Saturday, September 3, 2016

REVIEW: 'Narcos' - The Violence in Medellin Only Continues to Escalate in 'Cambalache'

Netflix's Narcos - Episode 2.02 "Cambalache"

Tata gets impatient with life on the run. Pablo responds to President Gaviria's reward offer. Murphy and Peña meet their new boss.

The violence is only continuing to escalate now that Pablo Escobar is back in Medellin. "Cambalache" opens and ends with brutal displays of violence while Pablo enjoys his comfortable lifestyle of luxury. It doesn't matter that the Colombian government has increased police in the city. Pablo is still beloved there. Almost everyone is willing to protect him from a President determined to hunt him down like an animal. Pablo has escaped death on so many occasions. And now, he's taking the fight back to the streets. He's shooting back to devastating effect. The closing of this episode shows just how much influence and power Pablo still has in this world. It's a wake up call to the Colombians and Americans. They've almost had him a couple of times now. But this war won't be over until Pablo is either dead or rotting in a jail cell.

The dichotomy of Pablo Escobar running the most notorious drug cartel while also being a humble man of the people has always been a unique quality. He's beloved even though blood flows through his streets. He lives a life of luxury but is still a champion for the poor and depraved. This city will do anything for him. He developed the plan with Limón and the taxi in order to travel throughout the city. And yet, that strategy only worked because of the support he received from the citizens. And now, Pablo doesn't even need to leave the comfort of one of his many homes in order to deal with the people who betrayed him. He made his presence known in the season premiere. Just because he's being hunted doesn't mean he's afraid to show his face in public. And now, just because the President has issued a $1.4 million reward and refuses to negotiate with him doesn't mean he's afraid of continuing to do business. In fact, he shows almost no trepidation at all. He's surprisingly calm. Once again, it's an astonishing reaction. It's atypical. Most criminals would be freaking out and planning for the worst. But Pablo still has it in his head that things will still work out in his favor moving forward.

Pablo may not be leaving his house at the moment but he's still issuing the orders that kill so many people. La Quica and Limón return to the brothel to kill all of the whores just because someone there ratted them out to the police. It's a harsh reaction that shows just how lethal this entire organization is. Pablo has absolutely no tolerance for rats. That mentality is shown through Pablo guiding Limón through this process. Limón is loyal but it was also important that he didn't have a criminal record. He's new to this whole cartel. He's not a hardened criminal like Pablo or Quica. He still shows remorse. He doesn't believe they have to kill Maritza in order to tie up all the loose ends from their adventures in the premiere. He lets her go free when given the chance. That could be a decision that comes back to hurt Pablo later on. But Limón does it because he still has some semblance of humanity. He's not a killing machine. Sure, he's a part of the massive raid against the police at the end of the episode. But it takes an extra push for him to finally pull the trigger. A distinction that could really be important for the overall story of the season.

But again, Pablo still views himself as someone who can negotiate with the Colombian government. He doesn't truly believe Gaviria's declaration of a shutdown of all communication with him. Pablo still has Fernando in his corner who is able to make deals on his behalf. The hierarchy of the government is so loose that the President's words don't always translate into action. The Attorney General doesn't care what Gaviria wants to do. He believes that Pablo Escobar has the right to a humane jail cell if he is found guilty of a crime. The entire world is targeting him. They are essentially hunting him as an animal and want him to face the cruelest punishment imaginable. Pablo is able to build support by coming across as humble and genuine in radio interviews. He takes the necessary precautions to ensure his safety. But he still wants it known throughout the entire country that he isn't the problem in this whole situation. Instead, the government is a corrupt institution that wants to unfairly punish him for his crimes while completely ignoring his rights as a human being. That's a message that resonates throughout the people of Medellin. And that only adds to the complications and pressures the Colombian and American governments are feeling.

