Tuesday, September 5, 2017

REVIEW: 'Narcos' - Peña's Actions Are Both Life Changing and Pointless in 'Todos Los Hombres del Presidente'

Netflix's Narcos - Episode 3.09 "Todos Los Hombres del Presidente"

David follows his suspicions. Peña is shocked to discover the depth of corruption in the Colombian government. Miguel is sought after once again.

There simply isn't a clear and uplifting victory in Narcos. Every action has a cost to it. It comes from the decisions one has to make in order to obtain the goals they want. It comes from the victory being short-lived because of the reality of the world around it. It comes from other agendas compromising the action to the point that it no longer means anything. The pressure has been increasing with urgency over these last few episodes of Narcos. They are some of the best episodes the show has ever produced. It understands the tension and high pressure of this situation. Peña and his fellow DEA agents need to arrest Miguel Rodriguez in order to continue the takedown of the Cali cartel and prove their worth in Colombia. But it also understands the complications that come forth because of the reality of the situation. Even a possible victory can't be celebrated because it only exposes a new layer of the story that reveals just how pointless all of this has actually been. Peña has been so personally motivated to arrest every leader of the Cali cartel. He's wanted to do things better and different than how it went down with Pablo Escobar. He's been able to hold true to that desire. And yet, his soul and beliefs have still been compromised in order to arrest these criminals. And now, he is faced with the reality that it has all been pointless. People have died for this cause. Lives were put at risk. Careers could have been ended. Everyone is still standing by the end of this episode. That's a miracle. But everything has changed as well. The reality is sinking in that the long game of this operation has completely escaped Peña. He either wasn't aware of it or was simply out of the loop by superiors who didn't think he needed to know everything. It's such a devastating episode.

For the majority of the hour though, the Cali cartel is operating from a position of strength while the DEA is trying to scramble together a plan that will actually work this time. Everyone is still reeling from the recent failed raid to capture Miguel. It has been empowering to Miguel. He has the confidence to tap his brother's phone and listen to all of his conversations to know what's actually going on within his organization. He's also proud to deliver the statement to Pacho and Chepe that they won't be surrendering anytime soon. The cartel is stronger than it has ever been. He has successfully negotiated an end to the war with the North Valley cartel. Miguel is now the man making the promises. He's stepped into Gilberto's role within the business and has truly surprised people with how well he is doing. He's able to follow through on his promises as well. Gilberto successfully ran this business for a long time. But he didn't always know how to keep his promises. He was also foolish in his belief that they could simply retire from this life and relax comfortably for the rest of their days. And now, Miguel is gifting Pacho with the locations of the two men who injured his brother and is giving Chepe a new organization to run out of New York. So things are still looking up for the cartel. In fact, Miguel is more confident and assertive than ever before. He's still very appreciative of all that has happened to get him to this point as well. He promises to even contribute to Jorge's business as soon as he leaves the cartel for good.

And yet, that declaration of love and support from Miguel is too late to change anything that Jorge has set into motion. He has worked with the DEA to craft a new strategy to arrest Miguel. It's his last ditch effort in order to escape this madness. He sees today as the day he either escapes or dies. Everyone sees it that way. Everyone is grateful for all of the information he has given to this investigation. Peña is presented with the opportunity to get him out now before handing the files over to the Colombian government. But instead, he opts to carry out this one final mission. He doesn't even see it as a choice. He still has the potential to arrest Miguel. He's not willing to give that up now no matter what his superiors say. He's willing to risk it all for this victory. He's not letting anyone else in on that decision. He's made it and is now going to act on it. So, he's going to leak information to the defense minister while Feistl and Van Ness go to Cali as part of the takedown team. They still have the general's support but they are facing more security officers than before. It would be easier to strike when Miguel is on the move. But that comes with its own risks.

