Morals so murky they make Trump and Clinton look angelic. Murder. Double-dealing. Machine guns: We’ve seen it all before. When the cocaine kingpin and his heinous posse debuted last year with Narcos, the Netflix show could easily have been dismissed as just another one. But this show always had an ace up its sleeve…
There are gangsters. And then there is Pablo Escobar.
Not surprising, then, that Narcos Season 2 is getting ready for a September 2nd release (with or without the help of Escobar’s brother). But, while we’re excited by the prospect of another destructively addictive binge on guns, handlebar moustaches and awful ‘80s shirts at the hand of José Padilha, we’re also kinda hesitant.
Everybody wanted a piece of Season 1 – it was solid: Nice cinematography and good casting, great locations with an emphasis on Spanish-language dialogue. The first episode even began with a quote about magic realism, psyching us up for something really special. But sometimes, when Narcos had a chance to beguile, it wholly missed the mark.
Reception to the first season was pretty frosty in Colombia, too, where audiences were confused by the dodgy accents, annoyed by its portrayal of the country’s recent history, and – in some cases – just rolling their eyes at yet another narco drama.
For a show with so much potential, the next installment of Narcos can really go either way. So, as we await the Season 2 premiere, here are 10 things we hope to see with the return of Pablo that we think will help sway the balance in its favor. Dust off your glass tables…
1. More Murk
Last season started out fun. Initially, Escobar’s rise from small-time drug runner to big-time coke exporter was quite amusing. Dreadful fashion, sumptuous soirees, sweaty affairs and loads and loads of weed. It was lacking tension…
But then it all got nicely rancid.
When Escobar realized he’d never get to be a politician and run Colombia, he turned nasty. Really, really nasty. His paranoia grew with his incessant pot smoking and he gradually traded being liked for being feared, with a series of assassinations, bombings and kidnappings. While Escobar’s Season 1 story started off on a high, it ended on a real low, if you can call murder and a growing pile of bodies “a bit of a comedown.” Bloody, hard-hitting and downright enjoyable, we like this sick genius. And we’d like more of it, please.
2. More Action
Much to our excitement, the most recent Narcos trailer shows DEA agent Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook) explaining the measures being taken to get Escobar: “4000 soldiers, tens of thousands of rounds fired, and a bunch of fucking helicopters… There was no way Pablo Escobar was getting out of this one.” Judging by that rousing commentary and the footage we’ve seen, it seems as though Season 2 will play out like the hospital shootout scene from Hard-Boiled, stretched out over ten nail-biting hours and generating pockets of hair-raising intensity wherever Padilha pleases.
Hopefully, before plunging headfirst into another casually violent shootout finale, there’ll also be time for human beings to actually converse and advance the plot somewhere in the middle of all that carnage: We’re not Neanderthals, you know.
3. A Closer Look at Pablo
Season 1 skips hysterically across decades: the first episode beginning with a shootout in the ’80s, then skipping back to ‘73, then moving forward again – and the show eventually stretches into the ’90s. It seems like Narcos can’t rest for long enough to give any character – even El Patron himself – time to develop without also moving the plot forward. If you, like us, watched too much of the show at once, it started to feel less like historical fiction and more like a textbook espousing facts.
The first season covered 15 years of the drug trade – the second is much less epic. It covers 18 months, so it's more focused on Pablo’s character and him being on the run. Hopefully then, given Season 2’s timespan, we’re going to see both Pablo and the DEA agents chasing him go into moral and emotional hell like we’ve never seen before – and we’ll get a more thorough study of our now vulnerable antagonist (don’t get too attached, though…).
4. Sweet Threads
Between Escobar’s ‘80s sweatshirts and mom jeans (which might seem like they’d be more appropriate on The Cosby Show) and Fernando Duque’s nice selection of tailored suits with a pocket square or a hat that just happened to match his pipe, some of the outfits we saw in Season 1 of Narcos were downright steezy. And we loved it.
Particularly intriguing is this new Season 2 ensemble (pictured), which any fashion-conscious ‘80s druglord would wear for days on end hiding with their fellow coke rogues in the Colombian jungle. A white collared button-up says “Old Fashioned-sipping businessman,” while the rope design says “Hey, anyone up for hitting the ocean later?” Let’s just hope that if and when the scene comes where Pablo is indeed gunned down, that sweet set of threads has some stain remover close by… Know what we’re saying?
5. Who Killed Pablo?
Season 1 ended with special forces raiding Escobar's self-styled prison fortress, eliminating many members of the cartel, but allowing Escobar himself to escape. This time around we’re gonna see the kingpin fall, but at whose hands is still a mystery.
Escobar’s death is still highly controversial; some believe the bullet that killed him (he was shot in the leg and torso and died from a fatal shot in his ear) was his own, others believe it belonged to the police. Some claim it was a member of Los Pepes (a vigilante group formed by Escobar opposition) disguised as law enforcement. Escobar's son even commented that his father always told him that if he ever found himself surrounded, he would shoot himself to avoid capture.
