NARCOS (2015-2017)

  • Original Air Date: August 28, 2015 (Season 1) – September 1, 2017 (Season 2)
  • Cast: Wagner Moura, Pedro Pascal, Boyd Holbrook, Paulina Gaitan, Paulina García
  • Created By: Chris Brancato, Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro

Narcos chronicles the journey of Pablo Escobar (Wagner Moura) from his humble beginnings of running a racquet of smuggled electronics to becoming powerful enough to hold a country on gunpoint. The series in its first 2 seasons takes a deep dive into Escobar’s modus oparandi, key events during his reign of terror, family life and his brush with other cartels culminating in his gruesome death at the hands of the law enforcement. The series documents in its entirety the unprecedented violence, carnage and mayhem as well as the never seen before dictator-like control that Pablo had on Columbia and its affairs. To the world a drug peddler, to many a murderer and to his worshippers a savior, Pablo had the kind of life that was absorbing fodder for a tele-series on any given day.

When I watched Narcos, I took the first 2 seasons as one complete story and the 3rd season as a continuation but a different story nevertheless. It is a devilishly addictive series that once you start watching you cannot let go off. For a series that has a large portion of it in Spanish and someone like me had to depend heavily on the subtitles, it proved to be uncharacteristically easy to follow and enjoy. Every episode ends with a hook and even though many know how the story of Escobar goes, the question of “how he got there” proved to be a lot more important and engrossing that “what he got in the end”. The series takes us through key events in his life like his running for politic and his subsequent de-throne-ing. His escape from Columbia and then commanding Columbia’s day to day affairs from outside it. His surrender on his terms and literally using violence as the bargaining chip. His escape from his prison and finally his end.

There isn’t a single episode that one can site as weak or less provocative even though there are some that are simply outrageous. Considering the source material and the exploits of the man on whose life the series is based, outrageous is a befitting adjective. If Pablo was outrageous, the men who are after him, namely the DEA, the Search Bloc (an elite un-corruptible police force created just for Escobar), Los Pepes (a guerilla army involved in cleansing jungles of Columbia of Communist M-19 with US support and unleashed on Escobar in the end) and the other smaller Cartels that grew with Pablo’s depleting strength and numbers are no less.

Out of the above, the Los Pepes had the most profound impact on Escobar’s operations as they went from town to town killing his associates in the most horrific manners and making a statement out of every killing. Their superior military training gave them an edge in addition to the fact that they were locals and could easily get the necessary information out of the people of Columbia. Mauricio Mejía’s portrayal of Carlos Castaño Gil, the leader of the Los Pepes is sumptuously detestable. The man isn’t there for too long but when he appears on screen he is captivating. His team is also the one that can equal Escobar in carnage and sheer barbarism. It’s only in his team’s that Pablo and his men meet an able match.

Boyd Holbrook as Steve Murphy and Pedro Pascal as Javier Peña play the two DEA agents who are hot on heels of Pablo. They are entertaining even though they are constantly belittled in the presence of the towering act of Wagner Moura who literally chews up the series. Holbrook brings credibility and a sense of frustration through his brooding act. He is also the narrator of the whole story and it is through his actions that the feelings of the audience find resonance. Pascal is the more flamboyant of the two but his act has in many ways been experienced in different series and films in different contexts before. For once, Holbrook took his thunder away.

Javier Bardem did a fantastic job in Loving Pablo (2017, Fernando León de Aranoa) but Wagner Moura’s act will easily be definitive in terms of sheer audacity, range, and duration that he has to keep up the façade. He shows so many facets of the man that it is engrossing to be on the same ride as him bouncing from one human emotion to the other. When he is with his wife and children, he is this sweet and completely harmless man who is not only a great father but also a man of unflinching patience. The same man orders executions and kills men with his own hands with such clinical ease and barbarism that the viewers will find it extremely difficult to link the two facets of the man’s character. This is where the greatness of Moura’s act lies. Just watch out for him in the scene where he convinces a young father and sends the man to his death.

As the series progresses we once get to see Pablo in the presence of the people whom he had once helped and being overwhelmed by their love and recognition at a time when he is alone and hurting. We also see him spend almost an episode in his father’s company that gives him time to retrospect. These portions may be slow but they are aesthetically rewarding. The portion where he has to deal with the death of Gustavo (Juan Pablo Raba), his cousin and co-founder of the Medellin Cartel is terrific. Raba is one of the most heroic of the villains and he makes it a point not to be hammy. I also loved Moura’s moments with his wife Tata (Paulina Gaitán). It may be added that Tata was instrumental in kick-starting the proceedings with her words that led to not only the monumental loss of human lives in the ensuing carnage but also culminated in the end of Escobar.

Speaking from a technical point of view, Narcos is nearly flawless. I loved the manner in which they shot the series. They use a handheld camera to bring a kind of spontaneity to the chase sequences as well as the tracking shots that were used to establish characters, milieu etc that went down extremely well with me. A lot of high angles are used just to reiterate the scope of a particular scene. The combat sequences are authentic and have the kind of gusto that went down a long way into making those sequences gut-wrenching. The editing is top notch too. However, I would have loved them to have not cut away from actual violence in many of the scenes. The background score is befitting and elevates the mood of the proceedings in the right way.

It’s surreal to even think that a man like Escobar ever existed. Hence putting all his exploits and charisma on screen was a monumental undertaking. The biggest challenge must have been to decide on what to put out and what not to. The series creators pull that off with aplomb. The result is an exceptionally gripping and almost documentary-esc take on Escobar which in spite of its liberties here and there would be looked at as authentic. That’s the power of making something well. The telling performance by the entire cast also didn’t hurt the cause and it must be noted that if it was not for these performances, the series would have easily ended up short of its mark.

If there is one Biographical series on Netflix that is un-missable then that is Narcos. It will entertain you and enlighten you in more ways that you cannot even imagine. Watch it today if you haven’t already.

Rating: 4.5/5 (4.5 out of 5 Stars)

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