As Narcos second season reaches its midway point, the hope that the compressed time frame this time around would nudge the series’ often sluggish plotting into a higher gear gets dimmer. Unlike the adventurously moody character beats and visual flair of last episode, however, ”The Enemies Of My Enemy” slows down the hunt for Pablo Escobar by stalling out on a series of narrative culs de sac that see the show trundle fitfully ahead.
While this sluggishness can’t all be laid at the feet of Boyd Holbrook’s Steve Murphy, the return of Joanna Christie’s Connie doesn’t do the show any favors. A dully conceived character whose only function turned out to be as designated worrier, Connie returned at the end of last episode. She’d left Colombia because she was too worried about Steve’s safety all the time, and now she returns to worry about Steve’s safety some more, the Murphys’ scenes popping up to drag down an already pokey episode. Connie’s essentially on a little worrying vacation, where she sweeps in to tell Murphy she’s worried about him, admonishes him to not get killed or lose his soul in pursuit of Escobar, and then leaves to worry back home in America.
Narcos continues to labor to recalibrate itself, its initial intention to make Steve Murphy our eyes and ears (and inner monologue) in this world undone by the fact that neither Holbrook nor Steve Murphy the character were strong or interesting enough to carry his half of the storytelling load. Even with the frequency of Murphy’s narration at least halved this season, what he says—in Holbrook’s sleepy-smug drawl—is either historical backfilling that could be accomplished more deftly or a deadening restatement of what we’ve just seen. Narcos perpetually uses Murphy to make sure no one’s getting lost. Here, when the power vacuum left by Carrillo’s death results in Peña putting his new intel in the growing pile on Carrillo’s empty desk, Murphy helpfully intones about the “growing stack of unread files on a dead man’s desk.” Following Peña’s discouraged routine gave us all that information already, but Narcos’ never saw an opportunity for visual storytelling without thinking it’d be enhanced by having Murphy explain it to us. (Later, after having a painful visit with Carrillo’s widow—where he lies that the Colonel definitely did not shoot that kid—Murphy turns to Connie to say, “That was rough.” Sure was, Steve.)
The search for a new head of Search Bloc should energize things, but here, too, the narrative is bogged down with worry. New commander Colonel Hugo Martinez (unlike Carrillo an actual Colombian figure, here played by the stone-faced Juan Pablo Shuk) reluctantly takes the job, mainly because his rookie cop son has joined Search Bloc against the Colonel’s wishes. There’s some snap to Martinez’s introduction as a by-the-book alternative to the morally flexible Carrillo. (It’s refreshing to see him stand up to the assembled United States officials, announcing that his methods will admit no outside influence over what is a Colombian problem.) But in the episode, Martinez is mainly saddled with setting up a father-son plot and promising that everything will be fine—even though, to congratulate him on his new position, Pablo has already sent him a lovely funeral urn, complete with obituary.
The meat of the episode comes down to Peña’s growing willingness to follow the late Carrillo’s path of expediency in the hunt for Pablo Escobar. After contemptuously telling off Judy Moncada and the right-wing guerrilla leader Castaño brothers at the start of the episode (with Pedro Pascal deploying some fine disgusted body language), Peña reconsiders the trio’s offer of help once he sees how the post-Carrillo regime’s disorganization ensures that some of Escobar’s men will escape the house he’s surveilling. Calling in the Castaños—to the displeasure of Jorge Monterrosa’s Trujillo—the stash house is taken down, resulting in the deaths of a number of Pablo’s sicarios and the capture of Escobar right-hand man Velasco. It’s an energetic little set piece, with Peña’s pursuit of Velasco seeing episode director Josef Kubota Wladyka employ some nifty zooms to keep the frame always in play during the action. After the Castaños have taken possession of the doomed Velasco, Peña assures the dubious Trujillo, “It won’t happen again.” But Peña’s growing dissatisfaction, coupled with his grief and guilt over providing the planted info that got Carrillo and dozens of cops killed, makes Peña ever more susceptible to make deals with various devils.
