It’s time for money laundering and sexy intel gathering as Narcos continues to spin its Colombian-set tale.
Let’s bitch it out…
Episode two proves to be a much more successful episode than ‘Descenso’, if only because the heavy lifting (exposition-wise) has already been dispensed with. With ten years of history covered in the first episode, ‘The Sword Of Simón Bolivar’ is free to focus on a particular moment: the creation of the Medellin Cartel and how the Murphys acclimatize to their new life in Colombian.
The decision to revisit the drug route backwards using the Murphys’ plane ride South is a wise move. It’s a great example of “show, don’t tell” that was lacking in the first episode. Rather than rely on Murphy’s (Boyd Holbrook) voice-over, a quick glance out the window offers an excuse to cut to the production/distribution component occurring on the ground below. And while the episode’s early focus on Pablo’s (Wagner Moura) ridiculous wealth accumulation doesn’t really end up influencing the principle thrust of the episode, it’s undoubtedly important and confirms why he was so beloved by the people. There’s no doubt in my mind that the brief scenes when he decides to throw his hat into the political ring are precusors to a larger future effort to mobilize and reshape the country (as indicated by Murphy’s closing voice-over).
When Murphy and wife Connie (Joanna Christie) don’t have the right papers for their cat, it becomes one of the funniest aspects of the episode (the man processing their visa amusingly argues that without the proper paperwork the cat cannot be verified as either a cat or an American). The joke turns into a significant plot development, however: the delay allows the Narcos to get a hold of Murphy’s passport on the very first day he enters the country.* That night the Americans discover just how volatile Bogota can be when the neighbours welcome them with gunfire up and down the street. Fresh Meat, indeed.
*Murphy informs us via voice over that the picture will come back to haunt him, which echoes the sentiment expressed in ‘Descenso’ about Pablo’s mug shot. Narcos is determined to make us see the parallels in both men’s journeys.
The meat of the episode focuses on a single historical moment in March 1981 – the moment that radical communist group M-19 and their leader, Ivan the terrible, kidnap Marta Ochoa, the daughter of one of Pablo’s prominent partners. Our introduction to M-19 is amusing: a montage of their attention-grabbing activities involving the titular sword. Like most of the rest of the episode, these activities ultimately play out in a significant way as their innocent attempt to extort funds from the rich pitches them into a much larger conflict. In this case, the simple kidnapping creates the conditions necessary to bring Pablo and his traquetos – the Ochoa brothers, Wolfman, Gacha (Luis Guzmán), and Gustavo – together to create the Medellin Cartel.
The unification agreement also provides an opportunity for police to zero in on Pablo. Unlike the first episode, ‘The Sword Of Simón Bolivar’ begins to flesh out Pedro Pascal’s Pena when he tries to crack the Narcos by “hanging out” with the same prostitutes women they do. His discovery of the meeting allows the DEA to catch the Medellin Cartel on camera, as well as infiltrate the meetings using Helena (Adria Arjona), Pena’s informant. Unfortunately Helena inadvertently insults Gacha, prompting Pena and Carillo (Maurice Compte) to abandon Murphy in order to find her. The resulting scenes are the action highlight of the episode as the pair go on a torture/murder rampage. Unsurprisingly they discover her imprisoned and repeatedly raped by Gacha’s boys.
If ‘Descenso’ set up the series with its history lesson, ‘The Sword Of Simón Bolivar’ dials down the scope to create something more intimate and relatable. By focusing on the Murphys adjusting to their new environment, fleshing out Pena and the creation of the cartel, the narrative is much more digestible while still touching on the major themes of corruption, power and the escalating battle between Pablo and the DEA. If Narcos continues in this vein, we could be on to something good.
- The sum the coke business turns in is mind-bogglingly astronomical. $5 billion a year?! No wonder Pablo’s crew have so much difficulty figuring out a way to legitimately launder all of it (and end up resorting to burying/hiding it). I love that he even hides $1 million in his mother’s couch.
- A telling moment about Pablo’s priorities occurs when he dismisses his wife Tata (Paulina Gaitán) to bed reporter Valeria Velez (Stephanie Sigman). When Velez badmouths his wife, however, he accosts her. So Pablo is fine with adultery, but he still respects his wife. Interesting contrast.
- I also love the contrast between Pablo’s bloodlust and his soft, approachable side. One moment he’s taking pictures of the dead members of M-19 hanging in a tree; the next he’s escorting a woman and her child out of the park and chatting about the baby’s health.
- Honoured with Bolivar’s sword by Ivan as a peace offering, Pablo declares himself not only leader of the cartel, but the official liberator of Colombia. You can’t say that the man lacks confidence.
- Either this is a bad episode for animals or pets don’t last long in Colombia: both Gacha’s dog and the Murphy cat are introduced and put out to pasture in the span of a single episode.
- Pablo (when they decide to launder their $5 million a week): “Let’s buy a bigger washing machine.”
Your turn: did you enjoy the second episode more? Did you appreciate how small moments turned into significant developments over the span of the episode? Are animals in danger on this series? Are Pablo’s different sides painting a more informed portrait? And do you feel like you have a better understanding of Pena now? Sound off below, but please refrain from posting spoilers if you’ve watched ahead.
Narcos is available in its entirety on Netflix. Check back Tuesday when we tackle episode three.