Posts Tagged ‘narcos’

“Narcos” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Nine: “Todos Los Hombres del Presidente”

September 18, 2017

If you need to sum up the problem with Narcos Season 3, you could do a lot worse than to show what victory for Agent Peña and his allies looks like: the Rodriguez Brothers, cozying up behind bars. This is what all of Peña, Feistl, Van Ness, and Salcedo’s efforts have amounted to: the Cali Godfathers, hanging out together in a jail in which they have full rein, their momentary internecine enmities forgotten. What was it all for? You’d have to ask Narcos‘ writers for the answer.

The penultimate episode of Narcos Season Three left me questioning whether the whole exercise has a point. I reviewed it for Decider.

“Narcos” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Eight: “Convivir”

September 18, 2017

The star of “Convivir,” Narcos Season 3 Episode 8, is the camera. Once again, standout director Fernando Coimbra lets imagery convey emotion and comment on the plot, in what is otherwise a very straightforwardly shot series. And in this tense, cruel hour of TV, that willingness to show rather than tell matters more than ever.

I liked episode eight of Narcos Season Three quite a bit too. I reviewed it for Decider.

“Narcos” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Seven: “Sin Salida”

September 18, 2017

All told, it’s super-engaging genre television. But thanks to director Fernando Coimbra, it’s well made genre television as well. Coimbra lends a certain glow to the nighttime lighting of the city and the base where Peña and Serrano plan the raid. He cleverly mirrors church-door entrances by Pacho and Peña. And he echoes it again when he shows Miguel breaking down from exhaustion and fear in a doorway in his largely destroyed safehouse, emphasizing the fact that unlike the other two men, he’s not moving forward. (It’s actor Francisco Denis’s strongest moment in the role, too.)

Bottom line? This is more like it.

I reviewed episode 7 of Narcos Season 3 — the first one I really liked — for Decider.

“Narcos” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Six: “Best Laid Plans”

September 11, 2017

There are problems on the (nominally) good-guy side of the story, too. Feistl and Van Ness are fun enough to watch, with their Mutt-and-Jeff height difference and the contrast between Van Ness’s uptight demeanor and his awesome collection of ‘90s band t-shirts. (Wu-Tang is for the DEA as well as for the children, apparently!) But poor Javi Peña spends so much time running around by himself — literally running around, in this episode, thanks to his foot chase with Franklin Jurado in the streets of Curaçao — that he might as well be starring in a completely separate show. Without a foil like his former partner Chris Murphy or regular in-person contact with any of the other current main characters (Feistl, Van Ness, Jorge, the Rodriguezes, whoever), his adventures feel disconnected and weightless. His dull narration (the episode’s big concluding speech begins with “Things don’t always go according to plan” — no shit!) does him no favors either.

I reviewed the sixth episode of Narcos Season Three, which pours on the bloodshed but feels oddly empty despite the spectacle, for Decider.

“Narcos” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Five: “MRO”

September 11, 2017

“It was a mistake, not stopping it sooner,” says Christina Jurado of her life near the beating financial heart of the world’s largest drug cartel. “Have you ever done anything like that?” “I have,” responds Javi Peña, presumably thinking of his role in starting the Los Pepes death squads, but perhaps also rueing ruined romantic entanglements, or just his general penchant for being a pain in everyone’s ass.

This exchange (between Donna from Halt and Catch Fire and the Red Viper from Game of Thrones, as if my dreams were doing the casting) sums up “MRO,” the fifth episode of Narcos Season 3. A whole lot of people are reaching the point where they’re in over their heads, and should have stopped swimming away from the shore a long time ago. Some, like Christina — whom Javi is pressuring to persuade her cartel financier husband to turn on his bosses — realize it. Others don’t.

I reviewed episode five of Narcos Season Three for Decider.

“Narcos” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Four: “Checkmate”

September 11, 2017

SPOILER ALERT

There’s a case to be made that the ease with which Peña and company knock Gilberto Rodriguez off the playing board shows just how fatally cocky the Gentlemen of Cali had gotten following the fall of Escobar and the establishment of their sweetheart deal with the government. The show makes this case itself with the musical montage that leads up to the raid: A portrait of Gilberto’s life as the happily married husband to three different wives, all of whom know each other and are perfectly content with the arrangement, cleverly soundtracked by the camp swagger of LL Cool J’s “Going Back to Cali” (a song Gilberto himself probably wouldn’t be caught dead listening to, which is why the music cue works). In his own way, the elder Rodriguez is an interesting figure, and Damián Alcázar is entertaining and convincing in the role; he looks like a well-tanned chief executive of a medical supply sales company or something, which is exactly the vibe of affluent anonymity the character wanted to cultivate for himself.

