Tuesday, September 5, 2017

REVIEW: 'Narcos' - Jorge and David Race to Find the One Witness Who Can Change Everything in 'Going Back to Cali'

Netflix's Narcos - Episode 3.10 "Going Back to Cali"

David and Peña are in a race against each other to find Pallomari. Peña makes a serious decision about the future of his career.

The creative team of Narcos went into this season knowing that Netflix had picked up two seasons of the show - its third and fourth. As such, they could have mapped out this story of the Cali cartel across those twenty episodes. It's what they chose to do for the story of Pablo Escobar. At the end of the previous episode, it seemed like that was going to happen with Cali as well. Peña put in all of the work to arrest two of its leaders only to learn that the Colombian government was corrupt and was never going to let them stay in prison for the rest of their lives. It was a crushing defeat that made it clear that there was still so much story to tell here. That climatic moment happening in the penultimate episode of the season also signaled that there were still some twists in this story that the show planned on exploring this season. And in actuality, the show is completely wrapping up the Cali story and a whole lot more as well. It's surprising. The tension is still incredibly rich throughout this finale. It's a solid closing chapter to the best season of the show so far. But there's a certain epilogue quality to it as well because so much of the story needs to be explained because the story of Cali doesn't end in death like Pablo Escobar's did.

The complications to the current deal that Cali has in place didn't come from the expected places either. At the conclusion of the previous episode, both David and Pacho were still out in the world. They hadn't turned themselves in. Both of them had unfinished business to take care of. Of course, there was always the expectation that Pacho would follow Gilberto, Miguel and Chepe into prison. He was one of the four leaders of the cartel. Their plan for surrender was only viable if they were all in prison. Him being out doesn't compromise the deal though. It just leads to an action-focused cold open that shows him getting his revenge on the North Valley family that crippled his brother. Overall, Pacho as a character this season largely existed in cold opens where he was shooting people in Mexico. He appeared outside of that but that's often where he was the most active and exciting. When he's in battle, he's quite compelling to watch. But after all of this is over, he still sticks to the plan and surrenders himself. Meanwhile, David isn't quite listening to his father's advice of laying low with the business right now. He wants to continue to show the world that Cali is still in charge. He's not taking care of Maria and her son like Miguel wants him to. That's a decision that comes back to hurt him. But the fall of Cali isn't ultimately because of what David does to expose the operation.

Instead, the true threat comes from Pallomari. The chief accountant was always the one plot thread that had been left dangling. It doesn't seem like a lot of time has actually passed since when he first went on the run. He still has no clue what he's doing. He's going to his friend for legal advice and realizes that he needs a gun in order to protect himself. His wife is still adamant about staying so that she can continue her secret affair. That's how they are ultimately discovered. It's just a huge risk for Peña, Feistl, Van Ness and Jorge to return to Cali. They have already completely destroyed this city with their arrests of Gilberto and Miguel. Anyone still loyal to Cali could spot them and want to take them down. That's what David is hoping to do. He's looking for Jorge for payback and Pallomari to silence him. Pallomari has so much information that could damage the leaders for good. He can't be allowed to talk in a trial. In the race to discover him, the DEA gets there first because they have the agents who are capable of tracking people. David has a few good guys and that's it. Instead, the burden comes from convincing Pallomari to testify and become protected by the United States government. He's still arrogant and entitled. But the plan still works out in the end. He gets on a plane out of the country and is able to testify about all that he knows.

The tension of the sequence comes from what's happening outside Pallomari's apartment. Jorge is the one keeping watch. That seems like a mistake because his face is the most wanted in the city for his betrayal of Miguel. But it's what happens in order to allow a confrontation between him and Navegante. Jorge always seemed destined to die at some point this season. He had the narrative arc that suggested a fatal outcome. Every time he could run away for happiness with his family, he chose to continue risking his life in order to make a case against his former cartel bosses. It seems like death has finally come for him at this moment. Navegante has a gun on him and Jorge has notoriously never armed himself. He sees the value in forewarning his allies over the walkies. As such, it's truly surprising when Jorge pulls a gun out to get the drop on Navegante. Not only that but he kills him as well. Jorge's actions have gotten several people killed this season. He'll have to live with those deaths for as long as he lives. But this is the first time he has actually pulled the trigger. It's the last big mission in Cali. However, it's the one that could completely change him. But it allows the DEA to escape with their two assets who will form a rock solid case against the Cali cartel.

