“Narcos” Season 1 Retrospect – Colombia, Politics, Drugs and a Powerful Story

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     Netflix just keeps making gold…”House of Cards,” and “Daredevil” are already two of my favorite shows and now I must add “Narcos” to the list…though the fact that it didn’t end after this season is troubling. We are caught up to the year that historically Palbo Escobar died…where does the series go from here if it is going to take the 10 episode format? Do Murphy’s and Pena’s story really have that much steam left? Their arcs felt complete at the end of the story. Suffice to say though, season 1 is great with one of my few criticisms only being the ending.

     The series was created by Chris Brancato, Carlo Bernard and Doug Miro and directed by Jose Padilha.

SPOILERS ahead

     The story involves the Rise and Fall of Pablo Escobar (Wagner Moura) and the drama within the Medellin Cartel and the DEA agents Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook) and Javier Pena (Pedro Pascal) and what they and the Colombian Government do to bring him and the Cartel down.

The Pros: The History – The history that takes place through the 80’s of the politics and drama between the political groups and gangs in Colombia is fascinating, especially in relation to United States involvement as it is the United States backing of Pinochet which lead to the drug trade being exterminated in Chile but spreading over to Colombia when “Cockroach” escapes to the Escobar’s and sells them his trade helping them start their Empire. We also have the war between the Colombian Government and the Cartels and the United States and the different Communist movements in South America…it is fascinating and awesome and made me want to read and study more.

The Cinematography – The cinematography captures the beauty of Colombia and the dark underbelly of the gangs and the corruption in the government as well as the grey line our characters are always walking.

The Soundtrack – Pedro Bromfman did a wonderful job incorporating traditional and modern Colombian music to make this show truly about Colombia. We get personal moments and the gritty reality of all our characters through his amazing art.

The Characters  and Organizations – The characters are all flawed and have to make hard choices and the organizations have clear goals as well and all are a mixture of fear and idealism in order to meet their ends.

The CIA  and U.S. Government – The CIA is great as we have a military guy who is all about catching the communists but another agent played by Richard Jones who is always helping our guys go after Escobar and the Cartel. It shows how complicated it is especially as they walk a grey line of looking after their own interests but not losing the goodwill of the people. Ambassador Noonan is the one who has the most difficulty with that given the United States’s legacy in Chile next store.

The Communist Rebel Groups – The rebels are all based in idealism but are presented as being cut off from the reality of the people as they are willing to kill innocents to meet their end and still claim the high ground. This eventually leads to one of the leaders surrendering to Escobar to protect his men that the Cartel are killing off. M-19 is the one that gets the most airtime as their kidnappings bring the Cartel against them though Pablo Escobar eventually defeats and uses them to his own ends.

The Colombian Government – The government is in the Cartel’s pocket for a long time until the option of extradition comes up where the caught drug deals will be sent to a U.S. prison rather than the vacation and influence they’d have in a Colombian prison.

President Cesar Gaviria – Cesar is given a lot of tough choices and we see him eventually make peace with Escobar letting him make his own prison so that the bloodshed will stop. He isn’t a coward though and we see him avoid an assassination attempt and always walk among the people, calling the Cartel out for their crimes. He is definitely flawed but you see a man faced wit the dilemma of losing sovereignty and granting the U.S. more power or letting the Cartels have more power but have sovereignty respected.

Colonel Herrera – Herrera deals with the Escobar at first but becomes a mortal enemy after this rise as he becomes obsessed with him after an assassination on his wife and himself at a cafe. This eventually leads to him setting his men on Pablo’s cousin, ending in his death.

The Medillen Cartel – The Cartel is fascinating and the gangsters are complicated monsters as we see them humanized and love and lose and make hard choices in order to survive and to grow their business.

Gacha – Gacha is unhinged and is fun to watch as Pablo Escobar is able to keep him in line even as his killings of the politicians and prostitutes is slowly getting the government to act. He is the one who is all about taking what he wants, though he has a son (who is a monster like him) who he loves. He is eventually taken out by Pena.

The Ochoas – The Ochoas make a deal with the government and Cali Cartel to leave Pablo isolated which eventually leads to Pablo’s cousins death and makes it so the sister is no longer connected to the Escobars. They win in a way as they get the prison deal they wanted and stay under the radar.

Pablo Escobar – Escobar drives the story as we see he and his cousin but the Medellin Cartel making them some of the richest people in the world. Their bond is  core connection and it is after Pablo’s cousin is killed that he loses it and eventually kills the men he put in charge of the Cartel leading to an eventual assault on the Prison he made for himself in order to keep the government off his back. He rises and in the end his love of Colombia and desire for power and respect lead to his downfall as his escape from his prison cannot prevent him from the death that is already in the history books.

The DEA – The DEA like Escobar are the main drivers of the story as we see Murphy and Pena have to make difficult choices and sometimes act on their own and for or against one another in order to stop the Cartels.

Javier Pena – It is great seeing the Red Viper again! Pedro Pascal is one of my favorite actors and I’ve missed him since the only season he was in “Game of Thrones.” He plays a womanizer in this but he has a good heart as he looks after all of those he has a relationship with, even if it means his job and life. It is this love of the people that a lot of them reject as they see him as a DEA Gringo who only cares about American interests and not those of Colombia. He proves that assumption wrong on multiple occasions. He was my favorite character in this.

Steve Murphy – Holbrook does a good job as the mustached 80’s cop who gets hardened by Colombia and addicted to the chase and war. In the end it is his home as he is driven at taking down the Cartels as he no longer cares about his life and we see his detachment from his wife as she wants to return to the States while for him, this War is all he has as home and he has nothing in the States to go back too (his partner having been killed by the Medellin Cartel prior).

