History (and a chat with showrunner Eric Newman) provides clues as to what Pablo Escobar leaves in his wake.
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the season two finale of Narcos.]
Narcos answered the No. 1 burning question of season two when Netflix renewed the drug cartel drama for a third and fourth season. The confirmation that the show will go on after the death of Pablo Escobar, however, only brings about more curiosity as to what lies ahead for a series that, so far, has lived and breathed only for the Medellin Cartel kingpin.
The finale of season two brought an end to the two-season story of Escobar (played by Wagner Moura) by re-creating the 1993 Medellin rooftop shootout that brought down the real-life patron. It also clearly set up where the drug war will go with its ending note on the Cali Cartel, the rising rival to Escobar that had been lying in wait nearly all season long.
Historically, Cali took over as Medellin fell, dominating the the drug-trafficking trade and eventually becoming responsible for 90 percent of the cocaine in the United States at the height of its reign. But Cali is a different beast than Escobar's monster, providing Narcos with an opportunity to reinvent itself when it returns.
The Hollywood Reporter spoke to showrunner Eric Newman after the renewal news. Here are the biggest questions going into season three, deciphered to the best of THR's ability from everything we know so far.
Boyd Holbrook and Pedro Pascal play the real-life DEA agents who took down Pablo Escobar: Steve Murphy and Javier Pena, respectively. The real-life pair served as series consultants for seasons one and two, but catching and killing Escobar was where their real-life story ended. Though neither retired until much later, they each left Colombia shortly after Escobar's death.
The show is a dramatization, but Newman gives it authenticity by sticking to a chronology of actual events. "It’s probably 50-50," he told THR about how much of the show is fiction and how much is true. "Even when we had to stray from reality, we tried to be consistent with what the reality would be and how people would react to things."
The final moments of the finale appeared to set up Pena for a likely return. While the rest of the Colombian police are no-doubt celebrating their victory over catching Escobar, he is being told cocaine production is actually on the rise as the conversation turns away from Medellin and towards the Cali Cartel. On Oct. 12, with filming of the third season underway in Colombia, Netflix confirmed Pascal's return with a season-three photo. "The blow must go on. Pablo might be dead but the war is not over," the series tweeted from its official account.
Narcos has yet to confirm the return of Holbrook, who will next appear as a big-screen villain in the third Wolverine movie, Logan. While it's hard to imagine the series without its voice, English-speaking narrator Murphy, two new DEA agents have been added as series regulars for season three: Michael Stahl-David (Show Me a Hero) as Chris Feistl and New Zealand actor Matt Whelan as his partner, Daniel Van Ness. Feistl is described as being the more serious of the two and a young agent who sought out assignment to Colombia as the drug trade shifts to Cali.
With a potential new buddy-cop duo in place, it will be interesting to see which side of the coin Newman comes down on. (See what Holbrook had to say when asked about Murphy's return here.)
Out with the old and in with the new? Not so fast.
Though the season three and four announcement video from Netflix replaced an image of Pablo with Gilberto (Damian Alcazar) amid the words, "The blow must go on," Newman says there is no replacing Pablo Escobar.
"Unlike Escobar, who had positioned himself as an outlaw, Cali was very much a part of the system," he said about the new but different kind of villain. "While Escobar was a single-cell organism, they were a complex, multicelled organism."
While he confirmed that Gilberto will be a big part of season three, there are four Cali godfathers in play: Rodriguez brothers Gilberto and Miguel (Francisco Denis), Pacho Herrera (Alberto Ammann) and a fourth named "Chepe" who has yet to enter the Narcos universe.
After the news of Pablo's death, Tata's motherly instincts truly kick in. While Pablo's mother, Hermilda, is focused on getting on the local news, Tata is seen putting her grief and pride aside by approaching her husband's enemy for help to get her and the children out of Colombia. With Gilberto's rising star-wattage on the series, the scene could serve as a setup for Tata's story to continue, especially with this season's breakout performance from Paulina Gaitan.
