Narcos: Why season two is more compelling than the first
With Pablo Escobar on the run, Netflix's hit show is going to get faster, darker and even more addictive
After almost a year-long break, Netflix is now streaming the follow-up to its hit true-crime series Narcos – but has it been worth the wait?
The series, which is based on real events, follows the rise and fall of the infamous Medellin drug cartel in Colombia, its kingpin, Pablo Escobar, and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents who worked to bring him down. The story is told from the opposing viewpoints of Escobar (Wagner Moura) and US DEA agent Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook).
By the end of the first season, Escobar had been captured and was serving a sentence in his own self-styled prison, before a tip-off led special forces to raid his complex and discover he had escaped.
Season two picks up during the raid, with officials finding the drugs lord but letting him walk free. Escobar is determined to rebuild his empire, but the enemies he has amassed will be his downfall.
Escobar's ultimate fate is a matter of history, but critics say the new series is no less compelling.
Ed Power in the Daily Telegraph says season one "was a sublime firecracker" using the gangster genre's "most satisfying clichés" to tell a true story, but series two is "perceptibly darker".
Last season, we knew to root for DEA agent Steve Murphy, "the white-hatted sheriff dispatched by Uncle Sam to help bring order to Eighties Colombia", says Power. But this season "asks uncomfortable questions of the audience" as it shifts to the grittier story of the "dirty war" for the hearts and minds of an unstable South American democracy.
Season two becomes "a full blown addiction", says Joshua Alston at the AV Club. This is Narcos with "its brake lines cut", more brisk, free of the need to lay expositional groundwork and paring back the "too-clever narration" from DEA agent Murphy.
Without Murphy's forced perspective, the show gains in "moral complexity", he adds. As Murphy and his partner Javier Pena's (Pedro Pascal) quest becomes more complicated and they are forced to align themselves with people "who share their goal but not their methods", Escobar becomes more sympathetic.
Yes, one of the biggest flaws of the series is "its continued effort to force an American lens onto the story", says Neil Genzlinger in the New York Times. While the occasional narration helps keep the plots and players straight, Murphy and Pena are often mere observers at "the world's most violent circus".
But it is Moura's "wonderfully blank Escobar" who commands season two of Narcos, adds the critic, with a performance that is so "inscrutably brilliant" you never know whether he's going to kill someone or shower them in money.
Narcos will go on even if Moura is bowing out after season two, says Variety. Showrunners Eric Newman and Jose Padilha told the magazine their finale sets up a path for the story to continue beyond the destruction of Escobar's Medellin cartel.
"We'll stop when the drug trade stops," said Padilha, while Newman added: "We'll stop when you stop. That's our pact with America."
All ten episodes of Narcos are available to stream on Netflix from today.
Narcos season two: How the hunt for Pablo Escobar continues
The second season of Netflix's acclaimed true-crime series, Narcos, will be available online from 2 September – so what can fans of the show about the Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar expect?
The series, sometimes billed as Netflix's Breaking Bad, but based on real events, follows the rise and fall of the infamous Medellin drug cartel, its kingpin Pablo Escobar and the Drug Enforcement Agency agents trying to bring him down. The story is told from the opposing viewpoints of Escobar (played by Brazilian actor Wagner Moura) and US DEA agent Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook).
Season one ended with special forces raiding Escobar's self-styled prison fortress, eliminating many members of the cartel, but allowing Escobar himself to escape. We know Escobar will be back for revenge, but Murphy is determined to stay and see this story through to the bitter end.
A recently released trailer for season two of Narcos gives viewers an idea of what's in store – more guns, violence, drugs and money than ever as the tense game of cat and mouse between Escobar, the Columbian authorities and the DEA continues.
The trailer begins with a world-weary voice-over from Murphy: "Okay let me break it down for you: 4,000 soldiers, tens of thousands of rounds fired and a bunch of f***ing helicopters – there was no way Pablo Escobar was getting out of this one... right?"
