It’s clear, even through just two episodes, that Narcos is going to have trouble fleshing out the story of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, American DEA agent Steve Murphy, and the complex politics of the War on Drugs. Narcos is ambitious in its scope, doing what it can to tell a story that spans decades and has implications beyond that, but it’s also hindered by such a vision. It’s why moments of promising character development, like tonight’s formation of the Medellín cartel, are often presented as mere exposition via Murphy’s voice-over.
Still, after a scattered premiere, Narcos finds more steady ground in its second episode by mostly limiting its time jumps and fleshing out how Murphy and Escobar came to be intertwined. The episode begins with Murphy and his wife Connie trying to get through customs in Colombia. It’s 1981, eight years before Murphy tracks down Poison, has him killed, and is thus on Escobar’s hit list. Right now, he’s just a DEA agent looking to get started in Colombia.
The Murphys, and their cat, are detained though, under the guise that the cat doesn’t have all the proper forms. That’s really just an excuse to get Murphy detained and get some information on him before they let this US citizen into the country. With the Murphys are detained for the majority of the episode, Narcos dives into the ever-expanding empire of Pablo Escobar.
Escobar, after getting rid of Cockroach, is now running super labs where they produce 10,000 kilos of cocaine a week, enough for $5 billion of revenue in a year. That’s great business, but it’s making it difficult for Escobar to hide his funds. He can’t very well launder it through his small taxicab company, so what does he do? He buries it and sews it into his mother’s furniture, and has his accountant, who goes by the name Blackbeard, keep track of where it’s all going.
As great as business is, there’s a looming threat, a group of guerrilla communists called the M-19 who Murphy says “read too much Karl Marx for their own good.” Led by a history teacher labeled Ivan The Terrible, they plan to kidnap the sister of the Ochoa brothers, one of the more important players in the trafficking business. When M-19 steals the sword of Simón Bolívar, sending a message to the government, and coming back into play with the narcos later, they think they’ve finally found a way to notoriety.
The truth is though, the kidnapping is just fuel for Escobar’s fire. He calls a meeting of all the local kingpins and families, saying that now is the time to form a coalition. Escobar proposes that he retains control of all day-to-day activities, while the rest of the cartel provides funding and receives not only profits, but security from further kidnappings. With everyone in agreement, Escobar names the group: Death to Kidnappers.
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