Silver or Lead: A Review of “Narcos”

Netflix’s newest series, “Narcos” follows the rise and fall of history’s richest and most powerful drug lord, Pablo Escobar. Written and created by Chris Brancato and starring Wagner Moura, Boyd Holbrook and Pedro Pascal, Netflix delves into the complex war between the Medellín Cartel and the U.S. and Colombian governments. As early as its first episode, “Narcos” demonstrates its ability to capture the audience’s attention.

From the moment the title sequence first plays, “Narcos” transports the audience through its use of  ’80s video and music. Viewers are pulled into the world of the characters in a way that is truly unique to the show, which continues this trend of immersion through the use of actual crime-scene photos and film reel from the period.

Image courtesy of Netflix.

Image courtesy of Netflix.

Wagner Moura brings Pablo Escobar, the leader of the Medellín Cartel, to life. Instead of deciding to play an archetypal, gangster character, Escobar is more comparable to a businessman. This character choice allows for Moura’s performance to emphasize Escobar’s intelligence as the reason for his tremendous success.

Juan Pablo Raba’s portrayal of Gustavo Gavira further complements Moura’s Escobar. The bond between these two characters is quite touching,which helps create a more sympathetic picture of Escobar and his operation.

Another noteworthy character is Horacio Carrillo, played by Maurice Compte. Carrillo’s presence brilliantly mirrors that of Escobar’s, leaving the audience with an equally skilled and intelligent opponent to challenge Escobar.

In addition to compelling characters, “Narcos” also showcases incredible writing. The writers are able to avoid the mundane predictability of many historical dramas as they continuously build up intensity as the plot progresses. “Narcos” has no shortage of incredible dialogue and menacing monologues, both of which are expertly used to develop the show’s characters and story.

Gun to the face? No big deal for Pablo. Image courtesy of

Gun to the face? No big deal for Pablo. Image courtesy of

Brancato is able to use the plot to pose challenging questions to the audience. Through the actions (and consequences of those actions) of agent Murphy and the DEA, the viewer immediately begins to question the value of U.S. interventionism, which given recent foreign policy decisions, is becoming an increasingly relevant question. The show also uses the arcs of Pablo Escobar and Steve Murphy to examine how war can permanently affect a person’s psyche.

Despite these strengths, “Narcos” isn’t without its shortcomings. Though it has many engaging and compelling characters, “Narcos” also contains many noticeable, archetypal characters. In addition to this, due to the amount of focus on Escobar and other antagonists, the series’ protagonists aren’t fully developed as a result. Lastly, “Narcos” leaves the viewer with an unsatisfying conclusion, which is very clearly used as a setup for a second season. However, this is mitigated by the fact that “Narcos” was recently renewed for a second season.

Despite the overabundance of crime dramas available, “Narcos” easily stands out amongst the crowd as a valuable and entertaining series. Through its use of compelling characters, intense situations and stellar dialogue, the series touts the potential to be as iconic as “Breaking Bad.” “Narcos” shows a lot of promise through the development of its story, and without the second season coming out for another year, “Narcos” will have fans of the show begging for more.





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