Milene   September 21, 2017

There are some truly excellent antihero stories on modern TV, but Wagner Moura’s portrayal of Pablo Escobar was one of the best. For two seasons, Moura brought humanity and sympathy to one of the darkest and most divisive figures in history while Narcos captured a country in turmoil. Seasons 1 and 2 of the show were excellent examples of television — as long as Narcos didn’t focus too much on its heroes.

Though Moura was undisputably the central figure during Narcos’ first seasons, we were introduced to the world of coke by DEA Agent Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook), and looking back, Murphy was only holding Narcos back. This isn’t to insult Holbrook’s performance. The Milk and Logan actor gave a good performance, capturing a man who’s uncertain about bringing his wife to such a dangerous and foreign landscape. However, Agent Murphy always felt out of line with the rest of the show. He wasn’t fluent in Spanish, often seemed confused and in over his head when the rest of the show had moved on, and consistently slowed this fast-paced show down. It would be like if a cop from a police procedural had a recurring role on Breaking Bad just to give exposition. Both the show and the actor can be great, but they don’t mesh together.

I’ve spent a lot of time wondering why Narcos Season 3 is such a great watch even though it’s missing the element that once made Narcos great — Moura. Every time I keep returning to Narcos’ lead. Pedro Pascal’s Agent Javier Peña is an unbelievably better fit than Agent Murphy. Watching Narcos with Agent Murphy as its lead was like watching this fast-paced series with training wheels. Watching it with Agent Peña finally allows the show to be as quick and cutthroat as it wants to be all because this character meshes with the show’s universe.

A lot of the reason why Peña works so well isn’t complimentary to his character. Agent Peña isn’t exactly a dirty cop, but he’s not entirely clean. In Season 2, he proved that he was willing to do whatever it took to bring down Escobar, even if that involved having the U.S. government indirectly side with the murderous Los Pepes. This is a DEA agent who already knows the language and customs and will do absolutely anything to get his man. Agent Murphy was nice at times because he gave the show a pure hero, but in the bloody and betrayal-filled world of Narcos, there’s very little room for being nice. Agent Peña, with his manipulative investigation methods, never-ending drive, and clear self-hatred, is a much better fit for this deeply dark show.

Pascal has consistently excelled at giving his haunted antihero subtle touches of life. Standing out in Narcos, particularly Narcos‘ third season, is a difficult task. However, time and time again Pascal has commanded this series, giving us brief and intimate glimpses into his own insecurities and weaknesses as he gives orders and tracks down suspects. Pascal’s Agent Peña is alluring like so many other antiheroes before him because he’s so mysterious. You may feel as though you know why he acts the way he does, but when you peel back the facts, you’re left with very little information about this compelling and powerful character. Peña is a character that sticks in your mind even after you’ve forgotten about the latest decapitation.

However, there’s a chance Agent Peña may not stay in our streaming lives forever. Season 3 concluded with Peña telling his father he’s not going to go to Mexico, which is where Season 4 will be taking place. Based on interviews from the series’ showrunner, it seems as though we can trust Peña’s word. The show has even produced a new DEA replacement — Season 3’s Agent Chris Feistl (Michael Stahl-David) and Agent Daniel Van Ness (Matt Whelan) — and they’re pretty great. Feistl and Van Ness’ constant bickering adds some much-needed levity to this gloomy series. Still, there’s always a chance that the haunted and workaholic Agent Peña returns to Narcos, and I hope he does. Initially, I didn’t think Narcos would be Narcos without Wagner Moura, but now I believe Pedro Pascal was the secret glue holding this nefarious series together.

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