Netflix TV review: Narcos (Episodes 2 to 5)
Chris Bryant | On 05, Sep 2015
Tony Montana famously said “if you want a war, you got a war”. Pablo Escobar actually fought one. Continuing its rich blend of truth and past-tense fear-mongering, Narcos Season 1 lives up to the standards the fellow Netflix Originals have set.
One of the things the show does brilliantly – really brilliantly – is tell a story from every angle. Halfway through the season and Escobar has already become the seventh richest person on the planet. He has run for political office, and won. At the point at which the DEA find lawmakers willing to agree to extradite the drug kingpins, Escobar was making $60 million dollars a day. Fascinating as they are, these events aren’t taken lightly, or embellished by the show. Each event is taken, explained and analysed. This isn’t a show about a game of cat-and-mouse between the bad drug lords and good policemen; it’s a show about how the distribution of cocaine affected the world. And affect the world it did. Murdered politicians, government-sanctioned torture, hundreds dead in various shoot-outs and assassinations – you need only look at the amount of news footage contained within Narcos to realise that this was a very serious problem indeed.
With Wagner Moura solidly in the driving seat of Narcos’ on-screen talent – threatening speeches and cool one-liners abound – it’s still nearly impossible to forget the rest of the cast. Boyd Holbrook’s DEA Agent has come a long way since chasing hippies moving cannabis. Agent Murphy now comes equipped with a chilling formality towards his job; whether it be meticulously searching crime scenes, engaging in firefights or uncovering a massacre, all are greeted with the same, sharp detective’s eyes. Holbrook helps create a truly interesting character, more reminiscent of True Detective’s Rust Cohle than of Breaking Bad’s kingpin-hunter, Hank Shrader. Alongside him, Pedro Pascal’s Agent Pena acts as the perfect counterpart for Murphy; his passionate and emotionally invested agent serves to keep Murphy sane and level-headed, giving Pascal a chance to showcase his seemingly effortless charm.
Narcos gives several nods to “magical realism”, in which the familiar limits of reality are applied to fantastical settings and people. At one point, it pauses to note that magical realism was invented in Columbia. Originally this comes across a little showy from the writers, until you’re a few episodes in. The scope and weight of Narcos is second to none. It’s emotionally engaging, truly scary and factually relevant. The invention of a power-crazed drug-kingpin is perfected here, but the idea that this character is built predominantly of fact and existed within a recognisable time period is ridiculous. Narcos beautifully tells a historically accurate story that beggers belief; it is well executed, poetic and totally sensational.
Having recently hired and armed a Communist anarchy group (who started out by attempting to kidnap his cohorts) to ram-raid a police holding facility and destroy the entire case against him, it would seem that although Escobar’s situation has changed from the early episodes: he has no interest of going without a fight. As the Oacho’s stated: “Better a grave in Columbia than a cell in the United States.” Having just lost his chief accountant (giving way to some phenomenal footage of piles of money and barrels of cocaine), Pablo is forced to abandon his custom mansion and embrace the war. With the other members of The Extraditables deciding to work on their defence (both in terms of their image and their artillery), it would appear he is planning the same.
With Reagan amping up America’s anti-Communist fears, the DEA, meanwhile, have begun cleverly manipulating this to pressure governments – foreign and domestic – into action against the cartels. Bodies are stacking up nearly as fast as the bundles of cash and the further Pablo goes to stay free, the more determined Murphy becomes.