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Narcos: the Life of Pablo drama returns for a second season on Netflix

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The second season looks at the cocaine kingpins downfall, the DEA agents that captured him, and the human cost of the drug war

The biggest shock at the end of the first season of Narcos, Netflixs excellent drama about Colombian cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar (Wagner Moura), was that the life of Pablo wasnt over. Many assumed that the 10 episodes would tell the entire arc of Escobars rise and fall and were surprised when it concluded before the gun battle that ended his life. (Sorry, everyone, thats not a spoiler its history.) Instead, season one was just about the rise and season two, which launched its 10 episodes on Netflix on Friday 2 September, is about the fall.

Whats odd about this second season, however, is that it is both identical to the first season but also entirely different. Just like the first time around, two DEA agents also based on real-life figures, Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook) and Javier Pea (Pedro Pascal), are hot on Escobars trail and we see them trying to track Escobar and his entire organization. Theres the same voiceover giving all the exposition, though it is much less invasive this time around.

Though much is the same about Narcos, including the exceptional performances from the main cast, there have been many changes behind the camera. After season one, showrunner Chris Brancato left to head up ABCs Of Kings and Prophets. He was replaced with Adam Fierro who was then fired and Jos Padilha and Eric Newman were installed to complete the season. The tumult behind the scenes means the changes on screen are slow and steady with things improving noticeably before the end of the season.

Season two focuses on 1993, the year that Escobar is on the run and eventually killed. That means there is less of an emphasis on the personal lives of the DEA agents, which was always the weakest aspect of the show. Instead the action focuses on Escobar, the rival drug cartels that are working against him, and the DEAs turf wars with both the Colombian Search Bloc tasked with bringing Escobar to justice and the CIA, which is running their own operation. The narrative quickly gets wonderfully expansive, but never too confusing, which is an incredible feat of storytelling by Padilha and Newman.

Narcos is an incredibly watchable series, which is odd considering that most people know how it ends. The how and why is extremely compelling and will ruin the office productivity of some fans who will find themselves staying up later than they intend to watch an extra episode. There is always action and intrigue, whether its crosses and double crosses on either side of the law, chases through the streets of Medelln, or Escobars narrow escapes from the death squad intent on his destruction.

However, Narcos has a hard time going from a good show to a great show, mostly because there is little ambiguity about whether Escobar is doing something noble, like there is with a Walter White, Tony Soprano or Don Draper. There are some ham-fisted attempts at humanizing him, including beefed up roles for his wife (Paulina Gaitn) and mother (Paulina Garca), but the most grating is his relationship to his daughters bunny.

The best addition, however, is focusing on the stories of some of the lesser figures in his story. There is an arc for Lmon (Leynar Gomez), Escobars bodyguard who died with him on a rooftop, who goes from a cab driver without a police record to a hardened member of the inner circle. He recruits Maritza (Martina Garca) a young mother who needs money, for a small role in the cartel machinery. She agrees and it ends up having unintended consequences.

We all know how Escobar is killed by the authorities, but we dont know what is going to happen to the people like Maritza, the Colombian soldiers hellbent on freeing their country from crippling narco warfare, or the agents working to keep drugs and violence off of their streets. That is the real surprise of this season and, ultimately, what takes Narcos up to the level of greatness.

Originally found athttp://www.theguardian.com/us