All good things must come to an end. Sometimes, the best example is a good TV show. The second season of “Narcos,” the popular Netflix series about international drug lords, draws an end to Pablo Escobar’s story, as one would predict. As is the common problem with biopics, the biggest challenge the writers faced this season was keeping suspense and surprise alive, even though history tells us how the story will ultimately end. What “Narcos” does so well is show the story through a point of view no one thought they would want: through the eyes of a monster.
Pablo Escobar, the notorious drug kingpin, has been held responsible for a number of crimes against humanity and international law. He has personally overseen and owned a multi-national cocaine empire, which has resulted in the murder and incarceration of an immeasurable number of people, some directly through his actions and some indirectly due to the mistakes made by the United States’ War on Drugs. He has backed a coup against the Colombian government, orchestrated by far-left Colombian guerillas. He has commissioned the murder of a major Colombian politician. He has spent many years of his life on the run from the police, while organizing various acts of terrorism from hiding. Yet, at some moments, you may find yourself rooting for Escobar. It’s unsettling and thought-provoking, but most importantly, it’s an achievement of screenwriting.
The creators clearly assessed the first season and tried to improve upon its faults. One of the dragging plotlines in the first season involved the personal life of DEA agent Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook). Murphy’s story was incredibly forced and boring, an attempt to white-wash a show about Colombia and the tragedies the country has faced. Not to mention that Joanna Christie, who played Agent Murphy’s wife Connie, is a horrible actor. Connie, who was meant to act as a pathos in relation to Agent Murphy, was annoying and took up unnecessary screen time. Fortunately, in season two, Connie leaves Colombia almost immediately, an indication that the creators understood her liability to the show. Holbrook is not an outstanding actor either, and the creators set Agent Murphy aside this season to act more as an onlooking and active narrator rather than a protagonist.
The show shifted its focus in terms of protagonists this season. DEA Agent Javier Peña, played by Pedro Pascal, the actor who portrayed the beloved “Game of Thrones” character Oberyn Martell, replaced Agent Murphy as the show’s ‘‘good guy.” The main focus this season, however, was on Pablo Escobar, played by the incredibly talented Wagner Moura, who held center stage. What was once a show about the DEA and Policia Nacional’s attempts to catch Escobar is now one with a spotlight on Escobar’s personal life and his fall.
Behind every great character is an even better actor. Moura fully encompasses and perpetuates Pablo Escobar. He is skilled in both holding back his emotions and remaining calm as well as exploding with frustration. He never overacts, and he leaves every emotion to be interpreted. Moura has been relatively unknown in the American entertainment industry, but hopefully his performance on “Narcos” gains him well-deserved attention and a spot in the American film scene.
Peña inherited Murphy’s role as the “troubled hero” this season and did a far better job at it than did his predecessor. Pascal plays Peña in a simplistic way, conveying calmness and stillness. Like the troubled protagonist of “The Wire,” McMurphy, Peña has an invested interest in catching Escobar and has dedicated his entire life to the cause, sometimes even willing to go around the law as he watches Escobar outsmart the police in every way. Even though Pascal was shy in breakout moments, relative to Moura, he fit the role perfectly and will hopefully keep gaining ground in Hollywood after his incredible performance in ‘‘Game of Thrones,’’ and possibly even the next season of “Narcos.” (More on this later.)
A surprising performance this season was that of Paulina Gaitan, who played Escobar’s undyingly loyal wife Tata. Her concern for her children and her indisputable love for her husband stood at an intense crossroads this season, and Gaitan played it wonderfully. Hopefully, along with Moura, she will gain more roles in American productions after such a portrayal.
The mark of a good storyteller is the ability to be objective. Pablo Escobar may be one of the most reviled criminals in history, and he is almost certainly the most infamous drug lord in history. But, in “Narcos,” Escobar is a loving husband, a good father, and sometimes, a completely normal person. In some moments over the course of the season, Escobar, who was once an over-the-top figure of sublime living, is humanized (even though such scenes drag at times). As the season is a retelling of the fragmentation of Escobar’s empire and once-stable life, the writers force you to sympathize with Escobar. His entire world that he built with ‘‘plata o plomo’’ (literally, ‘‘silver or lead’’) crashes before his eyes, and his relationship with his beloved family is constricted in the process. No matter how much was spent, and how many lives were taken, to build such an empire, one can’t help but feel, and sometimes even root, for Escobar.
It’s a disturbing feeling but a necessary one. What are our heroes without flaws? What are our villains without humanity? And who are we to judge good from evil? These are the questions the writers of “Narcos” show with such wonderful storytelling.
A visual difference this season is in the shots. Season one was fully invested with the writing and directing, while this season had a broader (but subtle) interest in cinematography. Whether it be a chase sequence through the city streets, a shot in the presidential palace, or a scene in the Colombian countryside, the directors really took advantage of their portrayal of Colombia and all of its beauty.
Season two of “Narcos” may have surpassed its predecessor, but it is still far from perfect television. The creators really improved in the areas they had lagged in, but hopefully they will figure out some of the pacing issues in the expositional scenes in the coming seasons. Since this season marks the end of Escobar’s story, it will be exciting to see what the creators think of next. It is reported that the show will continue with stories of other drug lords, as the show is called “Narcos,” not “Escobar.” For those that liked the first season of “Narcos,” season two should definitely be on the watch list. The whole series is currently available on Netflix.