Tuesday, September 6, 2016

REVIEW: 'Narcos' - Peña Gets New Intel that Could Lead Straight to Pablo in 'The Good, The Bad, and The Dead'

Netflix's Narcos - Episode 2.04 "The Good, The Bad, and The Dead"

The Cali Cartel discusses moving in on Pablo's territory. Limón proposes a plan to Maritza. Tata gets a gun for protection.

There's only a finite amount of the Pablo Escobar story that Narcos has to tell. All it takes is a Google search to know that his story ends tragically - though the drug trade lives on to this day. This season has been alluding to Pablo's death a number of times. When you watch TV professionally for a living, you notice a pattern of storytelling even on the best shows. Narrative tricks start to become more familiar the more often they are seen. It's clear that the tension is escalating this season. No one is looking to negotiate any longer. They are looking at this conflict as a war that can only end in death. It has provided the show with some terrific and more intense narrative stakes this season. And yet, it hardly seems credible that the Colombian and American governments would be successful in capturing or killing Pablo Escobar in the fourth episode of the season. The show certainly wants the audience to believe that. It props up a number of plot contrivances in order to create the big story of "The Good, The Bad, and The Dead." And yet, it's still a story filled with urgency and dread. It still makes a powerful impact even though it almost seemed like a foregone conclusion that a big twist was about to happen.

The episode starts with Pablo essentially depressed about the world caving in on him. The Search Bloc continues taking out his labs. Plus, Valeria's news story about Davíd's tragic night with Carrillo isn't gaining much traction. The public is starting to turn against him. Of course, this is all information that is being told to the audience. The people of Colombian have loved Pablo throughout this season so far. They are only turning against him because that's what Eduardo is telling President Gaviria. And yet, Pablo is frustrated enough that he writes to the editors of the world's major newspapers hoping to get Davíd's story more exposure. It doesn't work. No one wants to be associated with him at all. He's dreaming of his wife's murder. He's losing men every single day. His wife has gotten a gun to protect herself when the time comes for it. She doesn't believe the security at the compound will be enough. Pablo has kept his cool for so long. But now, it seems like the circumstances of this world are starting to get to him.

It's because Pablo is in that headspace that it's easy to believe why Limón would turn on him and try to earn his passage out of the country. He hatches a plan with Maritza to turn Pablo over to the government in order for both to move to the United States. These two characters have been important additions to this season. Their story has taken up a lot of time and focus. So, it's not surprising at all that they are ultimately associated with the hunt for Pablo Escobar. They've been given way too much importance to be just tertiary characters on this journey. And yet, they both primarily exist as plot devices. They construct a narrative where Pablo and Carrillo can engage in a bloody conflict. It's all because Maritza is in fear for her life and her daughter's well-being. Limón is able to find her somehow. It's never explained how he knows where to find her. It turns out she was staying with her mother - which really should have been the first place any reasonable person would check. It's not a clever hiding spot at all. But it's exactly what has occurred. She wants to get Pablo captured because it would restore her freedom. She would no longer have to be afraid. Limón's motivations are more murky. He hasn't been a part of the criminal operation for very long. So, he doesn't have a whole lot of loyalty to Pablo. And yet, he suggests he wants to escape before everything goes sideways and he gets caught in the crossfire. Because of his relative brevity of screen time, that too seems like a viable idea for the character that the audience could believe.

It's clear that the show wants this conflict to come to fruition as quickly as possible. But it is awkward when Maritza first meets Peña. Apparently, she is a friend of a friend of Gabriela's - the woman Peña frequently sleeps with. That just seems a little too improbable. It's a narrative shortcut to force this big conflict into action. It puts Peña directly in the middle of the whole situation which is a nice complication. But again, his personal life really hasn't been that engaging. It hasn't create much meaningful story. Gabriela is only important in that Peña gets to fuck her whenever he has a bad day at work. That's just about it. So her sudden importance here is just a little too ridiculous. But it makes sure the stakes are clear for what follows. The information that Maritza can provide can change the entire direction of this hunt for Pablo Escobar. If the intel she has is proven to be true, the Colombians could have Pablo by the end of the day. That's huge. It's something everyone must take seriously. Maritza does prove to be telling the truth as well. The American technology is able to confirm that Pablo is actually visiting his accountant. He is more vulnerable than he usually is. It's a no brainer decision to go and try to capture him. Of course, new rules in the wake of Valeria's report keep Murphy and Peña on the base. And yet, that proves to be a very good thing.

