Arts, Television

Crime Drama Junkies Get Their Fix from Escobar’s Drug Empire in ‘Narcos’

From its outset in August of 2015, Netflix’s hit drama Narcos has faced a unique challenge. Premiering only two years after the fifth and final season of AMC’s Breaking Bad, Narcos has filled an emotional hole for drug-crime-craving audiences everywhere. This is both a blessing and a curse, as the popularity of its spiritual predecessor means that Narcos must reach an especially wide audience (averaging 3.2 million viewers per episode, to be exact) to compete with Breaking Bad’s viewership. Running parallel to this point are notions of originality—is Narcos truly unique enough to come into its own after riding the coattails of the drug drama craze? Unfortunately, the answer more clearly becomes no with each episode of the second season.

Narcos is the story of the life and deeds of crime lord Pablo Escobar, but in retrospect, it is more accurately the story of conventionality. In its willingness to stand out as a historical drama, Narcos becomes less tied to its own method of storytelling. Especially as the second season lingers on, classic television tropes become more and more visible: the shady lawyer, the manipulative crime lord, the DEA agents willing to bend every rule to catch their big white whale. If this formula sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the same formula used by every antihero-crime drama in the past 20 years. And therein lies the fundamental issue of Narcos—these tropes were reality, not fiction. Though disheartening for Breaking Bad fans looking for their newest fix, reality is not always as compelling as television writers would like it to be.

This saddening lack of originality plays out in more ways than one. Most obvious is Narcos’s off-putting method of pacing. Without spoiling any plot points, the show’s finale simply does not feel cohesive—in all actuality, Narcos (though constantly foreshadowing the inevitable endgame) does not truly commit to its finality until the back half of “Al Fin Cayo,” the last episode of season two. This directorial choice, which starkly contrasts the rest of the season, gives the finale of Narcos an inescapable sense of hurry.

Narcos’s second season is not all bad—far from it, in fact. For one, the show is shot effectuveky. Though it would do well with less narration and more set-piece framing, it is difficult to argue that Narcos’s cinematographers do not know the trade. Narcos is furthermore unafraid to question the nature of right and wrong—one of the fundamental questions it seeks to answer is whether or not a man is justified in his malice if it brings good to the less fortunate. Though not decidedly original, pursuing this topic certainly helps to make for interesting television.

The program’s clearest strength is Wagner Moura, who portrays Pablo Escobar across the 10 50-minute episodes in season two. Moura’s incredible acting range is one of the show’s major saving graces. Without Moura’s skill lending weight to the riveting duality of Escobar’s actions, Narcos very well may have been an unwatchable mess in regard to characterization. Boyd Holbrook and Pedro Pascal (Steve Murphy and Javier Pena, respectively) provide passable performances, but not much more than that. The difficult truth is that most Narcos characters are just simply uninteresting—the fault of mediocre writing rather than mediocre acting. With this in mind, one is forced to face the reality of Narcos’s future.

On Sept. 6, Netflix announced that it had officially renewed Narcos for two more seasons. Based solely on viewership numbers, this seems like a prudent financial decision, but taking the plot into consideration, Netflix’s latest decision seems potentially disastrous. Spoilers ahead—“Al Fin Cayo’s” final moment watches Pablo Escobar take a bullet to the head. With Wagner Moura as the only huge draw to Narcos, how will the program realistically continue without him? Certainly not with the story of the DEA continuing its war against the cartel.

Narcos, as an undeniably flawed television program, now faces a crossroads: either develop a new, more interesting angle to take the show in in the aftershocks of Escobar’s death, or face the viewership consequences of a half-baked plotline. Netflix’s answer to the crime-drama genre is not unsalvageable by any means, but it simply fails to hold enough interest to become anything great—a problem that, if unaddressed, may put a few bulletholes in the longstanding credibility of Netflix originals.

Featured Image By Netflix

September 7, 2016