For all its virtues, Narcos isn’t a show that trucks much with atmosphere. The series’ Colombian locations are pitch perfect, but Narcos’ house style is, especially in this second season, prosaic. With Pablo Escobar on the run and Murphy and Peña, Search Bloc, and essentially every soldier and cop in the country raiding every coke lab and safe house they can find, a choppy, predictable pattern has emerged. The episode sees the hunt for Escobar following the same, bloody rhythm—until it doesn’t.
The pre-credits scene should be a clue, a double-fakeout dream sequence that sees Pablo first happily stoned and taking in the leafy nature surrounding his latest hideout, and then watching in horror as his beloved Tata is gunned down by nemesis Colonel Carrillo. Narcos hasn’t done that sort of thing before that I recall, and it should tip the episode’s hand about what’s to come. (Director Andrés Baiz maintains the dreamy visual palette once Pablo sees Tata come out of their bedroom after his vision of her murder, teasing a third reveal that never comes.)
But “The Good, The Bad, And The Dead” soon settles into Narcos’ familiar narrative, with Carrillo and his men on a bloody roll, racking up Escobar bodies and taking down stashes of coke, money, and guns. There’s a bit of wit in a later raid, when we see how one pool hall headquarters is taken down due to some overwhelming sloth and laziness on the part of Pablo’s associates, but Carrillo’s methods lend a certain sameness to the pursuit. Narcos, for all its shooting and bloodshed, rarely pulls off a sustained action setpiece, with raids and shootouts chopped and perfunctory. Coupled with intermittent pauses for Steve Murphy’s even more prosaic expositional voiceovers, Narcos can be downright poky. (Here we learn about the right wing paramilitary forces led by the brutishly broad Castaño brothers, who, prodded by the CIA, seek to join the Cali Cartel in killing Pablo).
All of which makes a number of sequences here so striking. Apart from Pablo’s dream that kicks off the episode, there’s an effectively frightening scene where Murphy’s pursuit of an escaping suspect sees him lost and alone in a hostile and confusing neighborhood. It’s one of the few times that Narcos slows down to let a sequence build, and it works to sinister effect as, which ever way Murphy turns, menacing figures stare, advance, or shutter their doors against him, with only Peña’s timely arrival hauling him out of danger.
Even better is the episode’s final sequence, as Pedro Pascal’s Peña, wallowing in drunken guilt after his information leads to tragedy, allows himself to be taken on an eerie ride with an informant. Pedro Bromfman’s music is especially effective in enhancing the malevolently dreamlike journey as Peña is carried into the night, the car’s headlights illuminating armed men and an improbably still and luxurious mansion. (The reveal that Judy Moncada and the Castaños have summoned him there isn’t very surprising, but it’s the journey that counts.)
Peña’s ride is particularly suspenseful, coming as it does on the heels of events that led him there, as Peña’s reliance on a tip from the returned Maritza leads to the horrific ambush of Search Bloc, and the death of Carrillo. Coming as it does just one episode after the Colonel’s recall from Spain and his brutal gains against Escobar’s empire, Carrillo’s death here is a shocker. Sure, there are clues throughout that something’s amiss, especially if you’re attuned to action clichés. The fact that—due to the new ambassador’s desire to keep the DEA out of the growing scandal about Carrillo’s methods—Peña and Murphy are forced to sit out the supposed capture of Escobar is one thing. (It’s similar to Murphy’s absence on a raid a few episode’s ago, that had me worried that Peña was in big trouble.) But Carrillo and Murphy’s jocular radio chatter about Murphy buying the drinks later and Carrillo bringing back some of Pablo’s cigars right before the first police vehicle blows sky high—that’s a clincher. Still, the massacre, with dozens of cops trapped and picked off from all sides, is horrifying, and, even when Pablo himself makes his dramatic approach to the grievously wounded Carrillo, there still seems some hope for his survival.
The final showdown between Wagner Moura’s Pablo and Maurice Compte’s Carrillo is right on the lip of tough guy cliché as well, with Pablo delivering his malediction in measured fury. (Holding up the bullet that was Carrillo’s declaration of war, Pablo sneers, “You asked a child to give me this. You can have it back.”) But it’s testament to the implacable nature of these mortal enemies that they spit their last insults at each other (“Coward.” “Son of a bitch.”), and Carrillo’s death is such an unexpected development that it restores Pablo’s formidability just when it seemed the pressure was turning him into an indecisive wreck.
