NARCOS – EPISODES 1-4 (2015)

by williamldennis

Didn’t seem like it’d make sense to break down each episode – but I think about half way through the first season seems like a good place to reflect. 

Overall a great watch. The style is worth highlighting. It matches informed voice over from an omniscient protagonist with real photos and news footage with dramatization of events – some real and some I imagine less so – for a tightly wound and dynamic narrative. 

Partially as a result of docu-style inserts and the recounting of actual historic events the show gets away with feeling educational or even smart while keeping the entertainment of sex, cocaine, and killing never too far off screen and often right in the center. 

Tonally it feels unique as a result. It’s neither glorifying nor vilifying the drug trade and does a great job of showing the world of the columbian cocaine business from the small time dealers to the king pins to the DEA to the broader political impact and climate. Voiceover helps tremendously here. Without it the plot would either be too complex or need to be significantly trimmed. 

Once slight flaw is it feels like they may be managing complexity a bit too much and making the universe a bit too small. By the 5th episode I’ve gotten to know the cast of characters, but the way they interact seems a bit contrived – perhaps based on true events but I don’t know. Either way, when the DEA agent who’s hunting Escobar’s wife works with a fellow nurse who moonlights as a communist rebel who’s group cuts a deal with Escobar so she then runs to the wife for help – the world feels a bit too small. The result is that it feels at time like it’s straying from the docu-drama aesthetic that works so well and drifts towards a soapy drama where everyone is fucking and killing and backstabbing each other. It’s not there but there are whiffs of it.  

The first episode ends with a bounty on the DEAs head, which we still haven’t revisited since flashing back to their arrival in Colombia in episode 2. I think that suspense works but hope it comes sooner than later. I imagine it will then the final few episodes will be the ultimate showdown. 

Definitely earns points for visual style as well. Classic cars driving through the Colombian jungle and mustaches for days add a nice facade to the story and do a good job transporting you to the time when smuggling was just a matter of choosing between silver and lead.