Narcos is in it’s third season. The draw for the show was the rise, peak, and fall of famous Colombian drug lord, Pablo Escobar. While the first two seasons provided a somewhat skewed and creatively loose story of the real events of the 1990s. What Narcos excels at is telling a story of a certain slice of the world, at a certain time, and creating a tense drama about government agents, flawed but striving people, and the often ambiguous nature of politics, crime, and social bonds.
Narcos paints a rather ambivalent picture of Escobar and his associates. At times a complete monster and at times a man of strange honor, the juxtaposition of these contrasting personas is interesting as a character study. Make no mistake, many of these men were absolutely ruthless and remorseless in real life. What’s important to take away is that Narcos is a dramatization of real events. The real history is often duller or more complicated. Characters are combined for the sake of the story, events shift in time frames, and certain liberties are taken for the sake of the story.
Why Narcos is successful, despite some of its narrative flaws, is it’s unique concept: the Colombian drug war in the 1980s and 1990s. Anyone born in that era, who lived through it, can probably tell you a bit about Medellin. What Narcos exceeds at is showing the conflict that rocked South and North America, socially, economically, and politically. All these events rippled across the Western Hemisphere (Freeway Rickie Ross’s rise as the crack king of LA in the 1980s, the emergence of modern street gangs like MS-13, and the interconnected competition of rival ethnic crime groups throughout the world)
Narcos’ story is a brutal and polarizing look at a specific time period. It is a testament of storytelling to its matter of fact approach, ambiguous commentary (or lack thereof), and simply showing both sides of the conflict. It is something readers and writers should look at as inspiration for small scale but high personal stakes when developing worlds, conflicts, and characters as well.