As the hunt for Pablo Escobar enters its endgame, Narcos examines how a monster acts when he’s well and truly cornered. The answer, unsurprisingly, is “monstrously,” as “Deutschland 93” sees the return of supervillain Pablo. Unlike the police-flaunting, Supreme Court-murdering, presidential candidate-assassinating Pablo Escobar of the end of season one, however, this Pablo is a monster with fewer resources.
Coming to the reasonable conclusion that it’s time to send his family out of Colombia—after Los Pepes make an unsuccessful hit on Pablo’s longtime lawyer, Fernando Duque—Pablo prepares for war. Only no one is willing to engage him openly any more, leaving Pablo to spend most of the episode stewing in his most recent, least luxurious safe house, while his enemies apply indirect pressures. Wagner Moura does a lot with a little here. Peña’s inside man with Los Pepes, Don Berna (Mauricio Cujar) refers to Pablo more than once as a rat in a cage, an image Pablo had angrily rejected earlier in the season, but Moura makes Pablo’s impotent fury more rat-like as the episode drags on. (Narcos has him repeatedly framed alongside his daughter’s caged rabbit here, in case anyone missed the point.)
Our ability to empathize with Narcos’ version of Pablo Escobar is the key to keeping the series viable. To the extent that we can and it is, it’s because of the estimable Moura, who imparts nuances and layers to the character that Narcos’ often-blunt writing can’t. (The recent news that the show is to continue post-Escobar is going to mean either finding another exceptional actor for the show to revolve around or for Narcos’ storytelling to get a lot more sophisticated.) As much history of the Colombian drug trade and political history as Narcos lays out via Steve Murphy’s soporific narration, the series has always been about Moura as Escobar.
Here, the show’s queasy relationship with it’s antagonist/antihero is especially heavy-handed. There’s a wonderful physicality to Moura’s Pablo—as he’s become more penned in, Moura’s made an art of Pablo’s paunchy, sluggish walk and the basset hound immobility of his face. Listening to Tata and Hermilda squabble in their tiny hideout, Moura’s hangdog forbearance is subtly quite funny, as is his later, bemused reaction to henchman/doctor Ricardo’s prescription—after Pablo has a stress-induced fainting spell—of a homeopathic remedy (and more weed). And, as ever, Moura yanks Narcos’ moral universe off kilter through sheer force of acting talent in the scene where he bids farewell to his family as he sends them off to supposed safety in Germany. (Moura and Paulina Gaitan’s fierce love, as Pablo and Tata repeatedly kiss and embrace here, remains powerful and striking.)
But when political maneuvering thwarts Pablo’s plan, stranding his family at the German airport (with Murphy sent along to make sure they’ll stay that way), it’s time for Moura to unleash the terrifying rage that is Pablo Escobar crossed. The only problem for Pablo is that his rage isn’t as effective as it used to be in his diminished circumstances. Again, there’s something darkly hilarious about Moura’s performance here, as Pablo’s anger becomes more and more baroque with each futile phone call. (Especially as he abuses a series of stone-faced German functionaries with insults such as “Nazi racist gonorrheas,” and threatens to wage a bombing campaign against the entirety of Germany itself.) In addition, Narcos portrays the Escobars’ plight with a decided glee in their misfortunes here, both Hermilda and Pablo at different points whining to various government officials about injustice. “Is this how the Colombian government ensures the rights of all its citizens?,” blusters Pablo to Attorney General de Greiff, while Hermilda pleads with the German officials putting them out of the country, “We just want to live in peace!”
Colombian politics on Narcos—indeed, most anything having to do with the Colombian people’s point of view—is usually handled in brief scenes between Murphy’s condescending narration. (As usual, the episode begins with Murphy summing up that, among other things, “Pablo Escobar was made of rage, revenge, and terror,” and he caps off his description of the bloody tableaux the Castaños make of their victims by drawling incredulously, “You can’t make this shit up.”) But Raúl Méndez has made reluctant and beleaguered President Gaviria sneakily formidable throughout his tenure, more willing to stand up to the U.S. representatives in his country and to embrace a darker pragmatism as the hunt for Escobar slogs on. His scene tonight with the uncompromising de Greiff (Germán Jaramillo, ever toad-like behind his huge glasses) is another example, as Gaviria listens solemnly to De Greiff’s pronouncement that allowing Los Pepes to carry out their reign of terror against Pablo will stain both Gaviria, and Colombia, forever. “I haven’t come to plead for them,” says de Grieff after receiving Pablo’s telephone appeal for his family, “I come to plead for you. This isn’t just wrong. It puts you, the President of Colombia in league with a death squad.” Gaviria listens—and then makes sure that the Escobar family must return to Colombia anyway. It’s the sort of substantial, uniquely Colombian scene that Narcos needs more of if its going to survive after Pablo Escobar does not.
As for Pablo, upon the news of his family’s impending return, he sinks into his young daughter’s bed, clutching one of her discarded shoes. Again, divorced from all he’s done (and continues to do), Pablo’s love and devotion is admirable, even moving. But this being Pablo Escobar—and this being Narcos—that image is used as a ghoulish, too-neat parallel for shock value. At the beginning of the episode, we’re greeted with the sight of a typical, happy Colombian family. Just when we think they are necessarily doomed, they are startled—but not killed—by a nearby explosion, evidence of the bombing campaign Pablo has undertaken against the Cali cartel’s money-laundering drug stores. But when the family comes back again at the end of the episode, we know they’re to be sacrificed—both to Pablo’s indiscriminate vengeance, and Narcos’ need to hammer symbolism right into the ground. A massive bomb Pablo had Blackie plant as close to the Presidential Palace as possible blows the family’s little daughter (and dozens of others) to bits. The weeping father finds her bloody shoe. The end.
- Unsurprisingly, Bruno Bichir’s Duque doesn’t survive the episode, as Los Pepes track him (and his teenage son) down and do what they do. Duque’s cowardly opportunism has always been loathsome, but Bichir made the former do-gooder lawyer’s sweaty terror at his eventually involuntary servitude to Pablo Escobar oddly sympathetic.
- Peña’s swayed from continuing to help Los Pepes track down Duque not by the warnings of CIA man Stechner, but by his knowledge that they’ll murder the boy as well. It’s Colombian cop Trujillo (Jorge Monterrosa) who turns the Duques in, dressing down the enraged and confused Javier. “What’s up, Peña? Playing the fucking American?” “Did you see what they did to his son?” “How many families has Pablo Escobar destroyed, Peña? Do you know? You don’t decide who lives and who dies. Don’t be stupid. This is how we do it.”
- To keep him safe, Martinez transfers his son from Search Bloc to intel, where the young cop looks ready to apply his father’s meticulous methods to surveillance.
- After looking understandably bored flying to and from Germany, Murphy’s at the center of an exciting sequence upon return to Colombia. Imagining he sees assassins coming to kill Tata and family, he’s overmatched by the National Police (under orders from de Greiff), who shockingly take them into protective custody.
- The look Tata gives Murphy upon realizing his role in getting them kicked out of Germany is not kidding around. “I hope you enjoyed Germany.” Do not mess with Tata.
- Eric Lange’s shaggy Stechner remains an amusingly malevolent presence, the CIA’s head man in Colombia here lecturing Peña about stirring up further trouble. “These folks are prone to emotional decision-making.”