9:37am PT by Jackie Strause
'Narcos' Boss on Season 2: Viewers Will Be "Conflicted" Over Pablo Escobar's Death
The second season of Narcos isn't about the destination; it's about the journey.
The new season of the cartel drama (which released on Netflix on Friday) will continue to tell the story of famed Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar (Wagner Moura). Though history spoils the eventual ending to the saga (Escobar was killed in 1993), Narcos confirmed that his death will come in season two — a move that showrunner Eric Newman admits seems controversial, but actually makes perfect sense.
"The show, since its inception, has never been about Pablo Escobar," Newman tells The Hollywood Reporter. "Narcos is about cocaine and cocaine continues beyond Escobar. The Osama bin Laden thing certainly inspired us, because here’s this guy we went to great lengths to kill and by the time we did, he was living in the Anaheim of Pakistan, actually having little to do with terrorism. And now we’re dealing with the guys that took over for him. That’s how we look at Escobar."
While the first season spanned more than a decade of Escobar's story, the character-driven second season narrows its lens to the roughly 16 months between his prison escape from La Catedral in the finale and his death. The near year-and-a-half manhunt includes some of Escobar's most violent acts — such as the Bogota shopping center bombing that killed 21, including children, and injured dozens — as well as the alliance of Escobar successors who merged to bring him down.
While much has been documented about the hunt and death of Escobar, Newman says Narcos reveals never-before-told pieces to the puzzle. The drama is based on true events and uses the real DEA agents portrayed on the show, Steve Murphy (played by Boyd Holbrook) and Javier Pena (played by Pedro Pascal), as series consultants. Murphy, now retired, was present the day of Escobar's death.
Here, Newman talks to THR about his decision to humanize Escobar in his final months, the plan to end the Escobar story in season two and why the series can go on after the Medellin cartel and its boss go down.
How much of the show is fiction and how much is true — can you break it down by percentage?
It’s probably 50-50. The chronology is accurate. We try to cover as many of the events as we could. Even when we had to stray from reality, we tried to be consistent with what the reality would be and how people would react to things. For example, with the Bogota bombing [of April 1993]. Particularly among the sicarios, who started to question what they were doing when confronted with the bombing, it was really a turning point for a lot of people. It was really the first time that Escobar, even though he didn’t target them, killed children. It was this great intersection of people getting tired of war and this incredibly salable story of, "Wow, Escobar planted a bomb that killed a bunch of kids at a bookstore just as school was returning to session." And it was fun to be able to take the characters that we spent a year developing and see how they react.
You took over as showrunner for season two (replacing Adam Fierro, after he took over from creator Chris Brancato). Creatively, when did you decide that Pablo Escobar was going to be a two-season story?
From the beginning. Chris, Jose [Padilha, executive producer] and I worked very closely together on season one. Chris and I were down in Colombia and then I took over the show alone between seasons. We designed the show to be a season of the rise and then a season of the fall of Escobar. It has always been two seasons, with the first sort of setting the table and him reaching his zenith, which is him walking out of his own custom-designed prison. And then season two would be the walls closing in and the collapse.
So the cast, including Wagner Moura, knew going in that this would be a two-season arc?
Yes. For the characters, particularly for Wagner, it was an understanding from the beginning that we were going to tell this story in two years. It’s no secret that my dream, for the now many years since I decided I wanted to tell this story, was always to have the freedom to move on into the cocaine world. Because cocaine lives on, as we know.
Previously you spoke about the Titanic argument and how, if done correctly, people will watch something even when they know the ending. What was behind your decision to confirm Escobar’s death was coming in season two, instead of having it be a surprise to viewers?
I would cite the Titanic argument, certainly, but I would also say that one of the great things about our story is that there’s so much information out there that, should you choose to seek it, you will get answers to everything. It begins on a very fun, interactive level with Wikipedia. Where, every time Escobar does something in an episode, you can say, “Shit, did he really blow up an airplane?” You can then go Google: Did Escobar blow up an airplane? And it will say: Yes. Since it wasn’t that long ago, a lot of us will remember the death of Escobar. And for those who don’t remember it, even the most rudimentary, cursory examination will reveal that he was killed in 1993. So I was never afraid of people wondering where it was going to go. In the same way that everyone knows where a biopicture of Martin Luther King or Abraham Lincoln is going to go. Downfall, which is one of my favorite movies of the last 10 years, is about Hitler in the bunker. You know it’s going to end very badly for him — and you hate him because it’s Adolf Hitler — but when you’re in the bunker with him, you forget that. So in some ways, in the end, your reaction is not what you thought it would be.
It's not an easy task to humanize Hitler, or Escobar.
