Get hooked on Narcos

Netflix original series offers a chilling, historically accurate look at Colombian drug culture

Graphic by Bram Keast.

Narcos is a crime drama series on Netflix created by Carlos Bernard, Chris Brancato, Doug Miro, and Paul Eckstein that details the life of Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel, as well as the American Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents who searched for Escobar.

The series stays extremely accurate to the real-life story of Pablo Escobar (portrayed by Wagner Moura). It’s so accurate, in fact, that it often comes across as a documentary more than a dramatized serialization of the events that took place in Escobar’s life.

The plot is intertwined with real photos and news clips that accompany tumultuous scenes. Reaffirming its documentary style, almost the entire show is narrated by DEA agent Steve Murphy (played by Boyd Holbrook).

That being said, the show makes constant references to the genre of magical realism (which, coincidentally, originated in Colombia). This means that artistic licensing is taken in order to dramatize events and give the story an almost mythical aspect.

Steve Murphy is the driving protagonist of the show. Given that he is based off of an actual DEA agent of the same name, this could have led to a fictionalized version of Murphy that would add more drama and move the plot forward.

This, however, this isn’t the case for Narcos. The real DEA agents Steve Murphy and Javier Pena were consultants on the show and aided actors Boyd Holbrook and Pedro Pascal (who plays Pena) with getting into their characters.

A major fault in the show is the use of certain disturbing content that may be triggering to viewers. This is most notable in one particular scene, where members of the cartel repeatedly rape a woman.

While this scene is used to show a power play amongst Escobar’s men, there are many ways in which they could obtain this same goal without the use of such an unsettling scene that brings up a sensitive subject that should not be tossed around for the sake of shock value.

While the show maintains the immoral doings of Escobar, it also manages to make him frighteningly sympathetic. While this is a good thing in a dramatic sense – because a flat character can ruin a show – it’s also off-putting that he may be a character whom people end up rooting for, as he is such a historically horrendous man who destroyed countless lives.

Other than Escobar himself, the other characters have yet to be developed in a distinct manner, and it can even be hard to remember their names or their place in the story. It is understandable, however, that a show about Escobar will focus solely on Escobar before developing the rest of the characters. This can lead to a slow start since, as stated above, the driving protagonist is Steve Murphy, and as in the first few episodes he seems lifeless to viewers, he is incredibly hard to root for.

There is enormous potential in this show to round out more characters and fall into more interesting plots as viewers become familiar with the back-story. For this reason, I do believe I will continue watching Narcos, and I look forward for season two where I can learn more about Pablo Escobar’s life story, which truly seems to be greater than fiction.



This review was based on the first three episodes of Narcos, which are currently available for streaming on Netflix.