From then on, the show is in exposition mode in telling the audience what happens next in this story. It's still captivating to watch because after an entire season the audience is invested in these characters and curious about what their fates are going to be. Pallomari's testimony put the pressure on the Colombian government. The leaders of the Cali cartel were living it up in their own prison. They were all united once more and strong in their belief that a deal could be made. The game changing moment comes when Peña decides to speak on the record about all of the corruption within the Colombian government and how much the United States knew about it. It's a decision that effectively ends his career. He's been risking a lot for most of this season. He returned to Colombia to continue fighting the war on drugs when he didn't have to. He put people in dangerous situations when he didn't have to. And now, he's revealing this massive scandal when he didn't have to. The ambassador is telling him to just accept that this is the best outcome that they could have hoped for and be done with it already. But that's not good enough for Peña. He's become too morally compromised by his time as a DEA agent to let this be the end of this story for him. He needs justice to prevail. As such, he reveals everything he knows to Carolina. That bombshell is what ultimately leads to the destruction of the Cali Cartel. It forces the Colombian government to act tough on the drug traffickers they have in custody. Chepe and Pacho both end up dying. Chepe dies after he escapes and makes deals with the wrong people. Pacho dies in prison because of old grudges from the North Valley families. And finally, Gilberto and Miguel are extradited to the United States to serve their life sentences in jails that they cannot control. So, it's all a very fitting end to this story. Justice prevails all because of a brave decision that Peña made.

Of course, Peña's decision causes such division within his own government. The ambassador doesn't see how Peña could ever have a career again. Fortunately, Peña has already resigned and is heading home after finishing what he came here to do. He can now retire to a farm in Texas helping his father with the work. It's as close to a happy ending as this show is capable of giving to Peña. He's worked hard for his country and isn't rewarded for much of it. He's given the opportunity to work as a DEA agent again. A man approaches him admiring what he did in Colombia and says he could make the right calls to restore him to his former position. That doesn't seem to be something he wants any more though. This season started with Peña feeling uncomfortable at home. He needed to return to Colombia because the drug trade was still a major problem there. But now, Pablo Escobar and the Cali Cartel have been eliminated. There are no longer any global drug organizations. The operations that do exist are much smaller. Of course, the story quickly notes that the attention must now pivot to Mexico and it's rise in the drug trade. That will more than likely give the show its focus in its fourth season. But it's barely even a tease at this point. This finale sets out to close Peña's story. He was at the forefront of this investigation. And now, he has found some resolution. He's still conflicted about what's happening throughout the world regarding the war on drugs. But he says he's content living in Texas with his father again. Sure, drugs are literally passing him by on the river. So, he may not be out of this business as much as he wants to be. But if this is the end for Peña's tenure on the show, then it was a pretty great sendoff.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Going Back to Cali" was written by Carlo Bernard & Doug Miro and directed by Andi Baiz.
  • Apparently, Maria only existed this season in order to be the plot point that eventually got David killed. He sees no need to protect her. She can always seduce some other man to keep her safe. But she decides to go to Orlando Henao who quickly sends his men to kill David as personal vengeance on her behalf. That keeps them from getting to the airport to stop Pallomari from taking off.
  • Of course, Pallomari is seriously considering not taking the deal with Peña because he can't promise that his family will have the same type of lifestyle in America that they are used to in Colombia. He wants to negotiate where his family will be placed even knowing that time is running out for him in this country. He really is a selfish man who loves feeling important.
  • There was division amongst the leaders of the Cali cartel before Miguel's arrest. Miguel didn't want to surrender. He wanted to hold strong as the most lucrative cartel in the world. After the arrest though, the four of them are content with the deal on the table because it's best for all of them while ensuring very little punishment as well.
  • No updates are really given as to what happens to Feistl and Van Ness after the destruction of the Cali cartel. They are helpful in getting Pallomari to the airport. But that's the last they are seen this season. Perhaps the show is setting them up as the leads of the show next season. That would be understandable. If that were the case though, the show probably would have teased something more with them.
  • This really was the best season of the show so far. This final stretch of the season has been especially great. The hours leading up to the finale were probably better overall. But this is a solid conclusion. Plus, there were so many great performances this year. That was a key difference that helped the stories across the board pop a little more.
  • As I've already stated, the show has been renewed for a fourth season. This finale seemingly wraps everything up with every ongoing story that has been important so far. So, the show could be preparing for a hard reboot next season where it brings in all new characters for a new story. As the creators are prone to point out, the war on drugs is still happening to this day. So there are still many more stories to tell.

As noted in previous reviews from this show, 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.