Like most people I got sucked into Narcos. For the ones who haven’t fallen down the rabbit hole of the Medellín cartel in Colombia, consider yourselves lucky. Narcos isn’t a show you can just stop watching. It gets under your skin. You carry it around with you. It sticks to you.
Narcos is told from two different sides. The “good” side and the “bad” side. But as the episodes go on, you find yourself getting the two muddled.
The show opens with DEA agent Steve Murphy. He is a new agent who only had experience in chasing the “bad guys in flip-flops”. Meaning, in the late 70’s (when the show takes place) the only real drug problem that was plaguing the streets was marijuana. We are introduced to his girlfriend and then his wife who is a nurse and they made a cute family. Right from the beginning, I was rooting for Steve Murphy. I wanted him to catch all the bad guys and make all the drug busts. I wanted him to get all the recognition.
Oh, but then enters Pablo Escobar. Pablo comes from extremely humble beginnings. On the other side of the fence of Steve, Pablo is a marijuana dealer. He’s making some good money, not a whole lot. And when he is introduced to cocaine, his life is turned completely around. He went from making money to making moooooneyyyyy.
That’s the only way I can describe it. The marijuana game was chump change compared to the money he was getting with cocaine. I was immediately drawn to Pablo – his no-nonsense attitude and the insane way he commanded a room – and ever since he was introduced, I had a hard time deciding between who was the “good” character and who was the “bad” character.
When the second season came to an end, I shed tears for Pablo Escobar. I found myself hating Steve Murphy and he was the good guy, remember?? He was the police officer trying to stop the big bad drug dealer. But I wanted Pablo to get away. I wanted him to win and I realized that the show had completely changed my mind about how I viewed the epic battle of good vs. evil.
Once I realized I was actually rooting for the “bad” guy so many things made sense. I started to think about how I could translate Escobar’s likability into my writing and I’ve come up with the 2 main ways Pablo Escobar stole my heart and how I can do these things to my characters.
1. Everyone has a story.
I fell in love with Pablo Escobar because of his story. Yes, he was a drug dealer and violent and seriously deranged and ruthless in his tactics. And even when I had to cover my eyes on certain gory parts, or when I was shocked at Pablo, I still found myself on his side. And that was because of his story. Pablo came from very humble beginnings. Growing up in Colombia he was poor and he didn’t want to be that anymore. Despite that his drugs were flooding the streets and causing overdoses and deaths at an alarming rate in Miami, he felt as though he was doing the right thing for himself, his business and his family. His wife, children and mother had more money than they could spend. He was just a regular guy who found a very lucrative business and was trying to give his family the things he never had. At Pablo’s core, there was good in him, and that was what I kept seeing. That was what kept drawing me in, especially his love for his children. He didn’t really have an ending point. Pablo was going to keep going until someone tried to stop him.
2. Everyone wants to be on the “right” side of history.
Even though he dealt drugs, he also provided for his family and even the people of his country. Because he came from nothing, he knew that his people were suffering. He was often in the streets handing out money to the less fortunate. He was consistently helping the poor, and he even ran for office! He longed to make a change for the people of Colombia. With his money and his influence, he certainly could, but there was that pesky little fact that he was a drug dealer soooo…
But think about that for a second. A man who was literally breaking the law wanted to be one of the ones making the laws. Ironic, right? Even though he was insanely rich, he still hadn’t forgotten what it was like to not have shoes, to go to bed hungry or cold. What made Pablo special was that he hadn’t forgotten. He was still the same guy who grew up in Medellín and he truly believed that he was doing the right thing and that he was on the right side of history.
So, I used these two factors of Pablo Escobar’s character to bring more life into my writing, especially the villains. There isn’t just “good” and “evil”. I think everyone has layers of both. There were some things Steve Murphy did that would label him as a “bad” guy and there were plenty of times that Pablo was viewed as the “good” guy. I say all of this to say, no one is inherently “bad” or inherently “good”. Everyone has a beginning and an ending. Everyone has a cause and effect – layers, life. At the end of the day, everyone believes what they are doing is the right thing. Use the Narcos example and breathe some life into your characters. Make them complicated. Make them messy and watch your character development improve.
Oh, and watch Narcos.