So although the Search Bloc is still officially responsible for his death, all that could be about to change.
For Season 2, Narcos used the real Murphy and Pena as show consultants – two people who claim to know exactly who pulled the trigger. "I was there,” Murphy told THR. His partner, Pena, added that: “We told them how it actually happened. There’s some artistic license, but the timeline is accurate… And there’s going to be stuff out there that’s never been told."
Here’s hoping that their influence can finally bring to light some home truths about Pablo honey and his long overdue death.
6. Tough Women
The women in Narcos aren’t your typical U.S. TV show WAGs. Having mostly small roles in what is effectively a drug-themed sausage fest, the female characters could’ve been written as flimsy background players. But in this Netflix show, they’re competent and cunning contenders.
One of the best examples of this is in Escobar’s relationship with Tata. On the surface, she’s reticent, devoted and docile. But despite her passivity, it gradually becomes clear that she’s also the show’s Lady Macbeth, guiding her other half into some of his most messed-up acts while hiding her own shady motivations under the mask of an oblivious housewife.
Similarly, Stephanie Sigman’s Valeria Velez hits hard as a mistress of Pablo and a journalist who creates a Robin Hood story for him, which eventually leads him into politics. Her motivations are sometimes unclear, but one thing that we can recognize is how – for her to get what she wants – she has to manipulate Pablo’s giant ego.
They’re interesting, subtle characters that you certainly wouldn’t want to piss off. And hopefully Season 2 can use these femme fatales to add a little more je ne sais quois.
7. A Less Patronizing Voiceover
The show couldn’t have been made without it, because otherwise the action scenes would’ve been crammed with commentary. However, Season 1’s voiceover went too far in explaining emotional states that should’ve been depicted. It was a massive momentum killer, constantly underlining things we could figure out for ourselves. In fact, some of the most beautiful shots in the movie – like Escobar taking in the Colombian plains at sunset – were ruined with blather. Less is more, Padilha.
See, there's a big difference between how films like Apocalypse Now, The Usual Suspects or Taxi Driver use narration and how Narcos does. In those films, the medium draws a line between what the protagonists think about the worlds they inhabit and what those worlds actually are. The narration is a key part of creating that distinction.
But Narcos’ narration is rarely about showing the allure of Escobar's way or life, or even underlining how those who pursue ruthless criminals can become just as ruthless in their pursuit. Apart from being annoying, it’s totally one-sided. Which leads us neatly on to this…
8. Not So Much Patriotism
Enough “Murica” already. Padilha said that he set out to show how “the bad guys, the good guys, they have something in common: they are human beings”. Yet, Season 1 was told from the point of view of just Murphy, falling into the same trap as Matthew Heineman’s Mexican drug wars doc, Cartel Land. It gives Medellín a chaotic flavor, and mediates the story through someone who sees the local as unfamiliar and threatening.
At a point in time when Trump casually launches a campaign against Mexico’s “drugs and rapists,” these are precarious times to re-circulate such tropes. The good guys are the gringos, the narcos are dysfunctional primitives with bad taste.
There’s also some historical inaccuracy played out to make America look more heroic. Take Gacha as an example. In real life, he killed himself detonating a grenade on his face while running through a banana field to escape from police. He was not shot down by paramilitary, as the show portrays… Let’s tone down the unnecessary flag-waving for Season 2, please.
9. Perfect the Paisa Accent
To non-native speakers, the accents may not make a difference: the actors speak Spanish and we can read the subtitles. But, Colombians are having their teeth set on edge by listening to Moura banging on with a conspicuous Brazilian twang. It’s like having someone with a freakishly strong Texan drawl play James Bond, I guess. Colombian TV critic Omar Rincón said: “He tries hard but neither his role not his accent are similar to Escobar or other local narcos.”
Okay, so it might not affect us directly. But we’d like to encourage the Spanish speaking non-Colombians of the Netflix show to go home and perfect their Paisa accents. Why? Because some Colombians are already irritated by the show, given the deep wounds caused by drug wars. They’re impatient to show something different; they want to feel empowered, not defined by something that happened decades ago. Let’s try not to disrespect their mother tongue, too.
10. Different Druglords
Producer Eric Newman joked that they’ll stop making Narcos when cocaine stops (there’s a reason they call it Narcos and not Pablo Escobar). Sure, Escobar happens to be the man who created a mass cocaine market, but the show is essentially about cocaine. Here’s hoping, then, that after Pablo gets gunned down, we’ll see some of the other drug lords taking the show forward – perhaps into Season 3.
This would be great for two reasons. Firstly, it would be a nifty way for the show to criticize America’s drug law policies (all they do is fight the suppliers, but do nothing about the demand). Secondly, it would allow for a multitude of new narco stories to be tackled on the small screen.
With Pacho Herrera and the Cali cartel taking aggressive steps during the last Season 1 episode to share resources with the C.I.A., the seeds have already been planted for an unseemly coalition of parties that all want Escobar dead, but for different reasons. Could Cali be taking the spotlight next? While the white stuff still sells, anything’s possible. Watch this space.