In the absence of compelling figures at the top, the season wound up focusing heavily on Jorge Salcedo, the cartel’s head of security, as he works with the D.E.A. to take down Cali and liberate himself and his family from its bloody sphere of influence. Again, the focus is more on action than on psychology — Solcedo’s motives are noble and not mysterious — but the interplay between Solcedo, Miguel, and Miguel’s vicious son David (played deliciously by Arturo Castro, of “Broad City”) keeps the tension high.
In the first episode, Solcedo is able to sniff out the impostor at an important cartel gathering, and that sets the stage for his own adventures in subterfuge. Not only does he have to slip the tight surveillance net that he had a hand in threading, he constantly has to prove his loyalty in the company of murderous paranoiacs. D.E.A. sting operations are higher stakes for him especially, because the very fact that Miguel and company can be found makes it clear that a traitor is in their midst. And when he shuts down radio contact between his security man and Miguel’s hide out, he also gambles away the life of a subordinate who’s blamed for not doing his job.
As narrator and leading man, Pascal’s Peña was an advance on Boyd Holbrook’s Steve Murphy, partly because of his charisma and partly because he doesn’t have to play the idealistic naïf drawn into the muck. Peña was already jaded from the moment he was introduced in Season 1 as a guy who’s willing to leap over procedural hurdles to get the job done. The third season succeeds at deepening Peña as he continues to play cartel whack-a-mole, despite the certainty that another organization will pop up in its place. His promotion post-Escobar brings him back to Colombia with increased authority and credibility, but such a diminished will that he bristles in shame any time his Escobar triumph is hailed. He grimly commits himself to defying the United States ambassador and bringing the Cali Cartel to justice, no matter the diplomatic headaches he might cause.
The third season ends with the promise of a fourth, set in Mexico. So now “Narcos” cannot be described as either a show about Escobar or a show about the Colombian drug trade. (That Gabriel García Márquez quote that opened the series is now a distant blur in the rearview mirror.) But it seems reasonable to expect that “Narcos” will continue to get the broad strokes…