Netflix’s newest show “Narcos” tells the story of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar and his cohorts. Set mostly in Colombia, the show relies heavily on narration of American DEA agent Steve Murphy to cover the decades of time during Escobar’s exploits as a worldwide cocaine trafficker.The show opens with an excerpt about magical realism, seemingly almost as a cautionary avowal to excuse them from fictionalized scenes based on historical events.
The deployment of magical realism is perhaps no more glaring than in the scenes with Murphy’s presence as the DEA agent in early episodes. The real-life Steve Murphy, which the fictionalized version was based on, has admitted in an interview on Observer.com that he was only in Colombia for three days before Escobar surrended to his stint in prison:
I was only in Colombia about three days when Escobar surrendered to his custom built prison. For me, I knew who Escobar was, but it was interesting to watch these guys because they had been working their butts off and all of a sudden I’m seeing this disappointment, almost a depression. And I didn’t understand it at the time, but I soon learned these guys had dedicated their lives to chasing this guy. And then the governor of Colombia lets him surrender to this custom built prison.
“Narcos” definitely takes some creative liberty to insinuate that Murphy was more involved that he really was. Still, season one of the television series succeeded in making an engaging show that is bolstered mainly by Brazilian actor Wagner Moura’s charming portrayal as Escobar. Despite some viewers’ complaints about his inaccurate Spanish accent as the drug lord, Moura manages to channel his nuanced performance as Escobar into an undeniably charismatic (dare I say lovable?!) person. With Moura, Escobar is much more humanized, and not wooden or worse yet, made into a caricature of a drug lord.
Only two episodes in, I’ve gotten irritated at a couple of things. The narration is grating. I dislike television series and movies that rely on narration–it’s a cheap ploy to cover a lot of time in serialized piece and is a generally a lazy way to tell a story. Television critics also have largely panned “Narcos” for the narration as well. The performances from the actors are solid, though again marred by its anchor in Murphy’s story-telling. I’d rather have had the story told through one of Escobar’s cohorts in the Medellin cartel point-of-view over the American DEA agent, I think it would have been miles more engaging. As a result of narration, I feel detached from any of the characters and ironically, feel most attached to Moura’s portrayal as Escobar, a man responsible for the senseless killings of hundreds of innocent people. Am I really supposed to sympathize with Escobar? Perhaps, it’s all a part of the writers’ intent to underline the moral ambiguity in the war on drugs.
I admit that I’ve become addicted enough to follow the “plata o plomo” story of Escobar to continue the 10-episode arc of season one. Netflix recently renewed the series for another season. I’ll be curious to see how they stretch out the timeline of the 1980’s domination and savagery of Escobar and the rest of the cartel. But for now “Narcos” on Netflix is binge-worthy and compelling enough for me not to hit the stop button when the next episode automatically starts playing.