There aren’t many familiar faces in Narcos season three. DEA agent Steve Murphy, played by actor Boyd Holbrook, has left Colombia for good, while Wagner Moura’s magnetic Pablo Escobar is… well, if you’ve been following the first two seasons, you’ll know what happened to him.
So, who will we recognise in the latest season of Narcos on Netflix?
Javier Pena for one, the agent who doggedly trailed his target through two seasons of Netflix’s story of the hunt for cocaine king Escobar. He is the link in the chain, introducing us to the new era of drug trafficking that emerges following Escobar’s fall.
Actor Pedro Pascal, who plays Pena in the series, says he was as surprised as anyone when he realised the story wouldn’t end with Escobar.
“I was prepared for two seasons,” he says. “But being a part of the third season did come as a complete surprise; my character Javier Pena actually left Colombia six months after Pablo Escobar died.”
However, while the real DEA agent Pascal’s character is based on left the field, in Netflix’s series Pena continues to head up the operation against the Colombian drug cartels. As well as being one of the few remaining characters from the opening two seasons, Pascal takes over as the show’s narrator, explaining what happens after that dramatic rooftop shootout.
He’s now the voice of the show – and he’s feeling the pressure.
“It’s terrifying, because the world of Narcos that Netflix introduced us to was narrated by Boyd, starred Wagner Moura, and everyone fell in love with that. Now I’m going to catch all the shit if people don’t like it.”
That’s not to say he doesn’t believe in the direction the series is going. Episode one of season three introduces viewers to the Cali Cartel, the criminal organisation that fills the void left by Escobar.
In fact, as Pascal explains, these new bad guys don’t just replace Escobar’s operations: they overwhelm them, going on to become “the most powerful international drug trafficking organisation in history” according to a real DEA report from 1994.
“It’s naïve of all of us to believe the story ends with Escobar. People continued doing cocaine obviously, but what there is to learn about Cali will blow your mind,” Pascal teases.
“The Cali Cartel is a completely different animal; these are four very powerful men that are integrated into the society they control. Their hands are in every pocket of that society. It’s a much more insidious existence, and a much harder one to fight.”
Pascal points to one particular example of the Cali’s power, which he learned about during preparation for season three. The cartel’s control extended to the fleet of taxi drivers operating in the city of Cali, whose drivers would report on any suspicious individuals coming in or out of the city. The New York Times reported how they used voice scrambling radios and videophones to communicate with the drug bosses’ security network, an almost obsessive level of surveillance that led to their nickname ‘The Cali KGB’.
“They knew every individual who came and left Cali,” Pascal says. They found a way to control the taxis and record everything that was happening in their cabs. I was like, ‘That’s really scary, but wow that’s also really f***ing smart’. No stone unturned.”
Really smart – and really brutal.
“When we were shooting in Cali you would hear stories,” Pascal says of his time filming Narcos in Colombia. “You would be driven to a location by a driver who was from Cali and he would tell you, ‘Yeah you see this pond? They filled it up with alligators so they would eat the severed remains of their victims.’ I’m like, ‘Jesus Christ, it looks like a beautiful little park I’d take my kids to’.”
Oh yes, Narcos is not short of grim stories to tell, even after killing off its big bad of the first two seasons.
“It’s a history that’s breathing down our necks; it’s so recent. When we have Colombian actors playing Colombian parts, they all lived it. They all had a direct relationship to that chapter in Colombian history. An uncle who died, a relative who was kidnapped,” Pascal says.
“To think that Narcos ends with Escobar is insane. If only.”
Narcos season three is available to watch on Netflix now