Mumbai, India: Though I cannot corroborate it with facts, I am rather confident that, around August and September of 2015, various permutations and combinations of the terms ‘Easiest way to learn Spanish’, ‘Pablo Escobar worth’ and ‘bad words in Spanish’ would have cropped up in Google searches across urban India. These were pre-Netflix days (dark, gloomy days, where torrents were the means to watch content) and the word-of-mouth on a Spanish show – Narcos – on the Colombian drug cartels was seeping its way through to India. It was a show unlike any other, with unapologetic violence, morbid machinations and the temerity to show a drug lord as a messiah – Narcos boldly went where no, or very few, shows had, and came out an unquestionable winner.
If Season 1 set up Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria (I bet you’re saying the name in your head in that distinct Wagner Moura way), the next one had an ‘end of days’ feel to it, as it led up to his death. And so, here we are again – another season is upon us, with the focus now on the Cali cartel, and how they wiped the blood off of Escobar’s crown and wore it as the undisputed kings of cocaine.
I could go on and on about what happened to the Cali cartel (God bless Wikipedia) and what we can expect from the new season that drops on September 1 – but instead, I decided to ask the people themselves.
Bogota, Colombia: It’s been 30-odd hours since I left India, and 30-odd minutes since leaving the Bogota airport, and yet, the rain has been constant. A quick beer at the hotel bar, along with what can only be described as an earnest but miserable effort at speaking Spanish with the regulars about the sights and sounds of the city later, I am in the backseat of Javier’s minivan, on my way to a football stadium outside of the main city, where one of the last scenes of the season is being shot.
The stadium has been converted into an airport – it is the scene where Javier Pena is saying goodbye to his American DEA colleagues – and the first thing that strikes me is the attention to detail. Whether it’s the boarding passes (styled, I am told, exactly how they were in the late 90’s) or the check-in counter, everything has been meticulously set up. After watching a couple of takes, I am led into a room on the second floor, which isn’t unlike one of the torture rooms you see on the show – dingy, one table, a couple of chairs and an icebox. Normally, on the show, the icebox is likely to contain a severed head. Thankfully, in my case, the box had Coke (Coca-Cola, just to be clear). As Pedro Pascal walks up to shake hands, I cannot help but think of his turn as Prince Oberyn, and the gruesome fate he met with on Game of Thrones. When that imagery has passed, he and I sit down for a chat on all things Narcos Season 3.
“We’re committed to telling the story authentically, even if only in the aesthetic and the visual style,” Pascal tells me about the new season. “This season sees a lot of new characters – it also focusses on old characters from seasons gone by, who get a lot more attention – it will not be as myopic as the last two.”
By the time you read this piece, you will probably have watched most, if not all, of the new season, but the sense I got from speaking to Pascal and the others was that his character – Javier Pena – will be central to the storytelling. And you can see why – Pascal is undoubtedly the biggest name in the show, and has that unmistakable aura of a bona fide star. He, however, credits this cult following to the way the story has been told.
“I had no idea it would become this phenomenon,” Pascal says. “What I did know was if we were able to achieve what it felt like being in the Colombia of that era, visually, we would have something unlike anything I have ever seen on TV. But never did I imagine it becoming Zeitgeisty.” As he gets up to leave for his next take, I ask Pascal what I should look out for in the new season – and like quite a few before him, his answer is “Chepe”.
Played by Portuguese actor Pepe Rapazote in the show, Chepe Santacruz Londono was one of the Cali Godfathers. Once a student of chemical engineering at the University of Cali, Chepe dropped out to join his friends, and the founders of the Cali cartel – the Orejuela brothers. “Chepe was different from the rest. He realised you can make and sell drugs, kill and smuggle – all with a smile on your face,” Rapazote tells me, without batting an eyelid – clearly still in character. “Chepe was happy at what he was doing – he wasn’t uptight, completely unlike the other members of the cartel. He was always larger than life. Even if I weren’t playing him, I’d tell you he’s who you should really look forward to seeing.”
As we wrap up the interview, Alberto Ammann, who we’ve seen in the first two seasons as Pacho Herrera, walks up and tells me I should definitely watch out for one scene with Chepe, where he asks cops to wait till he finishes his steak and beer and then arrest him. It sounds unbelievable – but that was Colombia in the late 1990’s, and no one tells it better than Narcos. On to Mexico, then – yes, that’s where the show goes next. Remember, you read it here first.