The true tension of this episode comes from the plan going awry because Jorge is discovered to be the leak within the organization. David has never liked Jorge. He has never trusted him. And now, he has found proof that Jorge isn't loyal to his father. He has found surveillance footage that shows him entering the DEA safe house in Cali. That's pretty damning. It's much more evidence than he had when he killed Enrique or Cordova. This is huge. It's also somewhat inevitable as well. Jorge always seemed destined to be exposed and not make it out of this season alive. The time has come to deliver on that promise. He has risked so much for his family. He hasn't been appreciated for that. But now, he has Paola's cooperation. But everything he cares about is in danger of being ripped away. He is called back up to Miguel's apartment. Miguel is armed with the truth and ready to kill Jorge. He has him tied to a chair with a bag wrapped around his head so he suffocates. Meanwhile, David is going to kill Paola and the kids. It seems like they are all dead. And yet, they all miraculously survive this episode. Van Ness is able to get to the family before David does. He is able to hold them off - first with his weapon and then the one that Jorge left behind. That firepower is crucial in turning the tides of this fight. Of course, David escapes unharmed. Meanwhile, the DEA comes bursting through the door before Miguel is able to kill Jorge. He wants him dead but is unable to deliver the fatal blow before having to leave. It seems too good to be true. It's a way for the show to keep a memorable and sympathetic character alive. And yet, it still feels rewarding in the moment.

All of this is allowed to happen and feel justified because the raid is still ultimately a success. Miguel isn't able to escape this time. He is captured by the general and his men. All they have to do is ram a vehicle into the one Miguel is trying to escape in. It's traumatizing but victorious nevertheless. Peña is now armed with the fact that he arrested two of the leaders of the Cali cartel. That's a huge accomplishment. He caught Miguel without having to step into Cali again. Plus, he was able to expose that the current presidential administration was corrupt. They took campaign contributions from the Rodriguez brothers in the hopes of being tipped off when raids like this were coming. Peña feels confident in all that he has learned today. His actions will make a monumental difference in the war on drugs throughout the world. But then, the ambassador pulls out the tape that proves the United States government already know about this corruption within the Colombian government. They've been sitting on this information just waiting for the right time to use it. It's crushing to Peña. He's now realizing how little his actions will actually mean. The government will still agree to surrender terms with the leaders of the Cali cartel. In fact, Miguel's arrest will only accelerate that process. Peña actually did them a huge favor. Now, Pacho and Chepe need to turn themselves in for the plan to work. All of this has a feeling of inevitability to it. Peña compromised his soul for nothing. He risked people's lives for nothing. This is the plan that was always going to happen. It goes unchanged. That's absolutely devastating to learn. It's not surprising that Stechner is the one behind this mess of a situation. He even appears to offer Peña some solace because he put in great work. But it's still a bittersweet victory that won't last. All of this hard work won't amount to much. Things will go unchanged moving forward.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Todos Los Hombres del Presidente" was written by Jason George, Carlo Bernard & Doug Miro and directed by Andi Baiz.
  • This hour has the feeling of a season finale. It's very climatic. It features the DEA finally being successful with their main mission. It then has a devastating final twist that completely reshapes everything for the investigation. But these events occurring in the penultimate episode would suggest that the show has another trick up its sleeve to play.
  • Perhaps the twist will have something to do with Pacho. It's clear that he and Chepe are going to surrender in order for the grand plan to occur. But Chepe is seen surrendering to the police. He just wants to enjoy a final meal first. Meanwhile, Pacho still has one last mission of personal vengeance he needs to complete. So, that could be an interesting complication in this story.
  • Carolina hasn't been seen in a long time. The audience is now just suppose to accept that she and Peña have a trusting relationship. He sees her as a journalist with integrity who hasn't been corrupted by this world. That hasn't been earned. It's just important for Peña to connect all of his facts regarding the finances of this new administration in Colombia.
  • It's a little melodramatic and unnecessary that Jorge sees Enrique in the corner of the room when the life is being sucked out of him. It makes it clear that he is on the verge of death and filled with immense guilt. But it also makes it clear that he's unlikely to actually die. Otherwise, the show wouldn't need to remind the audience of the decisions that Jorge has had to make in order to survive.
  • The drama keeps going back and forth on if Maria and her son are of any use to the Cali cartel. Miguel would have completely missed David's call informing him of Jorge's betrayal if not for the little boy. But then, Maria just randomly appears while Miguel is torturing Jorge. He screams at her and she disappears once more. That seems unnecessary.
  • With the leaders of Cali in jail, their cartel won't be as strong as Miguel intended it to be. So, the understanding with North Valley may be off. But it seems unlikely that David is just going to agree to whatever his father and uncle have planned. He's a wildcard. He's important in exposing Jorge. But can he successfully run the cartel that is allegedly getting out of the business? That's unclear.

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.