Similarly willing to deal with both sides of the drug war is Maritza, stealthily becoming Narcos’ most interesting new character. Martina García, with her hard eyes set in a shockingly innocent-looking face, makes the case for Colombians simply trying to survive the madness of their lives with some semblance of personhood. From her introduction as childhood friend Limón’s well-intentioned prop, to her use as her Limón’s pawn, and now to her being the one formulating the scheme herself, Maritza is pulling a Jackie Brown. Pulled into a seemingly impossible web of murderous deceit, she’s working both sides, using her implacable will to protect herself and her infant daughter as she stays one step ahead of what looks like her inevitable death. She manages to talk the furious Peña out of arresting her simply by standing her ground and calling him out for disregarding her life, just as Pablo had done. “They used me! They’re throwing my life away!,” she rages at Peña, “You’re all the same.” And later, she returns the favor on Limón, setting him up to get Velasco and his men taken down. “It worked out. We’re even,” concedes Peña, but, knowing she’s still in as much danger as before, Maritza won’t let up, pressing Peña for papers to get her family to safety. “It doesn’t work like that,” apologizes Peña guiltily, but I’m not counting Maritza out. She’s the one character in Narcos yet who refuses to be shunted aside as part of the war over Pablo Escobar.
As for Pablo himself, well—he’s worried. After the flush of triumph and confidence that came with Carrillo’s death, Pablo seeks to restart negotiations to surrender himself right back into La Catedral and resume business as usual, but the appointment of Martinez, the kidnapping of returning money-launderer The Lion (Jon-Michael Ecker) by the Cali Cartel, and the news of Velasco’s disappearance all rattle him, and Wagner Moura spends much of the episode glowering uncertainly. Adding to the gloom, Narcos brings in Tata’s brother Carlos (Andres Felipe Torres) from Miami, whose entire role here is to tell his sister that he’s worried for her safety. (Everyone’s just so worried.)
Again, it’s been a weakness that Narcos tends to stall out for periods, and “Enemies Of My Enemy” is largely one long stall until the narrative kicks back in. Only the final scene here gives Moura much to do, as Pablo, having just told his men to start packing up the Escobar’s most recent refuge, tries to hide his perturbation from his family as they gather to eat the sumptuous meal Tata spent all episode preparing. Moura makes Pablo’s face an immobile mask where you can see his thoughts whirring underneath, fairly leaping to break out of the stasis.
- Like Carrillo’s chummy talk about after-raid drinks with Murphy last episode, Tata’s comment to Pablo that the Escobar kids really love their new hideout is a bad omen.
- Julián Díaz’s Blackie amusingly boasts that he’s fit to be the kids’ lifeguard because people call him “Flipper.” It’s a better nickname that Blackie, I suppose.
- The idea that Pablo may actually believe himself when he tells Carlos he did the police a favor by killing the driven Carrillo is telling. After all, if the government just lets him do what he wants, there’ll be no need for him to kill quite so many people.
- When upbraided by Tata for spending money too openly, Paulina García’s Hermilda relates how she stole a nice pair of shoes so young Pablo wouldn’t be mocked for being poor, telling Tata, “Being poor is not an excuse to look like you are.”
- Humanization 101: When the Cali Cartel has The Lion in their clutches, one asks, “Do you like working for a thug?” Cut to Pablo playing with his children.
- Peña, impatient with Martinez’s methodical plans: “A fucking grid search? Isn’t that how they caught the guy who shot Abraham Lincoln?”
- “I met the new head of Search Bloc. He’s an interesting guy. I’ve got a good feeling about him.” Thanks, Murphy.
- Velasco’s body, hanged publicly on a playground, bears a threatening note for Pablo from “Los Pepes.” “Who in the hell are Los Pepes?,” asks Murphy. Have no fear, I imagine next episode leads off with a Murphy voiceover explaining exactly who Los Pepes are.