Anyone who follows my reviews will know that I really like Netflix’s original programming. Daredevil, House of Cards, and Bojack Horseman are some of my favorite shows of this year, and I’ve found it hard to find a genre that Netflix doesn’t have a finger in. Then, out of nowhere, Narcos is released and has forced me to re-evaluate these thoughts. What Narcos delivers is a fresh and immersive historical drama focusing on one of the most ruthless and powerful underworld criminals in modern history, Pablo Escobar.
For those with no clue who this guy is, he’s a smuggler who made a vast amount of wealth from cocaine production and sale in America. This man’s affluence, and subsequent influence, made him able to even become a congressman for Colombia, with his goal being to become president. The story also focuses on two Drug Enforcement Administration agents, Steve Murphy and Javier Peña, whose goal is to take down this empire with the assistance of the few incorruptible Colombian government officials brave enough to face down Escobar. What pitches this show against some more of the more popular historical dramas like Downton Abbey is the brutality and instability of the setting in that time period. In the ’70s to early ’80s, the U.S. was in the midst of the Cold War, deposing South American leaders for their communist leanings in favor of fascist dictators, and this comes into play many times in the series. The show is a geopolitical commentary that uses the story of a drug kingpin that’s able to flourish in this system as a microcosm of the situation in that region.
Besides the great story, there are some fantastic actors. Wagner Moura plays Escobar incredibly well, and I was impressed with how well he developed the role to be his own. I don’t know if putting a Brazilian in the role as Escobar would have been my first choice, but he did a fantastic job. And just to be clear to readers, it’s not because I believe he can’t play the role as a Brazilian, but because the actors speak in Spanish almost 80% of the time to create a sense of immersion. Only the DEA, some of the Colombians, and the narrator speak English. Throughout the show, Moura never spoke a line in English as Escobar, and being Brazilian, I assumed his Spanish would have some Portuguese inflection, but I never got that impression. For the white American DEA agent, Steve Murphy, Boyd Holbrook is the representation of the American ideal in the region, playing by the rules unless they get in his way. On the other hand, his partner Javier Peña doesn’t always shoot straight, but has a stricter sense of morality when it comes to dealing fairly with the Colombians. What I thought was interesting was how personal the story must have been for Peña’s actor, Pedro Pascal, best known as the Viper in Game of Thrones. He actually left his home country of Chile at a young age due to the government of U.S. supported military dictator Augusto Pinochet. In addition, his ability to portray a character that walks the line between the Colombians and Americans is pretty incredible.
I think immersion is the greatest quality of this show; however, it comes with some consequences. I think some of the scenes depicting Escobar’s excessive brutality are exaggerated to the point of being unrealistic. Specifically, one of the sex scenes is almost cartoonish, and some of the gore becomes somewhat desensitizing at points when I should be caring the most. But this isn’t my main complaint. My main point of criticism is that they set up a second season. When I went into the show, knowing the story of Pablo Escobar, I was expecting the whole thing to be a one-off series, and when it ended without the drama resolved, I felt cheated. Porqué Netflix, porqué? But all things considered, I will still happily watch the next season when it comes out, and you should watch the first season to be prepared for it too.