The tides really aren't changing in this war at all. Pablo is still on top. He is ready and willing to strike at a moment's notice. This entire story is just a ploy to take down Carrillo. Pablo wants to ambush him and deliver the final bullet himself. It's a gripping and intense sequence for the hour. It represents a stark turning point for the show. It's an ambush that the Colombians just walked into. The intel was good. Maritza genuinely wanted Pablo to be captured. And yet, things didn't go according to plan. Limón was playing Maritza the whole time. He's loyal to Pablo. And now, he has given Pablo the vengeance he has clearly wanted. Carrillo is the one man who Pablo feared the most. His tactics rivaled Pablo's. It made him a dangerous man to be the face of this endeavor for the government. But he produced results as well. The Search Bloc has been succeeding as of late. They get so close to capturing Pablo. And yet, it just didn't work out in the end. Plus, the narrative symmetry of Pablo using the bullet Carrillo gave to Davíd to kill Carrillo is poetic and so absolutely horrifying. It's a grim moment that shows Pablo cannot be taken down so easily. He will continue to fight until the very end. There is nothing the government can do to get him to back down now. This is his kingdom and he will continue to protect it.

Carrillo's death is a celebration for Pablo. He has finally gotten his revenge on the man who killed his cousin. But it's a whole different story for the Colombians and Americans. They are grieving the loss of the one man who actually accomplished something. Yes, he was a problematic leader. But things were working for them. They were starting to turn the tides of this war. And yet, Pablo was able to change all of that with one move. He makes sure that Maritza is well compensated for her role in this plan. No matter how much it upsets her that Pablo is indebted to her, she still appreciates the money he gives her. He wants everyone to know how he was able to kill Carrillo. More importantly, this move will cause even more change throughout the world as well. Eduardo decides to become a scapegoat so that President Gaviria can continue to lead without the public turning against him yet again. Moreover, the Cali Cartel has to reassess their plans to move in on Miami considering Pablo isn't losing his touch at all. It creates a precarious future for Peña. He feels personally responsible for Carrillo's death. But he's also the one person who could unite all the various factions of this world into turning against Pablo Escobar.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Good, The Bad, and The Dead" was directed by Andrés Baiz with teleplay by Zachary Reiter, Carlo Bernard & Doug Miro and story by T.J. Brady, Rasheed Newson & Steve Lightfoot.
  • The order that keeps Murphy and Peña from leaving the base was to keep them from being involved with any of Carrillo's illegal actions. But this episode also reminded the audience that the streets of Medellin are just as dangerous. All it takes is Murphy walking down the wrong street for him to be in serious trouble.
  • The Castaño brothers are introduced. They are the leaders of a far right group hoping to eradicate the communist guerrilla warriors out of Colombia. That could make them important allies to the Cali Cartel considering Pablo used their enemies in the siege of the Palace last season.
  • It's also interesting that the Castaño brothers become important pieces of the puzzle because CIA operative Bill Stechner visits them and informs them of the people coming together against Pablo. Bill is certainly up to something. His plan is just a little too shrouded in mystery right now though.
  • Gilberto, Pacho and Judy don't believe they need to work with the Castaño brothers. Things are going well for them. They don't need an army to protect their territories as they prepare to strike against Pablo. And yet, Pablo killing Carrillo forces them to change their minds.
  • Part of why Eduardo decides to become a scapegoat following Carrillo's death is the Attorney General producing a subpoena forcing him to discuss the events of the night Pablo escaped from La Catedral. That's not something Eduardo wants to talk about. So hopefully, his departure is enough to protect the President from such a scandal.
  • Connie shows up in Colombia again to comfort Murphy in the moment he needs it the most. She left their daughter behind. That's the smart move to make. But again, it's just so difficult to care about Murphy's home life. 

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.