In a season where the hunt for Pablo Escobar was always the endgame, the finale compresses a season’s worth of plot and character into an hour. In trying to be all things to everyone, the episode ends up pointing out how repetitive much of this season has been (another pair of police raids, another series of debates about the best way to deal with Pablo) while restating just how good Wagner Moura’s performance has been. It also reaffirms how Narcos has never known quite what to do with its antihero/antagonist, as, in letting Moura take Pablo through his paces one last time, the show’s take on this deeply flawed real-life figure remains as cloudy as ever.
Anyone paying attention to history (not to mention Netflix’s publicity) knew going in that this season of Narcos would end with Pablo Escobar’s death (and Moura’s exit in time for the next, Cali Cartel-centric season). That the episode begins with an amusingly dumb dream sequence where Pablo imagines himself as the weed-smoking, sash-wearing President of Colombia is the first indication of how shallow a conception of Pablo Escobar the show has always maintained. (The cartoonish sequence is shot like one of Rogelio’s telenovelas from Jane The Virgin.) When happy President Pablo shares a joint with Raúl Méndez’s outgoing President Gaviria, it’s funny but reductive, Pablo’s conflicted sense of patriotism boiled down to a stoner’s reverie. (Although I would watch a Wagner Moura-led stoner comedy any day.)
Along with that opening, we get all the versions of Pablo Escobar Narcos has failed to integrate into a coherent character, one after the other. We get the loving husband and father, having sweet, genuinely moving radio communications with Tata and his children. (With Martinez Jr. listening in and tracking him closer each time.) We get Pablo the loyal patrón, telling one remaining sicario, “You’re a good man, Limón. Thank you,” and refusing to leave the wounded Limón behind when they’re finally chased out onto the rooftops of Medellín by Colonel Martinez’s men. We get Pablo the badass, recklessly venturing out for rolling papers in Limón’s taxi. The first time he rode in it, he was hiding in the trunk, now he puts on sunglasses, drives into town, and buys a parfait at a shop, a defiant Spanish punk song playing on the car radio. (He even brazens it out when he sees a cop in the store, relaxedly pausing to hand the oblivious policeman the coins he’d dropped.) And we get the romantic Pablo, taking a seat on a very public park bench to have an imaginary conversation with his late, beloved cousin Gustavo (the returned Juan Pablo Raba), where the two childhood friends share a warm goodbye.
Finally, of course, there’s Pablo’s last stand, where, fleeing the Search Bloc that’s coming at him from all sides, he engages in one final gun battle. The bare bones of the climax here are taken from the actual event, but, still, Narcos has Escobar deliver the sort of blaze of glory denouement such a story as this seemingly demands. It’s no “say hello to my little friend,” but this Pablo—wielding two pistols, shooting down at least three policemen, hurling a bookcase over a banister—dies with his boots on. Trujillo delivers the coup de grace to the grievously wounded Pablo, the gunshot and his rousing “Long live Colombia!” cutting Steve Murphy’s final voiceover summation of what Pablo’s death means, right in mid-sentence.
But if Narcos’ first two seasons have been building to a grand statement about who Pablo Escobar is or what his bloody journey to this ignominious death meant, then Narcos failed to provide one. In the end, what do we know? Pablo carried a vague sense of social justice born of his and his family’s perceived treatment by those in power. He was powerfully motivated by family loyalty. He harbored dreams of respectability incompatible with his chosen path. He loved his wife, his children, his mother. Here, when he and Tata talk of his next step of getting the foreign press on his side, Pablo, once again, works himself into a fury about the government “making a mockery” of his rights, and the people of Colombia “deserving so much better.” Tata, Pablo’s partner in self-delusion as in all things, compares his plight to Nelson Mandela’s. It’s not that Pablo’s even wrong about President Gaviria who, here, tells the reluctant Martinez in no uncertain terms, that Pablo is to be killed and not captured. It’s more that, in this last extremity, we’re watching a character who has not grown, learned, or changed. For all of Wagner Moura’s ever-watchable magnetism, that’s ultimately Narcos’ main flaw as a series. It’s fine to center a work around a flawed, limited character. It’s less creatively viable to have no point of view about that.
Starting off this season finale, Murphy repeats the “Colombia is the birthplace of magical realism” theme from the pilot, to as little effect. In a way, it makes sense—Murphy, for as long as he’s spent in Colombia, never bothered to learn the language or make any meaningful connection to the country. With Trujillo’s shot (and his rallying cry), Narcos finally shuts up Murphy for good for what he is. A tourist. We see him—in a pose taken from pictures of the real Steve Murphy—grinningly holding up Pablo’s dead body for a picture. When he splits the scene, walking away back to an empty office where he’s suddenly become redundant, hardly anyone takes any notice. The narrative course-correction Narcos made in sidelining Murphy more and more might partake of this commentary on the American government’s role in the drug war, but that never made Boyd Holbrook’s characterization of Murphy any more interesting.
Peña, meanwhile, is brought back to America to face the fallout from Judy Moncada’s confession to the Miami Herald that she and Los Pepes were in cahoots with someone from the DEA. Pedro Pascal’s world-weariness has always been a lot more interesting that Holbrook’s, and the sequel-setting scene where the shadowy “operations” DEA board asks him what he knows about the Cali Cartel suggests that Javy will have a more central role next time. He knows a lot, as do we—this season of Narcos has made it clear that none of the Cali characters or actors are as formidable as the departed Pablo Escobar and Wagner Moura. (Do we really want a season focused on Pacho?) There are hints in this finale that the people behind Narcos have learned some lessons in the show’s entertaining but flawed first two seasons. Here’s hoping.
- Paulina Gaitan is great as ever as Tata, her scene reacting to the news of Pablo’s death undeniably heartbreaking as she allows herself a few moments shattered trembling—and then steels herself to tell their children.
- The fake-out with Search Bloc prepping for a raid on the wrong house is pulled off well enough, but, as a plot device (call it the Silence Of The Lambs gambit) it’s played out, here serving just to draw out the climax further.
- Pablo: “You look like Che Guevara.” Gustavo: “You look like you ate Che Guevara.”
- That’s the real Steve Murphy and Javier Peña in the bar behind Pedro Pascal’s Peña, toasting Pablo Escobar’s death.
- The stalwart Limón speculates that, were cocaine legalized (as Attorney General de Greiff advocated), Pablo would be “king of the world.” He says this while they’re playing Monopoly, in case anyone missed the symbolism.
- Also, Pablo’s dream of being fêted on his birthday by his family sees the shot cut from him posing triumphantly in front of his presidential portrait to him sitting on the sofa of his meager final safe house—with a crooked picture frame on the wall behind him.
- Hermilda, arrived in Medellín just in time to cradle her dead son’s bloody body, tells the gathered news cameras, “I know my son wasn’t as bad as they made him out to be.” Not hard to see where Pablo got his almost supernatural denial skills.
- And that’s a wrap for season two of Narcos, everyone. Thanks for reading.