The recent Netflix Original series Narcos, tells the biographical true life tale of the growth, dispersion and distribution of cocaine through drug cartels. These activities occured across the world and the commendable efforts of law enforcement agencies to stop them. Narcos revolves around the infamous and notorious drug lord and kingpin Pablo Escobar (Wagner Moura) and his adversary Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook), a DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) agent sent to Colombia on an American mission to capture and finally assassinate Escobar.
This series is as brutal as humanly possibly, and that goes for visual brutality in addition to psychological assaults caused by the visuals and the telling of hard truths of American crime during the 1980s. This series isn’t just great viewing, it’s educational as well. Episode one begins with a voiceover by Narcos co-star Boyd Holbrook. He starts proceedings by telling a few facts but the most potent of these is that body count in 1980s in connection to American crime got so high that corpses had to be stored in refrigerated trunks for restaurants. There’s also of a man’s cold corpse spread out and the makers use product placement very well when we see the kind of truck they elected to use. It was from the famous fast food chain Burger King. This is one of the most vital and imperative acknowledgements to the show’s hard-hearted honest portrayal of capitalism both in United States and Colombia.
Escobar starts off as a nobody, peddling small-scale drug operations. He’d deal weed and stole goods. Then all of sudden he starts having far-flung ideas and soon becomes Colombia’s Messiah thanks to his adventurous international cocaine business. Our in introduction to the man himself is an experience. He uses the names of soldiers’ family members to keep law enforcement of his back in addition to payoffs, using the metaphor ‘silver or lead?’ You either take this payoff or you get a lead bullet in your head. Money is what drives his business and he doesn’t even try to hide the fact that he’s in the cocaine business. Everyone knows it. Politicians know, law enforcement know it and his dirty money is clearly linked to his illegal activities. America is happy to scorn Escobar and his product when it’s not in their political agenda. The series begins with Murphy talking about Pinochet and how Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger backed him until it became against America’s interest not to.This gives good underlying denotation to Pablo’s campaign for Colombian Congress, which he primarily wins by showing the people that he’s the other option for clean candidate.
He’s being something that he’s not and he manipulates the whole of Colombia into believing that he’s a great man and someone who should be elected into public office because he has no criminal record, well until a mug shot is leaked to the press…and the rest is history. Crime and politics go hand-in-hand. We’ve seen time and time again with gangster flicks like The Godfather, Black Mass and Goodfellas but also television series like House Of Cards, Boardwalk Empire and The Sopranos. But we’ve all seen it in modern media today. Politics leads and the law follows. There’s a common partnership between crime, law and politics. More often than not, they’re working together and another prime example of this is HBO’s The Wire as we see in later seasons when Detective James ‘Jimmy’ McNulty trolls the Baltimore Police Department into doing actual police work through media manipulation and evidence tampering. He had to break the law to uphold it because local politics had halted proceedings. He had to do something outlandish to get high-level chiefs off their asses.
Narcos portrays an outlook of radical, dirty government built out of an illegal venture. The events that follow when that project is compromised are catastrophic. The series erupts empathy for Colombia’s favourite drug lord, yet it also shows his ugliness and psychopathic tendencies. It glamorizes crime like pretty much every crime film/television series, but it does so in correlation to representing the bad sides of it. We see the rewards that Escobar receives from it but we also have the horrors and destruction that he brings upon himself. Even when he wins, he loses. The show depicts Escobar as a radical figure of nationalist politics. It’s wonderful to watch and really sucks you in to his world. After his brief run with Congress, his character becomes so much darker. He isn’t holding back and the DEA have to work with a code, a code that Pablo isn’t afraid to push. The pacing of the series is fantastic and the fast-moving Escobar plotline is pure excellence. The intriguing perspective on Pablo Escobar made by the show’s creators makes the American DEA agents look like the bad guys. That’s what’s so great about this series.
There’s a fine line between good and bad. It’s said throughout the show that good and bad are relative concepts and this is made evident by the representations of different characters as Escobar is depicted as a god and law enforcement are made to be devils. I can’t name how many times I rooted against the police in favour of Escobar. I grew to like him, even with his horrific misdemeanours. Murphy underestimates Escobar from the beginning but soon realizes that he can’t do that. He sees that Pablo’s reach is expansive and has his hands in everyone’s pockets from cops to lawyers to politicians and public officials. Murphy is in deep with Escobar now, as are his colleagues Pedro Pascal’s (Game Of Thrones) Javier Peña and Horatio Carillo (Maurice Compte). Their situation in the story grows even more emotional and complex as we get nearer to the season’s end.
Netflix is slowly taking over television and before the other major networks realize it, they will be out of business because of original programming. Netflix keep making quality series and they don’t seem to be losing momentum. They can do things other networks can’t. They can air whatever they want and don’t have to abide by the same network rules as networks like HBO, FX, Showtime and the BBC to name few. As good as the shows on these channels are, Netflix are dominating the television circuit at the moment. They have effortlessly reduced major networks on both sides of the Atlantic to irrelevance and obscurity. Netflix are in the great game with all the heavy hitter stations and they’re winning without breaking a sweat.
The show consistently switches between English and Spanish which I believed was great. Narcos is an American made show but wasn’t Americanized. It retained some of the culture of Colombia by using the native Spanish tongue as well as using ethnically appropriate actors rather than whitewashing the cast which seems to be a common occurrence of late in Hollywood movies where certain characters should be cast to fit the ethnicity of the character rather than casting big actors just to sell cinema tickets or increase ratings. Casting ethnically appropriate characters adds to the integrity of the show and depicts that networks can make great TV as well as cast well, even if those actors aren’t A-Listers.
The series has a bounce to it. It ticks along with each episode and a lot the quality is in the detail. This is a show where viewers have to listen to what’s being said and must always be paying attention. The show is FX’s Fargo meets HBO’s The Wire with a latin twist and the Netflix treatment. Moura plays Escobar to a flawless degree. The show talks about the good, the bad and the ugly side of this war on drug as well as moral predicaments. Furthermore, it touches on the flawed capitalist ideologies that are represented through the actions of Pablo Escobar and in the voiceovers of Agent Murphy. This is a grand critique of how humanity and how people can be corrupted. Not everything is how it seems and most people can be tempted by power, money and those are the most addictive substances there are, even if those substances are merely an abstract concept.
To define good and bad would be futile since both are relative concepts