If you are one of those people who gets on to Netflix and skips past “El Chapo” when you see “recently added shows”, don’t do that again. My rationale for skipping past El Chapo was based on the fact that I had never seen a trailer for the show, neither had I read anything about it. I thought it was a quick attempt to capitalise on El Chapo’s notoriety so I didn’t trust it. It makes sense now because the show is entirely in Spanish so maybe all the marketing and publicity was directed to a Latin American audience?
Before I go on to the show, I wanted to muse a little bit about where Mexican cartels stand in comparison to the Colombian drug (Cali and Medellin) cartels or even where they stand in the global history of badassness including the Italian Mafia and the New York Crime syndicates. I should probably exclude the Italian and New York Mafia because drugs were a no – no (I know the New York families dabbled in cocaine later on but that’s a story for another day).
I think based on pure notoriety and the impact they have had on the world, the Cali and Medellin cartels take the cake. I believe the main leaf used to produce cocaine is native to Columbia so in essence they are manufacturers of coacaine. In the 80’s they also seemed to have a conveyor belt of ruthless gangstas necessary to make the most of this industry – Pablo Escobar, The Ochoa brothers (and their dad) and Griselda Blanco come to mind.
The US is always the end destination and initially the Columbians used small planes to fly the cocaine out to Florida but Regan clamped down on that route and I guess this is where Mexico comes in. The Mexicans offered an alternative transport route for the blow from COlumbia to be moved to the US.
If we are talking about sheer violence, the Mexicans are just as (maybe even more) violent than the Colombians. I always wondered why given all this violence, there has never been a figure head for all of this hot headedness in the way Pablo and the Ochoa Brothers were for Columbia. One could argue that Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman has put Mexico on the map.
I like stories about drugs, organised crime and the mafia and I didn’t even know who El Chapo was until 2015 when he escaped from prison for the second time. I wasn’t interested because I remember at the time, there was limited stuff on him. I remember thinking how bad can this guy be? He doesn’t even have a critically acclaimed documentary about him so I wasn’t really interested in what he brought to the table. I have since learned a bit more about him and acknowledge that he is not one to be messed with but I am still not sure where he ranks in history.
On to the show now. I like that the show mixes in real life news reports about the subject matter so in the opening scenes you see El Chapo being led to prison by the Mexican authorities. Elsewhere in episode 1, you see Ronald Regan and other news reports from the 80’s. It is interesting to see how Chapo started out. He is initially portrayed as a little cog in the big Mexican drug wheel. He takes a chance and flies out (against his Boss’ orders) to Escobar’s Haciender Napoles for a sit down and stakes his life on the line when he promises Escobar that he will deliver Escobar’s cocaine from Mexico to the US in two days (his bosses take 5 days to deliver).
The rest of the episode shows you the lengths he will go to for success. He is ambitious and wants to move up the ladder really quickly. Sure there is some fantasy in there (I really doubt that a scrub from Mexico in the 80’s would have secured sit down with Escobar but I think this was added to sensationalise the whole thing for TV). Having said that, there is enough of reality in episode 1 for you to get a sense of what kind of guy he was and what made him tick.
I like that the show is entirely in Spanish. This gives it a more authentic feel. Queen of the South feels a bit weird sometimes with the actors’ fake Mexican English accent. When I am watching it, I always wonder why the hell a Mexican gangster and his wife are conversing in English. I think the balance between Spanish and English Narcos is just right. Only the Americans speak English.
Speaking of Narcos, I don’t think season 3 is back until later this year so this show fills in nicely. I also get to practice my Spanish although in between the Columbian accent from Narcos, the Spanish accent from Las Chicas del Cable and the Mexican Accents from this show and Queen of the South, my (imaginary) accent is all over the place.