Narcos is rich in story, poor in character

By Nicole Slater | the Duquesne Duke

“I am not a rich person,” Pablo Escobar says in episode 2 of “Narcos.” “I am a poor person with money.”

“Narcos” is the newest Netflix original series, a fictionalized story based off the real life rise of Pablo Escobar as one of the most successful drug traffickers of all time. At the start of the series, Escobar is already an accomplished drug smuggler when he is approached by a cocaine manufacturer in the 1970s. Escobar is able to see beyond Colombia and search for the big money in America, specifically Miami. As the drug problem grows in the United States, Drug Enforcement Agent Steve Murphy is sent to Colombia to bring down the crime syndicate.

“Narcos” is clearly playing to a certain audience. There is little to no humor, extreme amounts of violence, sex, and of course, drugs. This is a show which follows in the footsteps of a “Breaking Bad” or a “Sopranos”. The main character is an anti-hero if one is being generous or a flat-out villain by most standards. Escobar is not a good person, no matter how many times reporters call him “Robin Hood” or how much he loves his family. Wagner Moura, playing Escobar, handles the role expertly, constantly switching between chillingly stoic to friendly and inspirational. In his hands, Escobar avoids becoming a moustache twirling villain.

“Narcos” seeks to avoid making a hero out of Escobar by allowing Murphy to narrate. A disconnect is immediately established between the viewers and Escobar when he comes on screen. Almost every word spoken by Escobar and his associates are in Spanish. And for most viewers in America, subtitles would be the only way to follow the story. Instead, from the beginning, viewers see the events through the eyes of Murphy. He narrates every event, with apparent disinterest or sarcasm judging from the tone of his voice, frequently pausing the action to add insight into characters or situations.

The biggest problem of the series, however, is Murphy and his partner Peña. Both are perfectly adequate characters, but when one of them is narrating the entire show, audiences should be able to feel more of a connection to them. From the beginning of the first episode, Murphy promises a thrilling tale of how his life becomes closely entwined with Escobar’s that it will change him forever.However, by the end, viewers have seen a lot of intense “things” happen, but none of them appear to have left a huge effect on Murphy or Peña in the way we were promised.
The weakest part of the show is its characters, aside from Escobar. The price of being historically accurate is that there are too many players in this game that do not stand apart. Many of the side characters come in, do something minor or sometimes significant and then they die a horrible death. It’s supposed to make the viewer want Escobar to be taken down sooner, but without an emotional connection to the character, it fails.

Overall, “Narcos” is a satisfying watch for anyone curious about the history of the drug craze that started in the late 1970s. It’s not the most entertaining show, but it’s definitely informative for those with little to no knowledge about Pablo Escobar and his many crimes.

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