“The Good, The Bad, And The Dead” pulls of an even more devilish swerve with Limon’s plan to save Maritza changing direction three times on its way to an electrifying conclusion. I’ve appreciated Leynar Gomez‘s seemingly guileless decency since he was recruited by La Quica as Pablo’s driver, and it’s put to expert use here by credited writers T.J. Brady, Paul Eckstein, and Steve Lightfoot when it turns out his plan to have Maritza turn in Pablo was a ruse to set up Carrillo’s assassination. From the start, the episode plays up Limon’s nervousness, and both his desperate appeal to Maritza and his anxiousness while driving Pablo to his supposed capture seemed to signal that Limon was not long for this world (or this series).
There’s a magnificently conceived scene when Limon comes to remind Pablo of his appointment. Pablo sits eating ice cream with his family, an idyllic tableau that appears to make Limon question his purpose. As Pablo kisses his family goodbye, the camera takes in the background where the family’s house glows in cool pinks, yellows, reds, and blues, the sherbet pastels and Tata’s bright blue dress forming a scene of irresistible tranquility.
When the final string is pulled here, and Martina García’s Maritza is confronted by Quica, Limon, and, terrifyingly, the suddenly looming Pablo in a church, it’s masterfully handled. The fact that Limon had masterminded a way to both keep his promise to his childhood friend Maritza and cement his place as one of Pablo’s sicarios lands with an electrifying snap. In his final goodbye to Maritza—left unexpectedly alive, and with a bagful of cash—Gomez twists Limon’s ever-friendly face just enough to show how serving Pablo Escobar has changed him. Martiza and her baby daughter may be safe, but Limon is lost.
There’s an unexpected poetry to this episode that Narcos could use more of, especially since this season’s outcome is predetermined. Early in the episode, Pablo discovers that Tata has a gun for protection, and their scene together—as so many of Pablo’s domestic scenes are—is so warm and human that it seems to exist in a bubble outside of reality. There’s no relationship on Narcos more beautifully realized and moving that that of Pablo and Tata, and here their unspoken understanding about what Tata’s gun means is truly touching. Only after Carrillo is dead and the couple sits alone in their kitchen drinking coffee does Tata return the gun to one of Pablo’s men. As a bouncy, playful guitar number scores the scene, it’s the darkest of comedies, the most ghoulish of contrasts. Moura’s smile here is so infectious, so glowing with pride and happiness, and Paulina Gaitán’s Tata matches him. The happiest of couples, secure and loving in the afterglow of atrocity. Again, there’s a wit and an imagination here that lends dramatic complexity to a series that can sometimes be all of a piece.
- For all that’s outstanding about this episode, it’s still Narcos. Pacho, Judy, and the Castaños plot in a series of dull meetings. The Castaños themselves border on caricature as they toast their plan alongside Eric Lange’s smugly slimy CIA man with shot glasses shaped like shotgun shells. And Murphy’s (thankfully sparse) narration imparts historical exposition in deadening fashion.
- I’ve always liked the low-key friendship of Manolo Cardona’ right-hand man Sandoval and Raúl Méndez’s President Gaviria, two decent men caught in one impossible dilemma after another. Sandoval’s choice to throw himself on his sword to save the President after the latest public opinion nightmare is quietly touching.
- Similarly, while Narcos never delves too deeply into Colombian politics, I’m always tickled by Germán Jaramillo as the by-the-book Attorney General de Greiff.
- Pablo Pascal plays a good drunk. I loved the way he delivers his line “No, I don’t do funerals” after Florencia Lozano’s DEA chief Messina has already left the room.
- Even though it turns out he’s playing more cards than it seems, Limon’s sheepish hello to Maritza’s disapproving mother is comically convincing.
- If there’s one thing (other than the love of his family) that humanizes Pablo, it’s that, as twisted as it’s become, he appears to hold genuine contempt for those who exploit the poor. Snapping at the placating Duque here, his “The men of always aren’t interested in the children of never” is oddly poetic.
- Oh, Connie Murphy’s back. So that’s still going on.