We are presented with the young Pablo Escobar. He’s from a poor family and growing up in the corrupt Colombia of the 1980s, a country with precious few opportunities for the likes of him… unless he is prepared to turn to crime. Our young entrepreneur spots the potential of the emerging cocaine industry and quickly starts smuggling massive quantites into the US, long before the US government is aware that there’s any sort of threat. These are exciting frontier days, and we find ourselves rooting for the earthy, no-nonsense Pablo.
This Narcos TV series has tempo too. The first few episodes are a great ride. Nor are they gratuitous – as the drama is interspliced with news footage from the time – so there’s an authentic frisson to proceedings. A gungho DEA flies out of America down to Colombia to try and sort out the ‘problem’ and, although he’s a moral and blond-haired sort, he’s offensive in his cultural ignorance and imperialist condescension. We are still completely on Pablo’s side. Come on, Pablo!
Pablo has political ambitions, sadly. He wants to help the poor of all things! He runs for election – well, he buys an election. But the establishment won’t let this lowborn ruffian join their ranks. They try to incarcerate him (even though he’s no more dishonest than any of them really). Then they set the police/army and Americans on him… and all hell breaks loose as he fights fire with (very substantial) fire.
Except things go too far. Pablo gives up on the positive social change to which he’d once aspired (figuring it can’t be achieved) and sets out to revenge himself on everyone and everything. He becomes a brutal killer. A mass murderer, in fact.
We still root for him… in a tragic and fatalistic way. In large part, he is a product of his society. Can we blame him for what he has become? Has the West helped make Colombia the way it is? Is it the Western viewer coming face to face with their own careless guilt?
There are big themes to this series, but they are never over-indulged. There are no real attempts to ‘excuse’ Pablo. We are as revolted by him as we are fascinated. It’s all very well judged… and goes to certain lengths not to compromise history too much.
Series 1 of this Netflix series is top-notch fare and leaves you hungry for series 2 (already available). It’s a no-holds-barred 9 out of 10 from this gringo!