Imagine if you will, a rollercoaster, this rollercoaster represents the life of Pablo Escobar. Season 1 of this Netflix original depicted the ascension of this infamous crime boss, gradually rising higher and higher, bumping off rivals and evading capture from law enforcement on his way to the top. But we all know how rollercoaster’s end and in Season 2 of Narcos, Escobar’s rollercoaster doesn’t just fall, it crashes.
Following on from his narrow escape from his private prison, Pablo Escobar is a man on the run, evading the law all the while trying to preserve his disintegrating criminal empire. As Escobar struggles to hang on, the Columbian government, with assistance from the United States, resolves to hunt down the drug lord and kill him, hoping that his death will finally bring an end to the cascade of violence his rise to power created. However, unbeknownst to all, from the dust of Escobar’s empire, rivals are plotting a takeover of the cocaine trade; with the drug war in Colombia looking set to carry on for many more years to come.
Much of the cast from Season 1 returns and once more all do a fantastic job with their characters. Wagner Moura is once more the standout performance as an increasingly desperate Pablo Escobar, the commanding presence that he presented in Season 1, disintegrating as quickly as his drug empire, with the character in the final episodes being a shell of his former glory.
Moura still portrays Escobar as the ruthless killer he was, but still, he manages to humanise him enough to makes us sympathise with him to an extent, showing that his primary motivation above all is to keep his family safe, even if it drives him to commit all manner of horrific atrocities.
Boyd Holbrook also returns as DEA agent Steve Murphy, again acting as our funny and informative narrator. Yet we also see the mental and physical toll that the hunt for Escobar has taken on Murphy, driving him to drink heavily, causing his wife to head back to the United States, and leading him to lash out violently. However, despite the heavy toll the hunt has taken on him, Murphy refuses to give up, with Holbrook making for a determined and flawed hero.
Season 1 had a fine supporting cast, but season 2 finally allows many of these players a chance to really shine.
Pedro Pascal as fellow DEA agent Javier Pena is finally given some juicy material to work with, giving a brilliant performance as the conflicted agent, adopting increasingly desperate methods to catch his prey, even if it means working with all manner of morally dubious characters.
Paulina Gaitan is on fine form as Escobar’s long-suffering wife Tata (named Maria in real life), increasingly horrified by the violence of her husband’s efforts to cling on to power. The scenes between Gaitan and her on-screen husband are easily some of the finest moments this season, with their final moments together being particularly moving as both struggles to accept the inevitable end for Escobar looming over their family.
While this season will sadly be the last of Escobar and of Moura’s brilliant performance, rest assured we can be in for a treat when Season 3 rolls around in 2017. Ready to fill the vacuum left by Escobar is rival drug lord Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela, charmingly portrayed by Damian Alcazar. In public a man of business and respectability, a mask hiding a ruthless and powerful kingpin rapidly growing in prominence and infamy as head of the notorious ‘Cali Cartel’, a name which would eventually come to dominate the cocaine trade throughout the 1990s.
The excellent mini-documentary sequences make a welcome return from season 1, further explaining the world of the Colombian cocaine trade and the key players in an informative, sometimes funny manner, but also horrifying manner, with some truly shocking archive footage from the period being expertly used to show the ferocity of Escobar’s final battles. The emergence of right-wing vigilante group “Los Pepes” presents us with some truly gruesome images both in the dramatic sequences and in the archive footage, as this group acted without mercy to destroy the cocaine industry in Colombia, with their barbarity often exceeded that of the drug lords
The pace of this season is slower than the previous one, however, the series still whips past at a frantic pace, but the slowdown does allow the viewer to truly soak up the atmosphere and to revel in the brilliant performances to a greater extent. The slowdown is also helpful in keeping pointless or uninteresting subplots, which blighted season 1, to a bare minimum, keeping the plot flowing without too many stops and starts.
In short, Season 2 of Narcos is another brilliant season of television from Netflix, and is in my view, better than the first.
Led by brilliant performances, particularly from the departing Moura, the season builds to a truly gripping finale that not only provides a suitably violent end to the tale of Escobar but also expertly sets up the next chapter in this truly brilliant tale of crime and cocaine.
[rating=4] | Graeme Robertson
Crime, Drama | USA, 2016 | 18 | Netflix Originals | Online Now | Dir.José Padilha | Wagner Moura, Boyd Holbrook,Paulina Gaitan, Pedro Pascal | Watch Season 2