In its first two seasons, Narcos defined itself by following the fall of cocaine trafficker Pablo Escobar, but Season 3 is taking a sharp turn into a new direction. The Netflix series is switching its focus to the people who helped orchestrate the downfall of Escobar's empire and took advantage of his absence by rapidly expanding their own drug operation. The Cali Cartel, run in part by Gilberto and Miguel Rodriguez (played by Damián Alcázar and Francisco Denis, respectively), is the main focus of Narcos Season 3. The characters are based on real people with the same names, but how accurate are Miguel and Gilberto Rodriguez in Narcos?
Season 3 won't be the audience's first introduction to Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela, as he has already been featured on Narcos as a rival of Pablo Escobar during Season 2. Now that Escobar is dead, however, Gilberto and his brother, Miguel are taking on the roles of the primary drug kingpins on Narcos.
While the characters are stepping into the spotlight of the show, the real people the characters are based on famously evaded attention. One of the biggest shifts from Season 2 to 3 of Narcos is that the larger-than-life and internationally infamous Escobar is replaced with the sneaky, shady Cali Cartel. This transfer in power affects the show, but it also had an effect on how the DEA took the Cartel down in real life.
As the season opens, Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela runs the Cali Cartel alongside his brother Miguel, José "Chepe" Santacruz Londoño, and Helmer "Pacho" Herrera. Narcos showrunner Eric Newman described the crew to Complex as "a different species than Escobar, beneficiaries of his demise who took what happened to him as a cautionary tale." Narcos' own DEA Agent Pena dubs them "Cocaine Incorporated" in the trailer below, adding that the Rodriguez brothers and their associates "ran [the cartel] like a Fortune 500 company.”
The Cali Cartel was a big deal in the drug trade, and Narcos honors that history. Gilberto and Miguel Rodriguez step up in a big way in Season 3, but their portrayal may have some fictionalized elements. Showrunner Eric Newman said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter that Narcos is "probably 50-50" split between fact and fiction. While Narcos honors the truth of this decadent, violent history, it's safe to assume that much of the dialogue and minor events are fictionalized.
If Narcos does see the Rodriguez brothers through to the end of their reign, it'll look different than the conclusion of Escobar's story. While he died in the course of a bloody shootout, the Rodriguez brothers did not go out quite as spectacularly, or as violently. Miguel and Gilberto Rodriguez, with their white collar approach to drug trafficking, were eventually extradited from Colombia to the United States, according to The Seattle Times. In 2005, both men plead guilty to charges related to trafficking cocaine into the US and were sentenced to over 30 years in prison. (The brothers are still alive and serving their time.)
While Escobar's story may have been more flashy and bullet-ridden, Narcos Season 3 is going to have to focus on surveillance and investigation as the DEA tries to take down the Rodriguez brothers and their associates. Miguel and Gilberto on Narcos may not be precise replicas of the real businessmen, but the show seems committed to showing the extreme lengths they went to in order to change the drug game for good.