Wednesday, September 2, 2015

REVIEW: 'Narcos' - Pablo Deals with Kidnappers While Murphy Meets His New Partner in 'The Sword of Simón Bolívar'

Netflix's Narcos - Episode 1.02 "The Sword of Simón Bolívar"

Communist radical group M-19 makes a move against the narcos, while Murphy gets an education in Colombian law enforcement from his new partner, Peña.

Pablo Escobar has a dual personality to him. On one hand, he is a man of the people. Someone who came from humble roots and enjoys sharing his vast wealth with the poor and depraved people of Colombia. But on the other hand, he is the violent head of the cartel who uses a kidnapping in order to expand his operation and prove just how dangerous he is capable of being. He is a very smart and cunning man. He does take his time to think about what course of action is the best to take. He knows that he's one of the richest people in the world. His business is on track to bring in 5 billion dollars a year. But he is also aware of his public persona. The man who's in front of the camera is vastly different from the one manipulating the events behind it.

"The Sword of Simón Bolívar" is a bit more scattered than the series premiere was. The action of the episode is building up to Pablo coming to two conclusions. One is that he is going to form the Medellin cartel and run the operation in order to strengthen his already solid business model. The other is that he is going to liberate Colombia by running for President. Those are two vastly different things. That's what makes Pablo Escobar the man such a captivating presence. He embodied both of those qualities. And yet, he has gotten a taste for blood and is much more willing to execute people now than he did before. But that has also made him more aspirational too. During the big press conference on the street, he refuses to run for President. He goes on about the leadership of the country not caring about the regular citizens. But he isn't throwing his hat into the rig to change any of that. He's simply doing his part to make the country somewhat better than it is. His decision to liberate does come about suddenly. He knows how to shape a story and a situation. He has the smarts to run despite his current business operation.

All of these things come about because a communist terrorist group known as M-19 decides to kidnap the sister of Pablo's partners, the Ochoa brothers. Those two weren't really important in the establishment of the criminal enterprise. The head of M-19, Ivan, is afraid to go after anyone else because of how they might react. But Pablo is capable of taking control of the situation. He unites everyone together so that there isn't those distinctions. Gacha may be the ninth richest man and the Ochoa brothers may be ranked thirteenth according to Forbes Magazine. But they are all a part of the same organization. Something that Pablo has created in order to unite all of them in the face of this extortion. It's because of Pablo that nothing happens to Marta. In fact, the cartel are the ones who terrorize and kill - not the ideological terrorists who've gotten in way over their heads. That doesn't explain why Pablo keeps their leader alive in the end. He wants to work with him even though his slogan that united everyone was "death to kidnappers." But everything continues to go well for Pablo at the moment. He is fully in control of the situation. He continues to rise in importance. Not just to his partners but to the entire country of Colombia.

This really is the Pablo Escobar show. He is the most important character who has been given the most amount of nuance across these first two episodes. The show is being narrated by Steve Murphy. And yet, it's hard to get a good grasp on him as an actual player in this ongoing story. The narration is wonderful but the character performance leaves a lot to be desired. All he does here is enter Colombia. That leads to a lengthy waiting period with him and his wife being detained by officers just so they can print a copy of his passport so the narcos know that he has joined the agency working against them. When he finally makes his way to the office, he largely takes the backseat to whatever his new partner, Javier Peña, has in motion. Peña is the inciter of action when it comes to their story. Sure, Murphy is a fish-out-of-water in this situation adjusting to how things are done in Colombia. But it doesn't seem like he has much of a personality at all in doing so.

Peña doesn't have a whole lot more screen time in order to flesh out the nuances of a character. And yet, a complete story is told between him and the prostitute/informant, Helena. He has a close relationship with her. She wants a visa to the United States so bad that she'll do anything to get it. Sure, that point is really driven home by the show's narration. It did come across on the screen perfectly fine without Murphy also saying it. But that's what allowed the situation around her and Peña to get as tragic as it did. Sure, it's horrifying to see her get taken by the cartel in order to be raped by a dozen of men because Gacha got rightfully paranoid. But the story is never really about her. It's about explaining that Gacha has reason to be as paranoid as he is and that Peña is an honorable man who does horrible things in order to get results. It's established who these characters are. It just goes about at the expense of Helena. Will the audience learn in the next episode if she'll get her visa after this traumatic experience? I'm not sure considering the show is so focused on the Pablo Escobar story to get distracted by such a detour.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Sword of Simón Bolívar" was written by Chris Brancato and directed by José Padilha.
  • The fact that Carlos bought an island in Bahamas so that the planes carrying the drugs have a safe place to refuel will become important later on. But here, it just feels like an important piece of information that the audience needs to have and nothing more.
  • Pablo's young wife is pregnant. And yet, he has also started a relationship with the female journalist. Their dynamic during sex is basically him needing to exert his power over her and her knowing what she needs to do in order to establish a future between them.
  • Connie Murphy had reason to be upset by the amount of drugs entering the United States. But she doesn't have much purpose in Colombia. A throwaway line basically says she helps at a local clinic. That will have to tie into something important soon in order to be relevant.
  • Something terrible was going to happen to that cat as soon as the airport official made such a big deal about its paperwork.
  • This episode as a whole is cruel to animals. Steve and Connie's cat is murder and Gacha shoots his dog because it can't sniff out Pablo's drugs anymore.
  • Also, there was a lot more sex in this episode than there was in the first. A development that was unnecessary at times - the Murphys and the M-19 people especially.
  • What exactly does Pablo have in mind that Ivan can help him with?

As noted in previous reviews from this series, every episodic review was written without having seen any succeeding episodes. Similarly, it would be much appreciated if in the comments section, the conversation would only revolve around the show up to this point in its run.