Diego Cataño (Photo: Juan Pablo Gutierrez/Netflix)

When it comes, Pablo Escobar’s defeat in “Exit El Patrón” is an anticlimax in the best sense of the word. Throughout the episode, Pablo’s enemies—and some of his most trusted underlings—have thwarted his every attempt to force his increasingly desperate position toward some sort of bloody, dramatic showdown. Narcos doesn’t give him one. Or us one, for that matter.

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Finding that Los Pepes and the Cali Cartel have poached enough of his former associates to call for a big summit meeting to plot his demise, Pablo sends La Quica, Ricardo Prisco, and his last, terrified accountant to scrape together every stash-house penny he has left in order to hire mercenaries. Whipping up his meager inner circle to action, Pablo launches into a rant about his bloody vengeance that’s almost identical to his speech from two episodes ago. It’s Pablo’s St. Crispin’s Day speech, Wagner Moura raging like the Pablo of old, and spitting, “We are going to show these motherfuckers who they are messing with, because we’re still the Medellín cartel!” Only this time he has even fewer men, and one of them—the heretofore-stalwart Quica—is looking for the door, eventually turning on Pablo, killing Prisco and the accountant, and making an abortive break for it with a bagful of Pablo’s cash.

Pablo, impotently raging on the telephone to Attorney General de Greiff, threatens to “turn Bogota into a crater” if Tata and his family are not released from de Greiff’s protective custody and allowed to leave Colombia. But here, too, Pablo’s once-formidable fury accomplishes nothing, as de Greiff, attempting once again to shame President Gaviria into acceding to Escobar’s demands, is met with Gaviria’s cold, “It appears you have been misinformed… This ends with his death.”

Finally, after Quica has been captured and sweated into making a phone call to set up Pablo’s death, Pablo—realizing he’s been betrayed by his most trusted sicario—has still-loyal Limon pull over at a dingy rest area. Earlier, he’d spotted Limon praying at the little shrine in Pablo’s bedroom, and barely reacted at all when the terrified Limón delivered the news that Quica hadn’t reported back as planned. Barely registering the news (Moura has Pablo give a distant little grunt of understanding), Pablo takes his daughter’s pet rabbit from his cage and, knowing he’ll never be returning, tenderly lets the helpless thing loose in the overgrown fields surrounding his final safe house. Now, he asks Limon to step out of the car so he can say goodbye to Tata. “I just wanted you to know that I love you very much. You and our children,” he tells his wife over the radio phone he’d had Valeria smuggle into their hotel suite. When Limon asks about Quica, Pablo, staring impassively ahead, says, “Quica is gone, Limón. They’re all gone.”

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When Narcos’ Pablo Escobar is finally taken down for good, it may turn out to be the sort of action-packed denouement such an outsized, monstrous character (and most crime boss drama) seems to call for. (I’m scrupulously watching one episode at a time.) But, here, Pablo’s defeat is more satisfyingly in tune with who Pablo Escobar is and the world he’s built. As Murphy notes after Quica agrees to give up Pablo, “The narcos always talk about loyalty until their own asses are on the line.” Quica, so implacable and terrifying with Pablo’s bulletproof influence at his back, crumbles into a sweaty, pleading turncoat once his bullying power is taken away from him. In the end, it’s only the conflicted Limón who remains by Pablo’s side. Unlike Quica, he’s not, at heart, a bully and a killer—but there’s something missing in him that Pablo’s approval speaks to. And so he’s the one who ferries his “patrón” away into the night.

In Narcos’ world, where the grimy grind of reality turns concepts of good and evil into very similar slogs of rote, numbing violence and compromise, everyone, it seems, is longing for a big, cathartic action scene. Peña, once it’s clear that Pablo has caught on to Search Bloc’s ambush, lets loose a dispirited “Fuck it,” and walks straight into the compound, as Martinez’s snipers efficiently cut down Pablo’s hired gunmen from a distance. Just as, earlier, Murphy’s furious “this time it’s personal” beatdown of Quica is aborted before it’s really even begun, Narcos denies its characters (and viewers) the sort of neat, satisfying comeuppance they long for. Search Bloc commander Martinez knows there’s someone feeding information to Los Pepes (in fact there are two). But he brushes that aside for the moment with a wearily pragmatic, “No one is willing to police Los Pepes, so we’re going to concentrate on Escobar,” adding, with a glance at Peña and Murphy, “The man standing over Pablo Escobar needs to be a Colombian police officer.” The war with Pablo means abandoning all other considerations now but finding and killing him—picking up the pieces will be someone else’s problem.