But the quick-and-easy downfall of the season’s central antagonist points to the void left in this show by Escobar’s death. While Gilberto’s fortune, power, and influence may have been larger than that of Pablo Escobar, Pablo Escobar was larger than life — a supervillain in Robin Hood drag who sincerely fancied himself a man of the people (and looked the part) even as he sent countless thousands of Colombians to early graves. And actor Wagner Moura was the face of the whole show in the role, radiating stoned malevolence from his dark eyes despite his cool-uncle mustache and doughy physique. Perhaps the show will make a play to build Pacho Herrera, the most unique and compelling of the four Cali godfathers, into someone worthy of slipping into Pablo’s sweatshirts. With at least six episodes to go, they’ll need it.

I reviewed the fourth episode of Narcos Season Three — gripping and obviously pivotal but narratively problematic — for Decider.

“Narcos” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Three: “Follow the Money”

September 11, 2017

You gotta hand this much to Narcos: It can begin by introducing an all-powerful Mexican druglord nicknamed “The Lord of the Skies” and that won’t even be, like, the fifth most important thing that happens in the episode. “Follow the Money,” the unimaginatively titled third installment of Narcos’ third season, has its problems — for example, a montage about money laundering with a music cue, the Wu-Tang Clan’s “C.R.E.A.M.” (“Cash rules everything around me”? You don’t fuckin’ say!), every bit as lazy as the episode’s name. But never let it be said that the thing isn’t jam-packed with stuff. My notes on any given hour of Narcos run longer than my notes on an ep of Twin Peaks, that’s how dense this thing has gotten.

I reviewed the third episode of Narcos Season Three for Decider.

“Narcos” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Two: “The Cali KGB”

September 11, 2017

Without a doubt, the New York City massacre perpetrated by Cali kingpin Chepe Santacruz-Londoño in the hair-salon headquarters of some young Dominican rivals is the dominant image of “The Cali KGB,” the second episode of Narcos Season Three. Appearances and voiceovers to the contrary, Narcos rarely goes for the Coppola/Scorsese gusto when it comes to memorable execution scenarios. But Chepe’s behavior here — accelerating the countdown issued by his enemy in an attempt to be intimidating, blowing everyone away with an UZI concealed under his barber’s gown, and, in a bit straight from The Godfather Part II, awkwardly struggling to extinguish the fire in the fabric ignited by the heat of the gun barrel — is a gangster set piece par excellence.

I reviewed the second episode of Narcos Season Three for Decider. The shootout was a fun outburst of violent spectacle, but elsewhere the show is trying to have its cake and eat it too with regards to its characters’ hypocrisy about justified violence.

“Narcos” thoughts, Season Three, Episode One: “The Kingpin Strategy”

September 11, 2017

In the past, Narcos has rewarded patience. Its no-nonsense approach to Escobar and his enemies — best summed up as “a crook made a billion dollars and went berserk, so the Colombian and American governments went berserk too until they finally murdered him” — avoided easy moralism, and the slow-and-steady filmmaking suited that approach. As what amounts to a pilot for Narcos Vol. 2: The New Bosses, “The Kingpin Strategy” is hit or miss, but I’m willing to keep an open mind. As both Peña and the cartel could tell you, you’ve gotta learn from the past.

Gentlemen, start your binges! I’ve been reviewing the new season of Narcos on Netflix for the past week or so; here’s my take on the premiere, which utilizes a few tricks to make up for the absence of the show’s two previous leads, with mixed success.

“Narcos” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Ten: “Al Fin Cayó!”

September 1, 2017

NOTE: As best I can tell I never linked to my review of last year’s Narcos season finale. In the interest of completism, here it is!