Hitler loved dogs. I love dogs and I generally have an immediate connection with anyone who loves dogs. At the same time, you’re dealing with a megalomaniac, sociopath murderer. That’s the stuff that’s really interesting and that’s what Wagner really brings to Escobar. That is very much what we went for on the show, and I think that it worked very well. It’s obviously a credit to all the people involved.
Do you think viewers will have surprising reactions to Escobar's death?
When people watch our show and they get to Escobar’s death, I think they’re going to be pretty conflicted. One thing I love is that there are going to be just as many people rooting for his death as there are for him rooting to get away. I think that’s a product of a lot of things, a balanced fiction of both sides. I don’t believe in a world where there are good guys and bad guys, I kind of believe in a world where there are bad guys and really bad guys. I’ve never really subscribed to this idea that there are heroic men and women fighting only for the good. I think the world is much more complicated than that. Escobar is a perfect example of a guy, a very bad guy — probably a sociopath — a murderer and a terrorist, but what were the circumstances that allowed him to exist? They were not just the American appetite for cocaine, but I think the American government’s inability to address the demand and the cause for this incredible market for cocaine, which would require looking inward. Instead, they’re much more comfortable looking at some Latino drug dealer in Colombia and saying: “That’s the problem, let’s go get that guy. And then all of our problems will be solved.”
Something I Googled is: Who killed Escobar? While there is a ton of information on his death, it’s not confirmed who fired the fatal shot to his head. Did you set out to do the story of his death justice?
There are conspiracy theories about who killed Escobar, about who pulled the trigger on Escobar. I think we’re pretty clear about how that happens and we’ve talked to enough people to believe that we are depicting it accurately.
The real conspiracy is not in the actual moment of death for Escobar. What we are referring to in season two, or what creatively I set out to refer to, is this alliance that is formed of some really bad people to take him down. Some of the worst people in the world who we, in our infinite wisdom, decide that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. America does this again and again in foreign policy — there’s any number of anti-communists who we got into business with who are awful, but communism was the enemy. In this case, Pablo Escobar is the enemy. Forget about the fact that we’re in business with rival drug dealers with genocidal paramilitaries, we’re going to all link up and we’re going to take him down. That’s just amazing that it happened the way that it happened. And that’s the big expose, in our opinion.
Some of those "really bad people" were around in season one, and some will be introduced in season two. Was that part of the decision to slow down season two, to properly spend time with the characters, including his successors?
Yes. What slowing down means is that we’re able to get to know some of the people in Narcos. In season one, we got better as we went along. Once you start getting into the later episodes where you’re with President Gaviria, this man who doesn’t really want to be president but who agrees to pick up the flag for his fallen friend, those are the stories that are much more appealing to me. I have much more fun with those than I do with the bigger, sweeping or police procedural stuff. This season has a lot of those moments. You know and like the characters more this season because you do spend more time with them.
The real Murphy also said there are things about the manhunt and his death that historically have never been told. What else can you tease?
I grew up in a time where there was a certain cleanliness to war movies. It takes a while to be able to look at something for as ugly as it was. For 40 or 50 years of World War II movies, people didn’t quite grasp how violent and awful it really was until Saving Private Ryan. I’ve loved a lot of the movies about the cocaine business. Traffic was great and there are certainly always exceptions. But I feel like we’re really exploring the collateral damage to a degree that hasn’t yet been explored. I feel like people are watching this show and going, “Wow, I had no idea that it was that brutal.” And that Colombia was almost a narco-democracy.
Narcos hasn’t been officially picked up for a third season — yet — but you’ve said that you don’t plan on stopping until cocaine stops. How many seasons of material do you have? [Update: Netlix renewed Narcos for a third and fourth season on Sept. 6.]
Imagine the episode of some distant season where Chapo Guzman’s son is kidnapped out of a restaurant. He’s kidnapped and I thought for sure they would kill him, but they let him go. That just goes to show you how much power that guy has. They’ll kidnap his son, but they won’t kill the son. El Chapo is still feared even by these new Mexican cartels that have sprung up that are even crazier than the old cartels. La Familia Michoacana and the new Jalisco Generation and Los Zetas make names for themselves by being more violent than their predecessors and even these new groups that want to make their mark are not willing to kill El Chapo’s son. They’re too afraid of what will come down on them if they do.
I love this world. I’ve always been fascinated by it. I grew up in Los Angeles and I watched it happen, to some extent. I’ll go as long as they’ll let me go.
All 10 episodes of season two released on Netflix on Sept. 2. Head here for an episode-by-episode binge-watching guide and keep up with all of THR's Narcos coverage below.