Opinion, Reviews

‘Narcos’ and ‘Narcos: Mexico,’ great historical fiction

The term “narco” is slang for a drug lord.

There has been talk among critics and audience members alike that we are currently living in the “Golden Age of Television.” And while that may or may not be true, a television series that would help reinforce that idea would be the “Narcos” series.

For the Netflix originals, both “Narcos” and its spinoff “Narcos: Mexico,” which has released its first season, are fantastic. “Narcos” follows the war on drugs against Pablo Escobar during the ‘80s and ‘90s and his impact on Columbia along with the drug lords who took his place. Likewise, “Narcos: Mexico” focuses on the rise of Miguel Felix Gallardo, viewed to have been the godfather of Mexico’s drug cartels, and the beginning of Mexico’s own bloody drug war.

It’s worth noting that both of these shows are very relevant in today’s society as the war on drugs is still in effect, especially in Mexico where crackdowns on the cartels have only led to increased violence and turned some regions of Mexico into literal war zones.

There are many reasons why the “Narcos” series is worth the praise – the acting, the production design and the pacing to name a few. A whole list could be made and you will see a few lists in this article because there are just so many great things to talk about. But probably the greatest aspect of “Narcos” is its portrayal of history and how it intentionally goes against what we would expect it to be.

In an interview with news network Al Arabiya English, actor Diego Luna discussed how he tried to portray his character of Miguel Felix Gallardo as three-dimensional.

“It’s really easy when they tell you are the bad guy,” Luna said during the Al Arabiya interview. “That you appear in every scene and you’re like ‘bad bad.’ And everyone has to look at you and feel scared. In fact, this guy is the opposite.”

Luna went going on to talk about how charming Gallardo was and how he had to be that way to create his organization.

None of these narcos are portrayed the way we would expect them to be in real life. Pablo Escobar is portrayed as a ruthless drug lord and as a mass murderer, which he was, and yet he also managed to be very likable. He was humble, kind to strangers and a loving family man. That goes for good characters, too, like a DEA agent who carries his gun around in a fanny pack.

And for the most part, every major or recurring character is portrayed to be somewhat complex, whether they be a corrupt policeman, a jerk politician or a cartel hitman. Characters who are supposed to be bad sometimes do good things and characters who are supposed to be good sometimes do bad things. Overall, with some exceptions, the “Narcos” series never has any sense of moral judgment. Are these good characters justified? Who is to blame for the birth of the cartels? Is the war on drugs worth fighting?

The best way to describe the “Narcos” series is that it’s historical fiction because the show seems to be well researched, but of course, creative liberties are taken.

The series feels very thoughtful. Most other shows wouldn’t take the time to explain all of the factors that went into the cartels. Because of its TV show format, it can dive into a lot more detail than a movie ever could.

“Narcos” covers a variety of topics about secret police, communist rebels, the CIA, the life of a common peasant, how deeply involved the governments of Columbia and Mexico were and so on. Any other show would have stopped when Pablo Escobar was tracked down and killed, but there’s an entire third season of “Narcos” after that. It takes the time to showcase the people who took his place and explain how they were just as powerful.

There are other details as well, ones that are smaller and make this world that the “Narcos” series created feel lived in – a car with a dirty windshield and covered in rust, cultural music or a drug lord who wears a bright winter coat that looks silly.  

Also, you have to respect any show marketed to American audiences that is willing to have most of its dialogue, around two-thirds, be spoken in Spanish. That alone takes a lot of guts.


“Narcos” and “Narcos: Mexico” are available for streaming exclusively on Netflix.

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