“Al Fin Cayó!”, the tenth and final episode of Narcos Season 2, was the series’ finest episode. That’s a major achievement in itself, entertainment value aside — a sign that the season and the show got better as they went, which was by no means a guarantee. Particularly regarding Pablo Escobar, Narcos in general and this episode in particular wound up pulling off a work of real emotional alchemy. It made him more human — sympathetic to the point of it being hard to watch him endure his agonizing downfall — even as grew more unequivocal about the monstrousness of his crimes.

Contrast him with comparable TV crime bosses. By the final season of Breaking Bad, even as we pulled for Walter White to get out of each scrape, it was difficult to not want him to suffer. Despite committing several of his most heinous acts in The Sopranos’ last season, Tony was always a more appealing character than his New York rivals. On the flip side, Marlo Stanfield, the archvillain of The Wire’s waning years, was pure evil, impossible to see as anything but a dead-eyed killer.

But with Pablo Escobar, Narcos managed to make you feel like you were watching a human being’s life fall apart as he lived in mortal terror and depressing isolation, and that he was a world-historical murderer who’d killed countless thousands so he could sit around palatially appointed estates in the world’s ugliest sweatshirts. It’s difficult to think of another show so certain that both halves of such a story needed to be driven home even in its final hour.

So yeah, last year I reviewed the season finale of Narcos for Decider.

“Narcos” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Nine: “Nuestra Finca”

September 14, 2016

At the beginning of the episode, Agent Murphy contextualizes Pablo’s seemingly overnight downfall by misquoting Hemingway, saying Escobar lost everything “slowly at first, and then all at once.” But he’s not the only one taking a sudden, near-total L. There’s a new kingpin in Colombia, it seems: Bill Stechner, the disheveled CIA black operator who secretly orchestrated the Los Pepes offensive. He forces DEA chief Messina out of office for helping Agent Peña work to dismantle the group and start moving in on the Cali cartel. He announces plans to burn Peña via a Miami Herald interview with Judy Moncada, who’d threatened to rat on her associates to save her own skin and is being exiled to the States for her troubles. And while the outcome is uncertain, it looks like Peña may be joining both women on a one-way trip out of country. “You should have stayed in your lane,” Stechner lectures him; the clarity of the point makes the anachronism of the idiom forgivable.

It might be tempting to apply the same lesson to Pablo himself. Isn’t his story a case of a guy getting too big for his britches, sticking his nose in where it didn’t belong, and getting his whole face blown off? I submit that the answer is actually “no.” It’s true that Escobar’s excommunication from Colombia’s House of Representatives is what touched off his cocaine-fueled civil war against the state, and that he feels this took place because “the men of always” saw him as an interloper. But the behavior of the CIA, the DEA, the Search Bloc, the anti-communist guerrillas, and the various elected officials assigned to oversee them all are proof that there’s nothing unusual about what Escobar did other than whom he did it to. This is how everyone behaves. They’re all right at home. The only real rule Pablo broke was the one against being on the losing side.

I reviewed the penultimate episode of the ever more impressive Narcos Season 2 for Decider, and used a Clive Barker short story title for the headline to boot.

“Narcos” thoughts, Season 2, Episode 8: “Exit El Patrón”

September 13, 2016

By now it should be clear just how methodically, I mean Breaking Bad Season Five–level methodically, Narcos is dismantling its main character’s ambitions. In eight episodes, he’s gone from the world’s seventh-richest man to just some dude in a jeep being driven around by a cabbie named Limón. Look on his works, ye mighty, and despair.

I reviewed the eighth episode of Narcos Season 2 for Decider. Getting close now.

“Narcos” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Seven: “Deutschland 93”

September 12, 2016

But the real star of this soul-crushing show is Wagner Moura’s Pablo, whose slow-moving swagger has almost imperceptibly morphed into just plain slowness, a sort of walking-wounded shuffle. His family is gone, beyond his reach whether they’re in Colombia or abroad. The stress causes him to pass out. His attempt to strike back is a catastrophic case of overkill. His disintegration is encapsulated in a version of the signature shot in which the camera swirls around his unsmiling face, a shot we’ve seen time and time again: This time, that shot’s out of focus.

I reviewed the seventh episode of Narcos Season 2 for Decider.

