Escobar – Narcos Season One

Pablo Escobar. Drug boss or feudal lord?

I don’t know what it was. It could have been the busy weekend, it could have been laziness or it could have been straightforward getting old, but for some reason I began to feel tired and drowsy, an overwhelming sense of lassitude enveloping me and I realised there was nothing for it but to go for a snooze.

Not a power nap. I needed a real, full-on sleep though it was only 7 pm.  Snoring, sweating, the full nine yards.

I hit the sack and slept like a dead man for three full hours until my eyes popped open like Dracula with a stake poised above his heart, temporarily undead and unlikely to sleep for the foreseeable future.

What ya gonna do?

What else can you do?

narcosI started watching the first episode of Narcos, a treat I’d been holding in store for just such a moment.

Now, I did actually know about Pablo Escobar and the Medellin cartel. I knew what a smart operator he was. I knew about Escobar’s posturing as a Robin Hood figure and I knew that, on a certain level, his activities benefited the poor in his own comuna. I knew he made vast sums of money by smuggling cocaine to the USA where he found a ready market and I knew he was a violent, ruthless criminal.  But I didn’t realise how vast his fortune was or how extreme his capacity for violence. I didn’t fully grasp the sheer scale of his activities, almost, though not quite, rivalling the power of a sovereign state.

I knew about the US government’s involvement in South and Central America, or some of it, at least.  I knew, for instance, about the influence of National Fruit and Nabisco on the murdering elites of Nicaragua and El Salvador. I knew about Ollie North’s adventures with the Contras and I knew about the CIA killing of Chile’s democratically elected president, Allende.  But I’m not sure I knew quite what a ferment of anti-communist paranoia the Reagan-era US embassies were, to the exclusion of all other considerations. Despite the manifest stupidity of US policy south of the border, I’m not sure I realised quite how dim-witted and ham-fisted it was, though later examples, most notably in Iraq should have reminded me.

Narcos is narrated by a US spook in Colombia, a DEA officer operating in an extra-judicial capacity, usurping the role of police in a sovereign country. It traces the tensions between the American embassy and a Colombian government determined to protect its autonomy despite US pressure. It illustrates the utterly insane Reaganist obsession with communism in the face of genuine threats like the vast coke trade that was destroying the American streets. It shows how the administration chose to sacrifice its youth to drug addiction rather than divert its focus from a spurious political bogey-man.

Escobar wasn’t a monster and the show properly doesn’t portray him as one, since monsters only exist in comic books. Real people do monstrous things. Real men like Escobar, who love their children, their mothers, their wives, their cousins, do dreadful things and Escobar was undoubtedly a ruthless man willing to carry out cold-blooded murderous acts in order to protect the  empire he’d built up. But to call him a monster would only relieve us of the responsibility to think about what he did. It would allow us to retreat into a world of cartoon certainty populated by cartoon bad guys and cartoon good guys. In other words, the cartoon world of current US foreign policy that has brought us Afghanistan, Iraq and latterly Syria.

Escobar wasn’t a monster. Escobar was a murderous, violent criminal but he had moments of compassion, moments of generosity and moments of love along with moments of savagery, cruelty and barbarity, exquisitely portrayed by Wagner Moura, who not only had to gain 40 pounds for the role but also had to learn Spanish, though that was probably easy enough for him, being Brazilian.

Narcos invites us to consider the parallels between Pablo the Colombian drug dealer and the great geo-political forces he barely realises he’s provoking. He sees himself as a monarch. He sees himself as a benefactor to his people. He regards himself as a feudal prince and everything that follows is directly as Nicolo Macchiavelli might have advised him.

Pablo Escobar would have prospered very well in 15th century Venice or in 20th century America, if only he had been born into the Patrician ruling class of that classless society. After all, the only difference between Escobar’s brutality and ruthlessness and that of the USA has been a matter of scale, as Narcos makes clear to anyone watching with an analytical eye.

But of course, you can watch it on a different level and just take it as pure entertainment.  It’s up to you.

Leave aside the parallels and the allegories, strip out the analysis and Narcos still stands up as one serious heap of but-gustin’, chair-grippin’, breath-holdin’ shoot-em-up fun.

I love Narcos.

But now, suddenly, it’s five in the morning and power-naps mean nothing. Shit.


4 thoughts on “Escobar – Narcos Season One

  1. Escobar wasn’t a monster and Hitler had to be prompted into the holocaust by a palestinian.

  2. Words like “monster” don’t work for me because they represent a cartoon version of reality. I prefer to call him a man because that requires me to confront humanity’s capacity for depravity.

  3. I found that dichotomy of the character a little difficult to understand myself.. He’s beat’in his cousin to death with a stick one minute, then on the phone to the misses the next, saying love you honey bunny sweetie pie, you know what to do with the bundles of money in the house baby waby, nothing to worry about sweet cheeks my lovely .
    He was a bit a charming psycho.. they usually are.

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