The American presence in Colombia undergoes a major shakeup as well. President George H.W. Bush decides to send a new team of officials down to change the way things are being done. This is their introductory hour. Three new characters are added: a new ambassador, Arthur Crosby (Brett Cullen); a CIA strategist, Bill Stechner (Eric Lange); and Murphy and Peña's new boss, Claudia Messina (Florencia Lozano). It's a restructuring that largely means Murphy and Peña can't do things the way that they've been for the last few years. They have to adapt and change to the new circumstances. It's especially troubling for Murphy because Connie just left and he got into quite a bit of trouble at the airport. It's an incident that Claudia is able to get rid off. But it opens some major concerns on whether or not he should still be here pursuing Pablo. Of course, that's an empty threat. Murphy is the one narrating this entire story. He's going to be here until the very end. This plays as a complication solely to keep him busy and somewhat distracted as things only further deteriorate throughout Colombia. Murphy and Peña muse on whether or not Claudia is capable of doing this job. And yet, she more than proves her competency in handling a tough situation. It's just something the audience becomes aware of more than the actual characters.

And yet, the Americans get a major victory in being able to find the house where Pablo is hiding. It's all because he needed a new, extravagant toilet too. That's a humorous detail in an overall dark episode. However, Murphy and Peña can't act on this information by themselves. It's just too big for them to handle alone. They need to work with the Colombians in order to finally catch Pablo. But that creates a whole host of problems. It could be really frustrating to see the Americans always figure things out only for the Colombians to mess it all up for them. It's a twist that has happened a lot. And yet, that's very indicative of the struggle at the time and in this place. Colonel Pinzón believes he can proudly storm Pablo's door and catch the criminal in a triumphant fashion. It's silly but it's the tactic that he chooses to do. It's not surprising that Pablo is able to escape because his men see the army coming from miles away. It's just the latest instance of government officials almost catching him but him escaping anyway. However, it's a personal disruption to Pablo. He takes this raid as an attack on his whole family who had to wake up and flee the compound in the middle of the night. So, he gets his revenge by ordering the deaths of every police officer in Medellin. It's a very ambitious plan. And yet, it's one that he is seemingly able to pull off because he just has that kind of influence and control over the city. Yes, he was thrown by having to leave his home during nighttime. But that pales in comparison to the chaos, death and destruction he creates for the government to deal with in Medellin afterwards. It's brutal and vicious. But more importantly, he just had to give the order. He didn't have to actually kill anyone. That shows just how powerful and smart an adversary he really is.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Cambalache" was written by Zachary Reiter and directed by Gerardo Naranjo.
  • During the radio interview, Pablo is asked how the story of Pablo Escobar will end. That question indicates that the show is aware of just how finite this story really is. But it also digs into the psyche of Pablo at the time. He believes he can continue living a respectable life filled with love and joy. And then, he can peacefully die "on his own two feet in the year 3047."
  • Pablo and Tata promised each other that they would never run away from Colombia again no matter how difficult things got. But now, Tata is reconsidering that deal because the family is forced to flee in the middle of the night. She's the one worried about Pablo dying. And yet, he still has so much confidence and refuses to leave. Because of his actions in the end, her fears go away as well.
  • Pablo's men haven't been able to find Judy yet and her labs are proving even more difficult to penetrate now. However, Pablo isn't going to give up so easily. She's the one person in the cartel who still stands against him. He can't let that stand for that much longer.
  • Maritza flees with her daughter to the Colombian countryside for refuge. That should keep her safe for a little while at least. But La Quica is determined to hunt her down and kill her for ratting on Pablo. She didn't do that. She was only able to escape because of Limón. But it's still a problem that will need to be addressed later on.
  • The Attorney General has no problem negotiating with Fernando and Pablo. And yet, it quickly draws the attention of the President. It's up to Eduardo to confront him about it though. But the tables are quickly turned once questions arise about Eduardo's presence the night Pablo escaped La Catedral.
  • It's not surprising that the tip line set up after Present Gaviria establishes a massive reward for Pablo's capture doesn't go well. It's not something Pinzón takes seriously. Plus, too many false sightings are documented which leads to Murphy and Peña tracking down pointless leads.

As noted in previous reviews from this series, every episodic review was written without having seen any succeeding episodes. Similarly, it would be much appreciated if in the comments, the conversation would only revolve around the show up to this point in its run.