“Narcos” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Six: “Los Pepes”

September 9, 2016

What follows is a gruesome shootout in full view of Pablo’s beloved family. Shot in a pair of long takes in order to emphasize the chaos, it’s a deliberate contrast with the similar long take that highlighted Pablo’s relative security at the beginning of the previous episode. It’s a smart choice in that it keeps the focus not on the Boss but on his terrified family, outgunned employees, and invading enemies. As a viewer, you get to see and feel what life is like in Pablo’s orbit — you’re an expendable bit player in the drama centered on him.

The result is, at times, genuinely moving. There’s a moment when Tata, her daughter in her arms, rushes through the kitchen where Pablo’s exchanging gunfire with Los Pepes; he’s just a blur with an absurd “Golf Masters” sweatshirt and a machine gun, frantically waving his arms and shouting “Get out! Get out! Get out!” between rounds as his family flees for their lives.

And when the family reaches safety — sans Carlos, who’s dead, and with Pablo’s mom humbled and his wife devastated — his daughter asks a brutally naive question: “Daddy, how will Santa still know how to find us?” Kudos to Wagner Moura for making Pablo’s reaction not a controlled emotional implosion, but a weird, awkward, trembling hiccup. That feels much more true to the unbearable experience of having to account for your failure to a child you love.

I reviewed the sixth episode of Narcos Season 2 for Decider. The show is doing very smart things with mirrored shot set-ups, as hopefully this review and the last one taken in tandem indicate.

“Narcos” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Five: “The Enemies of My Enemy”

September 9, 2016

By now it’s no secret that Narcos doesn’t do flashy. So far this season I’ve seen this mostly leveled at the show as an insult — it’s trying to do for Scorsese what Stranger Things did for Spielberg and company, with a similarly shaky grasp of everything that makes the filmmaker in question not just Fun but Great. For me, it’s what separates this show from Stranger Things. If Narcos were simply trying to ape Marty, Francis, et al, it’d have all the surface-level razzle-dazzle but none of the black-hearted soul.

So it’s worth pointing out when the show genuinely does do something Scorsese-esque. In episode five of its second season, “The Enemies of My Enemy” (these titles are getting really cheesy, incidentally), we’re treated to a long tracking shot that would make Henry Hill on his way into the Copacabana proud. With Col. Carrillo in the ground, Pablo is living, well, the life of Pablo — giving his adorable kids diving and swimming instructions, joking around with his jolly sicarios, cheering on his favorite football team, goosing his lovely wife’s bum. (Tata Escobar’s posterior is as much of a costar this season as Joan Holloway’s décolletage was in Mad Men.)

The intent of this multi-minute shot is to show that for Pablo, everything is in its right place, at least for the moment. You don’t need to be flashy if your rare instance of ostentatious camerawork is as communicative as this.

I reviewed the fifth episode of Narcos Season 2 for Decider.

“Narcos” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Four: “The Good, The Bad, and The Dead”

September 7, 2016

SPOILER ALERT

It’s long been my contention that the single greatest act of cinematic revenge belongs to Robert De Niro’s bank-robber character in Michael Mann’s crime epic Heat. (Spoilers ahead, though really this is just a signal that you should go watch Heat immediately.) Discovering the location of an associate who betrayed him, he risks everything to infiltrate the hotel where the man is being kept under guard, distract his protective detail, break into his hotel room, and kill him. But does he just shoot him in the back of the head, like so many mobsters from The Godfather to GoodFellas have been content to do? Hell no. “Look at me,” he demands, then shoots the guy in the gut, then in the head. If the point were simply to kill him, none of this would be necessary. But the point is to make sure he knows he’s about to be killed — knows he’s in the process of dying, in fact — and knows why. Otherwise, what’s the point?

This is a lesson Pablo Escobar has clearly internalized. In “The Good, The Bad, and The Dead,” the cornily titled fourth episode of Narcos’ second season, Pablo quite shockingly gets the drop on Colonel Horacio Carrillo, the ruthless Colombian police officer who’s been his nemesis from the jump. Though he and his men are peppered with bullets, Pablo insists on delivering the killing blow himself. “Look at me,” he says. “Look at me,” he says again, repeating himself just as De Niro’s character did. He then fires the bullet Carrillo sent to him as a warning into the man’s leg before finally delivering the coup de grace to his head. Pablo understands that there’s no point in simply defeating your enemy. He has to know he’s being defeated, he has to know he has no hope of not being defeated, and he has to know who has defeated him. Death isn’t enough. Agony is paramount.

