TV Series

Narcos vs Breaking Bad, which is better? – Part I

Why are criminal TV series, so successful? And not just them. In Bulgaria, the most wanted novels are the criminal ones, or criminal dramas. What makes people addicted to stories, involving criminals or bandits, whom for some reason, develop empires? Is it because, secretly they want to be part of one or just, because breaking the law pumps up the adrenalin? It’s not very clear. What’s clear, however is that the new Netflix TV show, Narcos, is still breaking all records, after 4 seasons. But let’s not forget the father of all criminal TV shows, the first giant in the genre – Breaking Bad. This year, it makes 10 year anniversary, so it’s natural to make a comparison between the two. Pablo Escobar vs Walter White. True story vs fan fiction, which will prevail? I’ll compare the two in several categories – protagonists, antagonists, support cast, end of the show and re-watchability. I will categorize Walter and Pablo as antagonist, regardless of how the shows are constructed, because they’re as bad as one can be. And so, gloves have been thrown and the bell is on. It’s time to see, which is the better criminal TV show.

1. Antagonists

1.1 Walter White, Jessie and the dealers

Main antagonist/anti-hero in the story is Walter White, aka Heisenberg. Modest man, a high-school teacher, diagnosed with lung cancer. His insurance can’t cover the treatment, so he is forced to find a new way to finance it and to feed his family, in case he dies. This seemingly noble motivation, leads him to create the greatest methamphetamine empire on the USA side of the border. In the beginning of the show, this motivation, makes us feel compassionate, a feeling that is long gone in the latest seasons. Everything starts, when his brother in law, DEA agent Hank Schrader, takes Walt on a “field trip” raid of a amphetamine lab. Somewhat days earlier, Hank shows Walt, how much money, even a street level lab can make, which plants the seed in the story. However, moments before it’s busted, Walt sees a former student of his, Jessie Pinkman, fleeing the scene. Later on, finding him in his home, Walt, offers Jessie to start cooking meth together. Walt being the “cook” and Jessie handling the dealing. They are the main “protagonists” in the series. As actors, they have amazing chemistry which is translated on the small screen. Although their relationship is tested several times through the show, they really do care about each other. Walter is the manipulator, whose character changes little by little during the show runtime from a simple high-school teacher to a full blown psychopath. Once started as a simple “means to an end” transforms in pure greed and pride over his product.

Season “antagonists” to our “protagonists” are the dealers. Also, for some reason all of them have in some way, a connection to the Salamanca family. It has deep connections with the Mexican cartel and for the most time were the main dealers in USA, before the likes of Gustavo Fring came to be. Despite Walter and Jesse, having the most “chemically pure” product on the market, they really struggle in “moving it”.  And the main reason for that is greed. The dealers they meet on the way are really dangerous people, however every business, even the “drug dealing” one takes time to develop and rise through the ranks. Walter doesn’t have that time and in his strive to make as much money as possible, he pushes Jesse into making some very bad deals with some very dangerous people. Pure luck is what keeps our friends alive through most of the series. As one can presume, all of this leads to one extremely bad ending for all parties involved.

1.2 Pablo Escobar and his sicarios

Main “protagonist” in Narcos, is of course Pablo Escobar. At least, until the end of the 2’nd season. After that, the focus is shifted to the second largest cartel in Columbia – Cali. Who is Pablo Escbar, is pretty much common knowledge. The wealthiest and most powerful narco boss to ever walk this earth. He started as tobacco and electronics smuggler, but the moment he discovered cocaine, the foundations of his empire were built. The coca plant is native for Columbia and as such is very accessible. The technology for creating the white powder out of it, was transferred from Chile, about the time when the regime of Pinochet started. Speaking of the infamous dictator, in Breaking Bad, there is a very neat remark regarding him. In a flashback, in one of the early meeting between Gustavo Fring and the Mexican boss – don Eladio, the latter spears Gus’s life, because of his ties to the Chile dictator. Back to Pablo. In the years, following his death, numerous crimes and murders, done by him and his sicarios were revealed. Narcos, tells the story almost like it was, blending in actual footage from that time, both TV and pictures with modern day cinematography. The method is brilliant and makes the viewer, somewhat part of the story. And what he did was terrible, to say the least. He was directly responsible for the death of at least 400 cops, each year through all the years that his empire stood. He was also responsible for airplane and downtown Bogota bombings. But he is also introduced as a loving father and a caring husband, which makes hating him, really hard. And as a trafficker, he was brilliant and that just can’t be dismissed.

His sicarios on the other hand, somehow managed to stay in the background. Although, the screenwriters tried to give them personalities, the focus, still stays at Pablo. Three of those sicarios are historically very important, because they led to his downfall, but still, they are not very well managed. The other members of the cartel, take as much screen time as the sicarios, which doesn’t make them feel important to the story. In season 3, at last the Cali cartel bosses take the stage, but even then, they can’t keep up with the charisma and brilliance of the actor playing Pablo.


Final thought

Although Pablo is a notorious  historical figure, keeping the focus only on him, makes all the side characters bland. I understand why they did it, but one simply forgets all the characters that are not on screen. In Breaking Bad on the other hand, almost all characters are extremely well developed, even the street level dealers.


Winner: Breaking Bad