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TV Series Review

Destroying Columbia's illicit drug trade is a bit like trying to kill the mythical hydra: Lop off one head, and two more sprout in its place.

It's a truth that Javier Peña knows all too well.

Javier, a top agent for the U.S. government's Drug Enforcement Agency, has been trying to destroy Columbia's powerful cocaine cartels for years now. And on some levels, he's been successful: Javier was instrumental in taking down notorious kingpin Pablo Escobar, who built a multi-billion dollar empire on drugs and murder.

But the cost was high: Thousands died during the war against Escobar. The United States funneled billions of dollars into the fight. And what good did it do? Escobar's death and his cartel's collapse left a power vacuum that new players swiftly filled.

Columbia's cocaine trade isn't ruled by the megalomaniac Escobar anymore, but by the smooth Cali Cartel. And this empire runs as efficiently and relentlessly as any Fortune 500 company, albeit one where torture and murder are considered sound, ethical business practices. The cartel spends more than $1 billion on bribes each year. It slaughters its enemies in secret. And it ensures that the flow of cocaine to the United States, Europe and the rest of the world never gets interrupted.

Clean as New-Fallen Snow?

But now the Orejuela brothers—the cartel's ruthless leaders—want to go straight, taking the organization with them. They'd like to be out of the cocaine racket entirely in a matter of months, turning their massive illicit operation into a law-abiding family business. And so they've made a sweetheart deal with the Columbian government: They'll shut down the world's mightiest drug cartel, but they get to keep all the money they made building it. Any prison sentences will be short and light. In exchange for the equivalent of a "get out of jail free" card, the Orejuelas will make sure the Cali Cartel will never give law enforcement reason to throw them in jail again.

A small price to pay, right?

That's not Javier's take. What right does the Cali Cartel have to set its own terms for surrender? How is it fair that the Orejuelas—indeed, everyone involved with the cartel—should escape justice for the heinous crimes they've committed? For decades the cartel leaders have flaunted the law and watered Columbia with blood, and now—on their word of honor—they get to escape practically without consequence?

Javier won't have it—even if the CIA will. That's not the way justice is supposed to work.

But just how does justice work? Javier's not exactly clean himself. "To kill a monster, sometimes you have to get in bed with other monsters," Javier intones. It's impossible to stay pure in this dirty world."

As CIA operative Bill Stechner tells Javier, "If there was any justice in this world, Javier, you'd be in jail."

One More Hit

Narcos, now in its third season on Netflix, tells us that it's "inspired" by true events, and the bad guys here are definitely real, historical figures. It's a show where spoilers are found on Wikipedia. But this is no documentary. Narcos is predicated on giving its viewers a hit or two of guilty pleasure.

The show's on the side of Javier and his quest for justice, certainly. It's reasonably well-written, too, and it has been nominated for a handful of Emmys. But that's not where its appeal lies. Rather, Narcos takes viewers deep behind the cartel walls and into the inner workings of a successful, glamorous illicit empire, filled with sex and drugs and murder.

Few of us would want to work in this drug-soaked landscape—not when a bad employment review might lead to your corpse being wrapped in barbed wire and dropped into a river. But we can't help but be a little curious what that world looks like.

Netflix knows what its viewers want and, as such, it gives us an eyeful. Obviously unfettered by broadcast or even basic cable restraints, the streaming service supplies Narcos' fans with a steady stream of violence, sex and ludicrous displays of ill-gotten wealth. Women and men disrobe and writhe on satin-covered beds. Those who fall out of the cartel's favor are tortured or killed, sometimes in horrific ways. Drinks are drunk, coke is snorted.

I suppose this sort of entertainment may seem like a quick fix for some, but the high doesn't last. If anything, the last couple of decades of television have taught us that those who search out extreme entertainment on the telly seem to need ever-more graphic content to sate them. And so salacity grows ever-more shocking, the violence ever-more grotesque.

And always its peddlers stand at the ready to sell us more.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles



Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Narcos: Sept. 1, 2017 "The Kingpin Strategy"



Readability Age Range



Pedro Pascal as Javier Peña; Damian Alcazar as Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela; Alberto Ammann as Hélmer "Pacho" Herrera; Francisco Denis as Miguel Rodríguez Orejuela; Pêpê Rapazote as José Santacruz Londoño; Matias Varela as Jorge Salcedo; Javier Cámara as Guillermo Pallomari; Andrea Londo as Maria Salazar; Eric Lange as Bill Stechner






Record Label




On Video

Year Published



Paul Asay

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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