Narcos is Netflix’s ten-episode crime television series based on the stranger-than-fiction life of Colombian druglord, Pablo Escobar. José Padilha directs this fast-paced show that intertwines actual historical footage seamlessly with the narration to further boost its true-story claim. It is about the world of Escobar, once one of Forbes’ wealthiest men, so it is a heady mixture of the Medellín cartel, Latin American history and politics, high-quality drugs, raunchy sex, gory deaths and truckloads of money. Even the varying accents of the supposedly Spanish-speaking characters do not detract from the TV goodness that Narcos offers.
I got hooked on the series just like Pablo Escobar (Wagner Moura) did on cocaine, the minute he laid his eyes on the paste processing labs in Peru. I fell in love with Narcos before seeing the opening scene, because it was preceded by the words “a magical realism…”. I knew right away that I would like everything that would follow. And I was not disappointed 90% of the time.
Narcos jumpstarts the series in 1989 when tracking people, including sicarios (hitmen) and narcos (narcotraficante, or drug trafficker), was an arduous task due to lack of technology. Next, it turns the hands of time back to 1973, when Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, did something good by destroying drug processing centers and killing drug lords. The first two time periods make sense when it fast-forwards to 1979, where the already successful smuggler Escobar was on the cusp of unprecedented wealth and power.
Even before the bazillion of dollars, Escobar was already confident with his skills as a negotiator and a businessman with global vision. Only a man like him could threaten police officers with long arms and make them choose between plata o plomo (silver or lead) without any weapon on him. Only a man like him could pronounce that he would be president of the Republic of Colombia to the same police officers he just threatened, and actually act on it. For me, Escobar’s self-assurance comes from his supportive family, primarily from his cousin Gustavo Gaviria (Juan Pablo Raba). As the cliché says, Gaviria is the wind beneath Escobar’s wings, the guy who takes care of the minute details of the operations while Escobar imagines the grandest and the greatest of schemes. Escobar and Gaviria’s fellow narcos that include the “soft” Ochoa brothers and the “too hard” Gacha the Mexican, long list of sicarios and go-fers to do their bidding complete the bad guys’ corner of Narcos.
The good guys’ corner is led by Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent named Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook), also the narrator of the show. He is the omniscient presence that interrupts scenes to explain their context or introduce new characters. One of these characters is the “asshole” otherwise known as his partner, Javier Peña (Pedro Pascal). Murphy and Peña remind me of Pedro and Juan of La Isla Mínima. Murphy and Pedro are straight as arrows in a corrupt field filled with crooks. Peña and Juan bend, snap and break the rules to suit their investigation, with the former going as far as sleeping with witnesses to get vital information. I could not blame him though, given the insufficient budget they have. I actually give him props for being diligent and resourceful.
Even with his backstory, Murphy is a boring character who does not speak Spanish, and he seems out of place in the rough-and-tumble world of drugs, sex and gory deaths. If not for his role as the voice of God from heaven, I would not mind him being at the receiving end of one of Escobar’s sicario’s gun. In my opinion, Peña’s moustache has more character than Murphy. Maybe it helps that Peña speaks Spanish, does everything with a sexy swagger and looks like a golden god. 🙂
Murphy and Peña coordinate with Colonel Horacio Carrillo (Maurice Compte), the badass leader of the incorruptibles, the group assigned to hunt down Escobar. Carrillo is so determined and courageous to go toe-to-toe against Escobar and his unlimited funds that it was hard to root against him even though his shirts are too tight for my taste. Okay, I did root against him, during my one fleeting moment of weakness in episode 8.
Through his decisions and interactions, Narcos paints Escobar as a larger-than-life complex character. He is a Machiavellian monster to the outside world. The violence he perpetrated, which includes, but not limited to bombing a plane in midair and making the Court of Justice literally disappear, knows no bounds. In his twisted mind, he justifies his unparalleled bloody actions because he is a victim of injustice committed by the elite.
His cunning is ironically in full display when he hides his claws to tug at the heartstrings of the Colombians. He calls himself Robin Hood and hands out bundles of cash to the impoverished to improve his image as a politician (and a possible future president) but claims that he is poor like them. That cannot be farther from the truth. Poor people do not have Dalí paintings hanging on their walls, hippopotamuses in their backyard and $1 million exotic birds on one of their almost hundred houses. Also, poor people do not have maps of their multiple hiding places that contain millions of dollars each.
Within his close-knit circle, Escobar is a gentle mama’s boy who enjoys Sunday lunches with his family. Despite running a billion-dollar drug empire, his priorities are his wife Tata (Paulina Gaitan) and children. Once, he warns his mistress, the stunning reporter Valeria Veléz (Stephanie Sigman), not to disrespect his wife. He also turns sentimental thinking about childhood memories with Gaviria.
Moura as Escobar has that perfect calm and calculating look down pat when talking to his enemies. His almost-bored façade camouflages the evil that lies within. After the fourth episode, I learned that when Escobar talks to and reassures a person that everything is going to be okay, that person will surely die within two minutes. But Moura as Escobar displays overwhelming charm and brilliance that no one can say no to, which makes it understandable why his sicarios remain loyal to him and some of his enemies choose to fight with him. Also, Moura’s charm has a domino effect because he has palpable chemistry with anybody he shares the screen with, most of all with Raba. Theirs is my favorite bromance. Their individual evilness are so in-sync that they can read each other’s mind, tease each other and support each other, all in one scene. They make watching Narcos all the more fun.
Narcos tackles the highlights of Escobar’s career as a drug lord and how his misplaced brilliance as a businessman irreversibly affected the lives of thousands of people not only in Colombia but also in the United States of America. Despite the gravity of his actions and the adverse impact of his selfishness and recklessness on history, Narcos is able to show a humane side of a man who dreamt of becoming the president of the Republic of Colombia. Like a lot of people, I know how this will end, but I still cannot wait for the second season to start. It is mainly because of Agent Javier Peña and Rodrigo Amarante’s song Tuyo (Yours).