This post is a recap of the first three episodes of Narcos season one and contains spoilers.
“Magical realism is defined as what happens when a highly detailed, realistic setting is invaded by something too strange to believe… There is a reason magical realism was born in Colombia.”
This quote is seen above the Andes Mountains during the opening sequence of Narcos’ first episode. This Netflix original series chronicles Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar’s (Wagner Moura) infamous rise to power during the 70s and 80s. Through the use of a Goodfella’s inspired first person narrative, voiced by DEA agent Steve Murphy (Boyd Hollbrock), viewers feel a sense of familiarity with the story, even though it’s set in a foreign land. Note that since this series predominately takes place in Colombia each episode contains a large amount of subtitles. Narcos is an early drug war story, as Steve Murphy explains why both him and his wife head to Colombia at the end of episode one, “This was my war. This was my duty, and I was ready to fight.”
The second episode, The Sword of Simon Bolivar, show both Pablo Escobar and Steve Murphy establishing themselves as the hero in this tale. For example we see the Colombian law enforcement agency partner Steve Murphy with local officer Javier Pena (Pedro Pascal). Yes, this show has an odd-couple cop pairing that’s a common troupe within the genre. Javier understands how to obtain information in Colombia, often through bribes, which goes against Steve Murphy’s American rules. Meanwhile, we are given a history lesson about the Medellín Cartel. Their first claim to fame came from taking down a libertarian group known as the M-19. In an attempt to send Pablo Escobar a message, the M-19 capture an Ocha girl, who is works for the cartel. Escobar understands the politics involved with the game he is playing, as he capitalizes on this local tragedy. Pablo Escobar is able to have the M-19 leader, Ivan, release the girl unharmed; thus the drug lord becomes a hero. Based on this episode two recap, you can see how this series was written in the same vain as The Wire. Each episode includes both a criminal and DEA arc therefore allowing both sides of the war to be fully realized.
In the third episode, The Men of Always, we understand the ties that bind magical realism to Colombia. They are the same binds that tie the American dream to the United States. Throughout the episode we see Pablo Escobar get swept up in a race for congress in Colombia. At this point he has fully harnessed the idea that money can buy you both power and influence, in a poor country. Now he wants to buy congress to fulfill his own personal political ambitions. “It’s a country where dreams and reality are conflated. Where in their heads people can fly as high as Icarus,” explains Steve Murphy. The reality is that Pablo Escobar is a drug lord, not a congressman, and Colombia cannot afford to become “a state of narcos.” Meanwhile Steve Murphy and Javier Pena don’t get swept up in their dream of taking down the entire Medellín Cartel, but focus on keeping Pablo Escobar out of congress. They manage to do so, by obtaining a photo negative of Pablo Escobar’s mugshot from a previous arrest for drug trafficking. In a superb sequence we see that Pablo Escobar, “flew too close to the sun,” and is thrown out of the Colombian congress.
Both the American dream, that Steve Murphy has to end the war on drugs, and Pablo Escobar’s magical realism ambition, to politically rule over Colombia; are the simple daydreams of men. Their reality is that they are on opposites sides of a never ending war on drugs. The melding between fact and fiction continues to be seen as historical footage from this time period is used in each episode. Colombia is a real place, this story is based on real events, these characters are based on real people; yet this tale still retains a sense of wonder amongst the dreams of men.
Netflix has already renewed the show for a second season to be released next year. Season one trailer click here
By Sarah Belmont