his men in a drive-by shooting we had no idea was coming. As David dies on the ground, his last moments are spent with a North Valley gunman we’ve never seen before: “You just got smoked, bitches.”
• Peña is notoriously bad at protecting his informants and witnesses, so I wasn’t surprised when, say, Jurado got shanked. But leaving Jorge alone in the front of a van, outside the one apartment in Cali where they know the cartel will send hitmen, is next-level malpractice.
• Worst of all, Peña’s bumbling cost the delightful Navegante his life.
• Next season looks set to focus on Amado Carrillo Fuentes, the party-hard guy who betrayed Pacho to the North Valley cartel. If you can’t wait for next year, I’ll put in another plug for Down by the River, Charles Bowden’s book about one DEA agent’s attempts to catch the Juarez cartel boss.
• The Maria plot reaches its payoff with the drive-by on David. It turns out that all of the Narcos screen time spent on that plot just went toward killing a second-tier villain.
• Pallomari’s outfits only get more ridiculous when he goes on the run. The accountant wears a newsboy cap and a man-purse to confront a lawyer in a parking garage — not exactly an intimidating look!
• At the end of the season, Peña and the other DEA agent are looking at a portrait of Kiki Camarena, a DEA agent who was murdered in Mexico in the 1985. Eagle-eyed Narcos viewers (or recent bingers) will note that Camarena was mentioned in the first season, with Peña telling Murphy that the U.S. government’s response to Camarena’s killing scared would-be sicarios from taking out hits on DEA agents.