Narcos doesn’t have the strongest storytelling instincts—with Murphy’s narration as a clothesline, individual scenes are hung in isolation. The Murphy-Peña relationship has never really developed as promised in the early going, their parallel stories only connecting when they’re kicking in a door. But their quiet little scene, finally addressing Peña’s now-halted assistance to Los Pepes, is solid, with Peña urging his partner to protect himself once the brass starts investigating. Pedro Pascal’s offhand “I don’t fucking know” to Murphy’s “What are you gonna do now?” is especially natural and human. The fact that there are two nearly identical interrogation scenes (one Blackie’s, one Quica’s) with Peña and Murphy in the same darkened room and making the same veiled offers and threats makes for some repetitive television, although Pascal’s smooth-voiced, cajoling menace is always compelling. (Murphy’s bewildering inability/refusal to learn a useful amount of Spanish makes these scenes not so much “good cop/bad cop” as “cop doing all the work/cop smoking silently in the corner.”)

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The show can feel both drawn-out and rushed at the same time. This season’s pattern of police raids and escapes has pointed out how Narcos is turning a two-hour movie into a ten-hour television season. Meanwhile, character developments often spring to life too abruptly. Pablo’s doom has been coming pretty clearly for a while now, and Quica’s jittery betrayal here comes on with unconvincing suddenness. Still, sometimes Narcos’ individual scenes are enough to carry an episode. The Search Bloc pursuit and capture of Quica is gripping, as the cops (including Martinez’s son, proving adept at his new intel role) use Blackie’s cell phone and a lot of luck to finally pinpoint Quica’s location. (The overhead shot of the various vehicles closing in through the maze-like slum streets is especially vivid.) And, as ever, Wagner Moura and Paulina Gaitan make the Escobars’ love and loyalty moving, regardless of circumstances or deeds.

In Narcos’ parade of bloody gunplay and tough guy talk, though, the best moments are often the quietest. Visiting Pablo in order that she might deliver the phone and cash to Tata, Stephanie Sigman’s Valeria jokes to former lover Pablo about the half-empty, bug-filled pool at his humble hideout, to which Pablo responds with a dry, “I told them don’t take me anywhere that doesn’t have a beautiful pool.” And later, when Valeria tells Tata that she can’t leave so soon, since she’s supposedly conducting an interview in the family’s hotel room, Tata—though grateful for what her husband’s mistress has done—responds coolly, “Then stay. You can show yourself out when you’re ready.”

With Pablo on the run and essentially powerless—the Cali Cartel takes over his Miami operations here nearly without lifting a finger (RIP, El Leon)—and only two episodes left, seeing what happens to this larger-than-life, real-life villain will be key to how this second season of Narcos resonates. Who is Pablo Escobar without the power to enact his will? And what is Narcos without Pablo Escobar?

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Stray observations

  • Murphy’s rage at Quica isn’t over-explained, but, apart from being one of the sicarios who was going to shoot the baby the Murphys eventually adopted, he’s also the guy who shot Murphy’s original DEA partner in the very first episode of the series.
  • Also, RIP, Valeria, murdered and grotesquely displayed outside of Tata’s hotel by Los Pepes who, it also turns out, have murdered all of Fernando Duque’s family as well.
  • Responding to the “protesting too much” Quica, Leynar Gomez makes LimĂłn’s declaration of loyalty strangely touching in its simplicity. “I’m loyal to the boss. And if I have to die, I’ll die.”
  • Confronted by Peña, Trujillo, too, makes the choice to stop aiding Los Pepes, affirming Martinez’s judgement that people have to see the forces of legitimate law and order take him down. We’ll see.

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