Pablo Escobar, Narcos season 2

Screengrab via Narcos / Netflix

The cartel drama packs sweltering action as it rolls to its inevitable end.

Season 2 of Netflix’s historical drug drama Narcos picks up pretty much exactly where the first season left off. Medellin cartel honcho Pablo Escobar has escaped his gilded prison and is on the run from... well, pretty much everyone.

Where season 1 was the story of his rise to become one of the richest and most dangerous men on the planet, season 2 follows his descent and destruction. With his dreams of legitimate political power long dashed, Escobar is forced into ever more desperate circumstances, lashing out with increasing violence as he’s assailed on all sides by rivals, traitors, at least two governments, and eventually even his fellow countrymen who once considered him akin to Robin Hood. Students of history will know where this is all headed before their binge-watch begins, but season 2 is nonetheless an improvement on its first year and, for the most part, an enjoyable watch.

As with the first season, the primary attraction here is Wagner Moura as Escobar. Both Moura and the show’s writers continue to do a great job bringing Escobar to life in a way that makes him as complex as he is frustrating. The first season saw him reveling in his popularity among the common people, but it was obvious from the start that his acts of generosity were done primarily for selfish reasons, to build his own legend. It’s a testament to the show’s writers and Moura’s performance that, as Escobar becomes more unhinged, violent, and obsessed with vengeance, viewers will still occasionally find themselves rooting for him to get away with it all.

Part of that is because the people he’s up against are often just as ruthless as he is—even the ostensible “good guys.” Drug Enforcement Agency agents Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook) and Javier Pena (Pedro Pascal) continue to be the audience’s main anchors on the “law and order” side of things, even as the notion that those two things are connected becomes increasingly laughable. The “good guys,” in the form of both the two agents and the larger cast of characters made up of politicians, beleaguered Colombian law enforcement, and various shady U.S. government players, do some very bad things in their single-minded pursuit of Escobar. They might not be as quick to outright kill innocents who happen to be in the way, but they’re more than willing to use them as pawns, and sacrifice them as needed. Murphy and Pena continue to be somewhat underdeveloped this season, but their best moments are those where they’re forced to decide how far they’ll go to bring Escobar to justice.

One flaw that sticks out during a rapid-fire viewing of the season is that it all starts to feel a little similar by the halfway point. This period of Escobar’s life on the run has plenty of inherent drama, and the show often capitalizes on that well. However, the cycle of one-upmanship between Escobar, his drug rivals, and the government trying to destroy him sometimes becomes overly familiar, if only because it’s obvious that Escobar isn’t going to fall until the end of the season. 

It’s obvious the cycle is just going to keep on spinning until episode 10, so it very quickly becomes easy to predict where any given episode is headed, with a few exceptions. Like many “based on true events” stories, Narcos is somewhat hamstrung by history, but that doesn’t make the pacing issues any less noticeable during a sustained watch. It may well benefit from a more relaxed viewing schedule for audiences not working on a deadline.

One area where the show excels is in its staging of action sequences. This season we get bombings, foot chases, and gun battles aplenty. The show does a stellar job maintaining a sense of geography and space during these sequences, and there are also several truly impressive single-take tracking shots that wind around and through buildings, passing from one character to the next. When so many action sequences are all quick cuts and too many edits, Narcos’s more focused approach is much appreciated.

The season finale clearly sets things up for a third season, in spite of the show’s big antagonist now definitively being out of the picture. With Netflix renewing the series for seasons 3 and 4 on Tuesday, there's plenty of cocaine left to go around.

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