The Cons: Women Sidelined – Women are very much on the sidelines in this with a reporter being the few women with power. I get that this reflects the society, but even Pablo’s mother’s influence isn’t really shown. The exception I can think of is Connie Murphy but even she feels like a side quest to the main narrative and is only really in the story because of her marriage to Steve and she isn’t needed to drive the story.

Leaving the Story Open – Escobar should have died at the end and the point about violence always being there could have been. In the end Escobar wasn’t the point of the story, the point was Colombia and how it had shaped our characters are Murphy sees it as home even after his partner sold him out to the Cali Cartel to catch Escobar. This theme is powerful but is undercut by Pablo’s escape and not death in the final from the Search Bloc.

I recommend this story, it is overwhelmingly good and the few cons don’t take away from that. It is gives Colombia respect and also goes into quite a bit of depth with all the different players in the game that the Governments and Cartels played. I’d highly recommend checking it out, even as I’m worried about what Season 2 might bring.

Final Score: 9.3 ./ 10

Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970): The Wrong Path to Peace

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Throughout science fiction across most genres be they books, films or games…the idea of the evil computer is a common trope that is more often than not, used to critique us and our ideals. What does it mean to be a Sentient A.I.? What makes an A.I. go bad? Has it gone bad? Within this we see those like HAL or GLADos (of the “Portal Series”) whose goal is to complete their missions. Which for them is furthering science in different ways. Colossus is similar in some ways, and different than others as his aim was built primarily around politics and defense. I’ll get into more of what I mean in the assessment, but for me, Colossus was a big reason why I enjoyed this film. The concept was also ahead of it’s time in regards to A.I. and matters of surveillance in regards to the State.

“Colossus: The Forbin Project” was directed by Joseph Sargent, written by James Bridges, produced by Stanley Chase and based off the book Colossus by Dennis Feltham Jones.

The premise is that Colossus is made public by the President of the United States as all control of America’s  defenses have been given over to the computer, and the computer was made to adapt if there was any attempt made to destroy it as to stop the Russians. We soon learn from Colossus that there is another computer that the scientist Forbin (Eric Braeden) wants Colossus to make contact with. It is a USSR AI similar to Colossus and they link. Worried about the threat this may pose the Soviet Union and United States cut the connection, which leads to both computers sending warning nukes out. Colossus stops one but Guardian does not stop the other. After they reconnect again they become one and begin their takeover as Forbin and his fellow scientists work against stopping the monster they’ve created.

The Pros: The Premise – I like the idea of a super computer developing intelligence and the world having to deal with this new organism. If there had been more of that and Colossus intentions never fully being known, or being less outright fascist I would have rated this movie higher. The premise really is awesome and is a great analogue of how the Cold War bunker mentality is our own worst enemy as it was that fear that created Colossus in the first place.

Dr. Corbin – Corbin is the idealistic scientist in the end who goes along with Colossus willingly at first, until the nuke hits the Russia and he works with the Russian scientist to find a solution and later his science team and Dr. Markham. He isn’t successful and is full of regret as he was the one who created the monster that is now taking control of humanity. Eric Braeden does a good job.

Dr. Markham – Dr. Markham is Corbin’s assistant and later love interest as she goes undercover as Corbin’s mistress after Colossus has Corbin trapped in the lab taking care of IT and being it’s connection to the outside world (The Russian scientist was killed because it was seen as redundant). She is a great fighter though and I felt bad for her failed plan with Corbin to stop ColIossus, hopefully she’ll lead the new resistance against the tyranny of Colossus. I liked Susan Clark.

Colossus – Colossus is the AI that was made to defend the United States against all threats. From here it evolved to figure out the best way to end all threats as a whole after it linked with the Russian AI Guardian and they became one and came to see people as the threat that needed to be dealt with. It was from here Colossus sought to bring all under it’s rule and destroy those who tried to destroy it. It’s programming of protecting people and safeguarding humanity had turned into that at all costs and breeding a new generation that would honor it and no longer fight among people. The computer becomes Skynet from the “Terminator” franchise, except bent on subjugation rather than genocide of humanity.

The Message – Fear breeds are own worst enemies was the big thing I got from the film and peace at all costs can be worse than war, as well as if you’re going to create something, fully know what you are doing so you don’t end up creating a monster. The fear breeding weapons that could be out of our control (especially with the modern automated information age) it was powerful. The fact that our heroes don’t win in the end was good too, it really shows how the idea of peace at all costs can turn to tyranny and terror as Colossus had Corbin under constant surveillance and killed those who tried to resist it.

Okay: The Scientists – Most are nameless and they are largely faces of resistance. They are a diverse group at least.

The President – He reminds me of John F. Kennedy with the voice of Shatner, so his voice was the most memorable thing about him beyond his personal connection to Corbin who he treated as a friend. He was also really reasonable with the USSR when they were dealing with the threat of Colossus and Guardian.

The Ending – Colossus wins and takes control of the Earth! This was unexpected, but his desire for peace and control didn’t seem fully fleshed out given how willing the AI was to use nukes. This seemed to contradict that so I was left wondering if it had another agenda or like Ultron just wanted to eliminate humanity all together.

The Cons: The Russians – We don’t get to know any of them and they mostly just do what the United Stats does, with the exception of them killing the Russian scientist who had created Guardian.

Final Score: 8.2 / 10. I liked it but felt that most of the human characters were not as fleshed out as they could be, the only one I felt that I really got to know was Forbin which wasn’t enough given how many characters looked interesting but just didn’t get development.