Tune in for season three of the hit crime saga and witness the rise of the Cali Cartel
Friday, September 1st on Netflix
The first two seasons of Narcos focused so intensely on drug lord Pablo Escobar (Wagner Moura) that imagining a series without the Colombian narcoterrorist/folk hero became a difficult prospect. But as the show’s creators were always quick to point out, the cocaine trade didn’t end with the death of Escobar, and neither would their series.
Pedro Pascal returns to Narcos as Javier Peña, the DEA agent who brought down Escobar after striking a deal with the Cali Cartel. “The enemy of the enemy is my friend, until he becomes my enemy again,” the character muses in the opening episode of the new season, as he justifies last year’s decision to get in bed with the Colombian drug cartel, widely considered the most powerful crime syndicate in history.
At their height, the Cali Cartel were said to control over 90 per cent of the world’s cocaine market. The founders of Cali were Francisco Hélmer “Pacho” Herrera (Alberto Ammann), the Rodríguez Orejuela brothers Gilberto (Damián Alcázar) and Miguel (Francisco Denis), and José “Chepe” Santacruz Londoño (Pêpê Rapazote). They thought of themselves as the gentlemen of Cali, rubbing shoulders with the elite, building complicated smuggling networks through Mexico, Europe and the Far East without leaving so much as a fingerprint. The third season follows closely as the leaders, in order to maximize productivity and weed out those who are not loyal to their cause, announce a plan to transition out of the cocaine business within six months, making as much money as they can before retiring and setting their families up as the next generation of legitimate power players. Unfortunately, unravelling a billion-dollar business comes with all kinds of consequences.
With Pablo Escobar dead, Peña is eager to shift the DEA’s focus into taking down his former allies. Some of his colleagues, however, are resentful of his previous methods and his newfound hero status. “That’s pretty muddy and not exactly legal what he did in order to help capture Pablo,” says Degrassi High alum Raymond Ablack, who portrays Peña’s new assistant, Agent Stoddard. “We pick up with Javier Peña’s story and his influence in the Cali Cartel, and their influence in him.”
The cast for the new season includes Halt and Catch Fire’s Kerry Bishé as an American woman married to a Colombian money launderer who plays a critical role in Cali’s international operations, and Cloverfield’s Michael Stahl-David as an eager young DEA agent stationed in Colombia. For his part, 27-year-old Ablack considers himself the comedic element to an otherwise deathly serious show. “Stoddard brings a pretty earnest, hard-working, diligent and inexperienced aspect to the DEA in Colombia,” says the Canadian actor. “I feel like Stoddard gets on Peña’s nerves a lot. But he knows that he can rely on Stoddard to do everything by the book and come up with solutions.”
Following the rules only gets you so far on Narcos, where even the most idealistic characters pivot when faced with harsh reality. “You start to see Stoddard become a little darker, whereas before, he was very by-the-book. [He realizes] you can’t really operate as if there were a theoretical textbook. You have to adapt in order to survive,” he says. “I really enjoyed the ability to see Stoddard go against what his gut instincts are, which are to not break the rules, and we start to see him relish in taking the darker choices towards the end."
His part on Narcos is a real departure from Degrassi’s Sav Bhandari. To get a better sense of his character and what it is like to be a DEA agent in Colombia, Ablack and his fellow actors had a chance to meet with real drug enforcement agents on location. “We arrived in Colombia well before we were going to begin shooting. We actually got a chance to meet with some real DEA agents and sat down with them for lunch a couple times, to hear their stories and get a picture of what the drug trade evolved into,” says Ablack. “It was cool to learn what their day-to-day lives are, and try to inform my performance with their real stories.” What Ablack had expected to be a group of very serious, militaristic people, reminded the actor more of a sports team. “Those guys are joking around all the time,” he recalls. “It’s as if you put MMA fighters into a dressing room, it really boils down to friends who are going out into a dangerous field of work.”
It’s that element of relatable human behaviour in stressful circumstances that the cast and creators are attempting to bring to the show. “I think seeing people that you perceive to be the villains doing good things will catch people by surprise,” says Ablack. “Things are never black and white or good and bad. It’s humanity that pushes people to have to make choices that they don’t want to make.”