In the absence of compelling figures at the top, the season wound up focusing heavily on Jorge Salcedo, the cartel’s head of security, as he works with the D.E.A. to take down Cali and liberate himself and his family from its bloody sphere of influence. Again, the focus is more on action than on psychology — Solcedo’s motives are noble and not mysterious — but the interplay between Solcedo, Miguel, and Miguel’s vicious son David (played deliciously by Arturo Castro, of “Broad City”) keeps the tension high.
In the first episode, Solcedo is able to sniff out the impostor at an important cartel gathering, and that sets the stage for his own adventures in subterfuge. Not only does he have to slip the tight surveillance net that he had a hand in threading, he constantly has to prove his loyalty in the company of murderous paranoiacs. D.E.A. sting operations are higher stakes for him especially, because the very fact that Miguel and company can be found makes it clear that a traitor is in their midst. And when he shuts down radio contact between his security man and Miguel’s hide out, he also gambles away the life of a subordinate who’s blamed for not doing his job.
As narrator and leading man, Pascal’s Peña was an advance on Boyd Holbrook’s Steve Murphy, partly because of his charisma and partly because he doesn’t have to play the idealistic naïf drawn into the muck. Peña was already jaded from the moment he was introduced in Season 1 as a guy who’s willing to leap over procedural hurdles to get the job done. The third season succeeds at deepening Peña as he continues to play cartel whack-a-mole, despite the certainty that another organization will pop up in its place. His promotion post-Escobar brings him back to Colombia with increased authority and credibility, but such a diminished will that he bristles in shame any time his Escobar triumph is hailed. He grimly commits himself to defying the United States ambassador and bringing the Cali Cartel to justice, no matter the diplomatic headaches he might cause.
The third season ends with the promise of a fourth, set in Mexico. So now “Narcos” cannot be described as either a show about Escobar or a show about the Colombian drug trade. (That Gabriel García Márquez quote that opened the series is now a distant blur in the rearview mirror.) But it seems reasonable to expect that “Narcos” will continue to get the broad strokes right, even if it continues to have trouble creating memorable characters. The great shows can do both, but a limited overview of drug cartels has value, if only to reveal the beast tentacle by tentacle. With the format so firmly locked into place, the ceiling and the floor for a fourth season are about an inch apart.
• The third season ends more effectively than it begins. The attack on the North Valley cartel that opens the final episode has more stylistic brio that “Narcos” has attempted in the past, given its devotion to a humble docudrama format. The sight of Pacho strutting through the chaos in slow-motion recalls the cinema-of-cool feeling of a “Scarface” or “Goodfellas” knockoff, but in the past, it was unusual for “Narcos” to pause for a tense, well-executed set-piece.
• Those brief scenes of Pallomari in court are a fine showcase for Javier Cámara’s expressive performance style. For more of Cámara’s work, don’t miss his turn as a male nurse who pursues an unsavory infatuation in Pedro Almodóvar’s “Talk to Her” or, more recently, his memorable run as the Pope’s personal secretary in “The Young Pope.”
• Overall, however, Cámara is underused, as are recognizable faces like Edward James Olmos and Kerry Bishé, who’s been terrific on “Halt and Catch Fire” for four seasons. Olmos only shows up a couple of times as Peña’s father, gently attempting to steer his son in the right direction. Bishé has little to do as the wife of an informant, though she does get one lively scene in custody, in which she blasts Peña for his false heroics.
• In a sad postscript to the current season, a location scout for “Narcos” was shot and killed on a dirt road outside Mexico City. There were no witnesses to the shooting, but 2017 is on track to be Mexico’s deadliest year.
• Now it’s time for you to weigh in. What did you think of this season next to the Escobar-heavy ones? Are you looking forward to Season 4?
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