Karl Puschmann is an entertainment writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Karl Puschmann: The true horror of Narcos is what makes it so damn great

Stunning series blends appalling violence with family bonds, writes Karl Puschmann.

There's a weary quote that reoccurs throughout the brand new, second season of Narcos that goes, "you can't make this stuff up".

It's uttered by series narrator Steve Murphy, an American DEA agent working to bring Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar to justice, and always follows some horrific act of violence that is too awful, too outlandish and too atrocious to comprehend, let alone actually believe.

The thing is you just have to accept that this terrible stuff did go down because, ya know, you can't make this stuff up.

A scene from Narcos season two on Netflix, for TImeOUt
A scene from Narcos season two on Netflix, for TImeOUt

And there's also the small matter of undeniable proof...

One of Narcos' greatest strengths is its seamless blending of the factual, real life footage surrounding the hunt for Escobar with the show's fabricated fictional elements.

It gives the series a brutal reality it would otherwise lack. Some true grit you might say.

But most of all it ensures that as the events of season two escalate in the expected dramatic fashion you can never forget that these shocking and horrifying events happened. They're not just the standard rising stakes of a television serial.

So while the scenes of Escobar patting a cuddly rabbit are questionable, the appalling actions of the Los Pepes vigilante death squad are not.

These guys butchered anyone connected, no matter how loosely, to Escobar that they could get their murderous hands on. Then they very carefully posed them into grotesque dioramas before leaving the whole macabre scenes out in the open to be discovered in very public places.

It sounds made up. The actions of a typically deranged crime serial big bad or comic book super villain.

But I can tell you that seeing the actual news photos of the dismembered victims during the show was a little too real for someone of my queasy disposition...

As was seeing TV news footage of the carnage a car bomb caused after it detonated in a busy city shopping precinct killing over 250 people, a lot of them children.

And then there's the near endless, crimson stream of bullet-ridden bodies - both good and evil - that are such a hugely prominent part of this story.

A scene from Narcos season two on Netflix.
A scene from Narcos season two on Netflix.

It's confronting viewing. And much as I don't particularly like it, mainly because I don't like to be reminded that grim death will also one day come for me, I'd still argue that it's a crucial part of the show.

And that's because it keeps you from rooting for the wrong guy.

A crazy and unbelievable statement, I know. But hey, you can't make this stuff up.

Pablo Escobar was a monstrous and violent drug baron who terrorised his beloved city of Medellin and was responsible for countless deaths on both sides of the law.

But that's how astoundingly good Wagner Moura's performance as Escobar is. That he manages to wring even the smallest iota of goodwill towards Escobar is an incredible feat. That he makes it so easy to feel sympathetic towards him is an incredible display of serious acting chops.

A scene from the second season of Narcos.
A scene from the second season of Narcos.

In this second season we spend a lot of time with Escobar and his efforts to protect his devoted wife, their two kids and his mother as the noose created by the Colombian Police, the American DEA, the rival drug cartels and the vigilante gang Los Pepes slowly tightens and begins to suffocate him.

It's an unexpected twist for the series, seeing the scary monster becoming the plucky underdog growing increasingly desperate for a solution to his deathly woes, but does it ever pull it off.

Moura is just so damned great that you can't help but find yourself rooting for the guy. Even as he rashly orders fruitless retaliations in the form of car bombs parked in city plazas...

And it's then that you get hit with real life news footage. A grisly and all too real reminder that this guy, he was not a good guy. No matter how great an entertainment Narcos is - and it really is great - it's only because they couldn't make this stuff up.

And that's truly horrifying.

- NZ Herald

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Karl Puschmann is an entertainment writer for the New Zealand Herald.

A pop culture junkie, Karl has spent his career writing about the important things in life; music, film, television, comics and video games. He was editor of a popular music rag for five years and has since written regularly for every local culture/arts/lifestyle magazine worth a damn. His recent expansion into travel writing has flung him far, far from the comfort of his couch and into that bewildering place known as the ‘outdoors’. He is also currently endeavouring to make sense of the world by reviewing it over at critikarlreviewstheworld.com

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