The real Victoria Escobar and her children, Manuela and Juan Pablo, ultimately fled Colombia in 1994 for Buenos Aires, Argentina, where they changed their names. Juan Pablo detailed the family's life after his father's death in a 2009 documentary, Sins of My Father, and book, Pablo Escobar, My Father.
"We don’t know much about Victoria Escobar, but we like to imagine that as the walls were closing in on her, her duties as a mother began to overtake her duties as a wife," said Newman about her season two portrayal. He also explained the decision to keep Juan Pablo as a child through the series. "We have enormous sympathy for Juan Pablo and thought the most generous thing to do was to depict him as the naive child he most certainly was, regardless of his age, rather than revisit what must have been a horrible period in his life and pass judgment on what he did or what he should have done and likely didn’t do."
Since Newman is a stickler for chronology, and given the urgency of cocaine production being at a high, all signs point to the third season opening with the new hunt to take down Cali. Will the premiere start moments after it left off, similar to season two, or days, weeks, or months ahead to when the new villains are even more established? A slight time jump might help viewers become more accustomed to the new characters, especially if an introduction to the new Murphy is needed.
"[We're adding] a fair amount," said Newman of new castmembers — likely to include the fourth Cali godfather, Chepe. "I’d liken it to season two in that there were a lot of new characters. ... It’s a multiple narrative so there will be a number of new stories that hopefully will be captivating." Citing the season two storyline between Escobar's driver, Limon (Leynar Gomez), and single mother Maritza (Martina García), as an example of an outside story that resonated with viewers, he added: "We like telling the story of some of the unknowns in the drug war, the people who were touched by it."
In addition to Stahl-David and Whelan, Narcos has added a third new series regular, Kerry Bishe (Halt and Catch Fire), that fits that bill. Bishe will play Christina, an American woman whose Colombian husband is involved in the cartel and who turns to the U.S. Embassy for help to get away from him.
Thanks to the myth and the man, combined with a critically praised performance from Wagner Moura, Pablo Escobar was a tough villain to say goodbye to. Cali, however, was a crime organization that upped the drug trade ante.
Called "more pervasive and more insidious" by Newman, he says the cartel had a "corruptive influence that went way beyond the outlaw."
He continued, "They bought the presidency of Colombia in 1994. They were insiders, and it’s very much a response to the level of violence that the hunt for Escobar brought to Colombia. We’re inheriting an administration in government and populous in Colombia that were tired of the violence and that changed the way they were going to wage the war, so it’s a more complicated environment in ways. It’s difficult to tell the good guys from the bad guys."
Newman found himself fascinated by the bigger agenda exposed on season two: America's practice of getting into bed with one enemy to take down another.
"When you can actually get inside of the tent or on the other side of the door when they’re discussing: 'Okay, great. We’re going to get Pablo Escobar, but what happens when he’s gone? And there’s a vacuum for his cocaine, who’s going to get it?'" began the showrunner about the decision to accept help from the devil to protect American interests. "With the CIA, it's about, what’s really at stake? It’s never just about cocaine. It’s about money way before it’s about cocaine."
Indeed, CIA station chief Bill Stechner (Eric Lange) appeared to be pulling the strings the entire time, shrouding himself in enough mystery and intrigue to beg his return. He also set himself up as another formidable foe to Pena and the DEA.
When Cali took over after Escobar's death, their reign continued for another two years before they were taken down and another cartel rose up in their place. Newman said he has every intention of exploiting the "revolving-door aspect to narco kingpins," which continues with the Mexican cartels after Cali falls.
While the first season of Narcos spanned more than a decade to tell the rise of Escobar, the second season narrowed itself down to 18 months. Two years is certainly a do-able task to cover for the third season, which could prime the already-picked up fourth season for a focus on Mexico.
"Cali was the cartel that really utilized the smuggling routes through Mexico and the Mexican heroin smugglers who were already incredibly successful," said Newman. "They very much got the Mexicans into the cocaine business, so there is sort of a natural evolution there. As to whether or not I would move directly into Mexico, it’s certainly a possibility."
Oct. 21, 9 a.m.: Updated with THR casting confirmations of three new series regulars