But Escobar is seen strolling past dozens of heavily armed, and presumably paid-off, military troops in the middle of the jungle, as he murmurs "Con su permiso", loosely translated as "Excuse me".
Around the world, news reports confirm that Escobar has escaped from prison and Murphy is clearly disgusted. "Yeah... it was the biggest law enforcement blunder of all time," says Murphy. "And now we wanted payback."
To the soundtrack of Renegade by Styx the trailer montages the bloody revenge from both sides, as the streets of Colombia descend into war. Murphy's monologue continues: "This wasn't a manhunt – it was an invasion. But the problem was Pablo was never more dangerous than when you almost have him."
Police chief Horacio Carrillo (Maurice Compte) also seems to be losing control and the trailer shows him throwing a man out of a helicopter mid-air. Meanwhile, Escobar carries out his own payback executions, finally coming face to face with agent Javier Pena (Game Of Thrones star Pedro Pascal). We are left wondering who will make it out of this confrontation alive.
So how long can this catch-me-if-you-can game continue? Deadline Hollywood reports that while season two showcases the ultimate demise of Escobar, essentially marking the end of Wagner Moura's run as the infamous drug lord, series producers have hinted at a way to move on post-Escobar.
The successors to Medellin were the Cali cartel, founded by the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers, after they broke away from Escobar. When asked if they could be the focus of a possible season three, producers implied it was a possibility.
Season one is available on Netflix now, with all ten episodes of Narcos season two released on Friday 2 September.
Pablo Escobar – the real story behind Netflix's Narcos
In the mid 1970s, a Colombian drug lord called Pablo Escobar rose to pre-eminence on the streets of Medellin. Famed for smuggling cocaine, he built himself into a criminal kingpin, and his empire grew until he was killed in a rooftop chase in 1993.
Now the hit Netflix series Narcos has focused new attention on the man and the myth he created.
What was Escobar's early life like?
Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria was born on December 1, 1949. One of seven children born to farmer and teacher parents, Escobar grew up in Rionegro, just outside of the Colombian city of Medellin. According to GQ, he started out in crime when he was just a teenager, first stealing tombstones before moving onto kidnap and ransom.
When did he start dealing cocaine?
Escobar started building his cocaine empire in 1975 and on many occasions smuggled the drug himself. He remains one of the few drug lords who – at one point or another – participated in every stage of the drugs trade.
Although he started out with one plane, others soon followed. He amassed a fleet of helicopters, and even owned a Lear jet. At the top of his game, Escobar was responsible for 80 per cent of the cocaine smuggled into the US.
How rich did he get?
Escobar got incredibly rich. At the height of his power the Medellin cartel was making around $60m a day. Each year, the group unflinchingly wrote off $2bn in cash due to damage caused to the notes by damp, or because it had been eaten by rats or other vermin.
Escobar, who amassed a personal fortune of $30bn, even made an appearance in the 1989 Forbes rich list. According to Business Insider, he was the wealthiest drug lord of all time.
How many people did he kill?
Writing for The Independent on December 3 1993 – the day after Escobar's death at the hands of a US trained hit squad – Patrick Cockburn said Escobar had a special reputation for violence in a country with more than 25,000 murders a year.
One of Escobar's creeds was 'plato o plomo' – silver or lead, a policy that meant he expected authorities to take a bribe or expect a bullet. During his reign, as well as thousands of rivals, he ordered the killings of hundreds of police officers and was even linked to the assassination of 1989 Colombian presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan.
What is Escobar's legacy?
The legacy is surprisingly mixed. To many in his home city of Medellin, Escobar was seen as a Robin Hood type figure. He spent money on social projects, including housing, at a time when the Colombian government was seen as not to be doing enough to help its own people.
Ultimately he will be remembered as a violent criminal responsible for the deaths of thousands of people in the pursuit of wealth.