Jorge Salcedo: The True Gentleman of Cali

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Jorge Salcedo: The True Gentleman of Cali

Illustration: Akshita Monga

*Spoiler alert

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ne of the most emotionally captivating moments of season three of Narcos comes in Episode 6, titled, “Best Laid Plans”, when Jorge Salcedo, the security guard of the new baddies, Cali Cartel, has to make a choice: Be bad and betray your good employers, or be good and have them badly killed. His dilemma and the potential of its ramifications for his wife and two little girls; for our returning hero Javier Peña and his blind chase of the Narcos; for the future of the Cali Cartel; and for every ordinary citizen being taken in by drugs, build the show toward a crescendo. This high point is unlike anything we’ve experienced before from this delicacy of tits, drugs, and blood, with bodies dropping harder than the bassline on Charlie Puth’s extremely addictive “Attention”.

Narcos’ attempt to deify a random dude stands in stark contrast to its first two seasons, where much screen time was spent in humanising Pablo Escobar. Escobar, as portrayed in the show, was many things: unflinchingly savage, uber cool, and a domineering presence who owned every room he walked into. But a TV show is as much about emotional investment as time, and Wagner Moura’s Pablo Escobar, despite his archetypal drug lord-rockstar representation, was always an emotionally empty vessel.

Pablo killed and killed, forcing our rooting interests to be more straightforwardly placed with the gringos and General Carrillo.This attempt to humanise the most murderous man in American imagination has failed time and time again: It did not work in Entourage’s Medellin storyline; in the book Pablo’s son, Juan Pablo Escobar, eventually wrote; and in several documentaries. The show too had to laboriously venture toward his family, his relationship with his brother and his father in order to accord him an aura of vulnerability, to create conflict in our heads. The showrunners seemed enamoured of Moura, stretching the Pablo story, which was supposed to last one season, like a chewed-up stick of gum. But by the end of his arc, season two of Narcos was a plodding, aimless mess, just like its protagonist in real life on his way to the obvious end: Pablo’s death.

Pablo killed lots of people so he should die. No jostling for our hearts. Just “Plata o Plomo”.

Narcos

Is Peña too an addict, obsessed with chasing drug lords regardless of the consequences?

Image Credit: Netflix

Enter Javier Peña.

As the literal and figurative weight of Pablo is lifted off the world, Peña’s a famous man at the beginning of season three, as he orchestrates Pablo’s demise. He’s a hero with a promotion and swanky new office who wants to win the war on drugs. He also has a massive complex. Peña feels personally liable for many Colombian deaths which occurred due to his unseemly alliance with the rebel group Los Pepes in season two.

Played by Swedish actor Matias Varela, Salcedo is oddly magnetic even in daily tasks like switching the tap on a phone early in the season

What does Peña do then? Enjoy his spoils and roll with the pragmatic punches, or suck it up, go against his own country and try to catch the suave, bloodless Cali godfathers who have already decided to quit in some time? Is Peña too an addict, obsessed with chasing drug lords regardless of the consequences? What is right and what is wrong?

As Narcos finally becomes more foreplay than sex, nipping inside the thigh and at our ears, the moral ambiguity facing Peña early on paves the way for quietly the most devastating character on the show: Jorge Salcedo, the man who doesn’t even carry a gun to a gunfight. He’s a thoughtful former mechanical engineer, who focuses on technology and preparedness to win out over the chaos around him. He is soft-spoken and crisply dressed for work in a tucked-in shirt and black pants. He’s even monogamous, an oddity in the universe of Narcos, as he genuinely adores his wife and kids. Salcedo, then, emerges as a metaphor for the average man who gets fucked from every side in the war on drugs, a classic good man in a tight spot.

Narcos

Salcedo, then, emerges as a metaphor for the average man who gets fucked from every side in the war on drugs, a classic good man in a tight spot.

Image Credit:Netflix

Played by Swedish actor Matias Varela, Salcedo is oddly magnetic even in daily tasks like switching the tap on a phone early in the season. Due to a physical hurriedness and the show’s crisp editing, Narcos builds an engaging character and when the time comes, the audience is prepared for his emergence as the thumping heart of the show. We learn with him that the only morality in the world that carries any modicum of weight is the one that ensures your survival.

Courage is inestimable and amorphous, taking many forms, sometimes even leading a betrayal of those who pay your bills. The cost of Jorge’s courage though, is felt by his real-life counterpart to this day: He has spent the last 20 years hiding in the US under a false name, and still is the No 1 target for the Colombian cartel hitmen.

When it first came about, Narcos was pitched as a kerfuffle of drugs, guns, sex, and politics, but was weighed down by the expectations of the real-life story of Pablo Escobar. It was chase and chase and chase, with little time to breathe, and none at all to take a hit and look at the maddeningly chaotic fuckfest that was Colombia in the ’90s and the people who made it such. Narcos was a show narrating legends about a legend, but in season three, the show doesn’t have to look for a new Escobar to root against: The Cali are too suave for that.

Instead, we finally get a glimpse of the influence of extraordinary emotional decisions made by ordinary people like Jorge Salcedo — a regular guy who just wants to start a private security firm and pick up his twin girls from school. It has taken a while, but Narcos finally finds its emotional centre, filling the vessel left empty by the melted swagger of Pablo Escobar.

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