I reviewed the fourth episode of Narcos Season 2 for Decider.

“Narcos” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Three: “Our Man in Madrid”

September 6, 2016

I can’t imagine it’s a coincidence that “Our Man in Madrid,” the third episode of Narcos’ second season, has this running theme of ersatz arts criticism, though there’s no reason to believe it’s anything more than a fun visual leitmotif to return to throughout the hour. However, there’s a deeper resonance to this device than what’s visible at first glance. As I’ve been saying throughout these reviews, the beauty of Narcos is that it doesn’t try to have a Moral Of The Story. How can it? What is the story, after all, but “A crook made billions of dollars and went berserk, so a pair of governments went even more berserk until they finally murdered him”? This is not True Detective Season One–style paean to the bad men who “keep the other bad men from the door,” either. Escobar and his associates are loathsome. The Cali cartel members who play both sides are loathsome. The various military, law-enforcement, and intelligence agencies involved in the hunt for Pablo are loathsome, though at least at times guys like Murphy and Peña are capable of recognizing their own loathsomeness and not bothering justifying it. In a world like this, the self-glorifying self-portraits or image-burnishing fine art you attempt to immortalize yourself with is a bad joke. You’re spiritually pissing on it even when you’re not literally pissing on it.

I reviewed the third episode of Narcos’ increasingly ruthless second season for Decider.

“Narcos” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Two: “Cambalache”

September 4, 2016

It’s one of the most famous sequences in cinema history, and probably the single most influential sequence in the gangster genre bar none: the baptism/massacre montage in The Godfather. (Or as Christopher Moltisanti from The Sopranos would more familiarly put it, “in One.”) You know the deal: While Michael Corleone renounces Satan at the christening of his godson, his hitmen take down every rival mob boss from New York to Las Vegas in various elegantly choreographed ways — a bullet through the eyeglasses, a tommy-gun volley through a jammed revolving door, a shot in the back and a fall down a massive flight of steps, and so on.

This episode of Narcos, “Cambalache,” gave us the show’s own version, and it’s telling how much less grandiose the whole shebang is. Forget the Catholic symbolism, folks: Pablo Escobar is too busy slow-dancing with his lovely wife Tata in one of her endless succession of flow-y flattering dresses to recite prayers in Latin. And there’s nothing elegant about how his goons slaughter Medellín’s cops, unless you consider drive-bys, hand grenades, and a few point-blank executions elegant. As the premiere already proved, Narcos just isn’t the kind of show to play to its characters’ delusions of grandeur, or play up delusions of its own. It sees Pablo’s story as too straightforwardly sordid, too pointlessly wasteful, for all that. It plays things straight, and is a much more enjoyable, if less spectacular, viewing experience for it.

I reviewed the second episode of Narcos Season 2 for Decider.

“Narcos” thoughts, Season Two, Episode One: “Free at Last”

September 3, 2016

“Okay,” groans DEA agent Steve Murphy as the second season of Narcos begins. “Here we go again.” Friends, that is the sound of a show that took Socrates’s advice to Know Thyself. Stepping into the prestige-gangster void left behind by the departures of Breaking Bad and Boardwalk EmpireNarcos has never taken the stylistic risks of those shows (bilingual scripting aside). It’s not as flashy as either its larger-than-life subject matter, the multibillionaire druglords of cocaine-era Columbia, or its Scorsese-indebted, voiceover-narrated, tapestry-of-criminality format would lead you to believe.

Rather, it takes its cues from its central performance: Wagner Moura as the lethal, laconic legend of the drug trade, Pablo Escobar. Portly, poorly rested, perpetually stoned, yet the most dangerous international criminal (non-government-official edition) this side of Osama Bin Laden, his reign of terror over his country rarely requires him to ruffle his own feathers. He simply stares into the distance, his dark brown eyes glowing beneath thick black eyebrows, then issues an order in a deadpan baritone and gets on with his day. His exploits may be unbelievable, but he takes it all in stride. So does Narcos, the most low-key series about a gigantic manhunt for a mass murderer you’re ever likely to see.

I reviewed the season premiere of Narcos for Decider, where I’ll be covering the Season 2 daily. Woo!