And here’s part II of the comparison between the giant, Breaking Bad and the Netflix hit, Narcos. In this thread I will look at the protagonists and support roles. Both shows have an amazing cast, wich makes you sink in the action. Here it goes.
2.1 DEA agents, led by Hank Schrader
In both series, the protagonists or the good guys, are DEA agents. As such, it makes it very easy to do the comparison. Real life vs fiction. Both engulf the cat and mouse game between narcos and agents. In BB, the central role is played by Walt’s brother in law, Hank Schrader. Since the beginning of the show, he’s introduced as talented agent, with wacky sense of humor. Where others see drug war, he sees an opportunity to make pictures with corpses of dealers. As such, his charisma is great. From the moment, Walt starts producing blue meth, Hank is onto him, without even the slightest clue, who he’s chasing. And it’s not like Walt haven’t slipped. In fact he slipped several times and only sheer luck, was what saved him. For that reason, the moment, when Hank realizes who Heisenberg really is, is priceless and of course, it derives from another of Walt’s mistakes. The atmosphere changes drastically from happy to dramatic. The reason Hank’s reactions are so tempestuous is simple. During the seasons, Hank’s life was several times on the line, because of Walt’s mistakes and on top of that piled the monstrosities, which Walt did. And here are some of them:
– Pissing off the Mexican cartel, led to a bomb exploding, mere meters from Hank
– Pissing the Salamanca family and Tuco’s cousins. That led to a direct attack on Hank, because they couldn’t touch Walt at the time. This attack, led Hank paralyzed and traumatized for a long time
– Pissing off the new “players in the game”, led to “kill order” on Hank, whom was considered a liability
There are many other situations, but these are the most influential. From the moment Hank learns the truth, the dynamics between the two changes drastically. Skyler (Walt’s wife), for unclear reasons, takes her husband’s side, refusing to hand him over to the police. In the end, a rupture in the relationship between Jessie and Walt, leads to a whirlwind of events, that help Hank catch Walt. But not all of them come out alive, from this situation. The victims of Heisenberg’s megalomania, suffer much more than him.
The remaining team of agents also plays an important role in the story. Hank’s partner, Steve Gomez, is his biggest foothold. Throughout the show, he’s always behind him and ready to assists in any way possible. Although not very well presented, Gomez still has enough presence to develop a character. Especially in recent seasons, he is almost as important, as Hank. During the seasons, we see other agents, such as Albuquerque ASAC George Merkert, but they don’t get enough screen time. Generally, the only protagonists who are sufficiently developed here are Hank and Steve.
2.2 The DEA agents, Steeve Murphy and Havier Pena
Just like Pablo Escobar, in Narcos, the two agents recreate real personalities. Interestingly, the real Murphy and Pena are actively involved in representing the story and leading the actors, Boyd Holbrook and Pedro Pascal. It is worth mentioning that, unlike in BB, in Narcos the lives of DEA agents are always in jeopardy. Because of the cruel corruption in Colombia in the 1980s, they have little to no rights and any move against a sicario or trafficker must be verified with the local authorities. This makes their work extremely difficult, but it still has a good side. “Thanks” to the sacrifice of the first DEA agent, which went after a cartel, Kiki Kamarena, no hired assassin dares to go after agents. But that does not apply to their families. This series has no favorite characters. Like Game of Thrones, everyone can lose their live at any time, so I recommend you to not have favorites, either. Only the two main characters survive, but it is because they survive in real life as well. Imagine if they didn’t. For two seasons, these characters suffer total transformation from motivated agents to self-pitiful ruins and again to motivated agents. All this, thanks to their inability to catch Pablo, who somehow managed to slip through the cracks, each time someone acquainted with the police, gets nearer. Their development and their transformation from shiny to gray characters in the 1980s, makes them very interesting.
It is also very important, to not overlook the Colombian police officers and commissioners, who help our heroes in their fight against Pablo. Presented in the face of the local government of Medellin, they play extremely important roles. The most distinctive one is Horacio Carrillo. Police chief and creator of the so-called Search Block, whose main goal is capturing Pablo, dead or alive. He is one of the few fiction characters in the show. However, he’s based on a real person, Hugo Martinez, who is still among the living. Interestingly, Hugo himself is also recreated in the show but as much more moderate and sober. In this line of thought, it can be said that Carrillo and Martinez are two sides of the real Martinez. Sometimes he was cruel and uncompromising, and sometimes he was moderate and sober. The truth is that for over 10 years, Colombia has experienced a great deal of turmoil as a result of the war between the police/state and Pablo.
Although Hank and Gomez have been developed for 4 seasons, the dynamics of Murphy, Pena, Carrillo, and Martinez for only 2 are extremely turbulent. The added found footage compiles to the impact from the policemen’s self-sacrifice in the battle against Pablo Escobar. You just can’t help feeling the difficulties and grief that the protagonists go through in an obviously, unequal war.
3. Supporting characters
3.1. Skyler White, Marie Schrader, Saul Goodman and Mike Ehrmantraut
The supporting cast in BB is great. With the exception of Skyler, everyone else is loved, some even more than the main characters. It’s not accidental that Saul gets his own spin-off series that breaks the ratings. I will say one word for each of them and how they are involved in story. Central and perhaps the most irritating is the role of Walter’s wife, Skyler. With her constant mumbling and negativity, she makes some scenes almost unbearable. However, her role is extremely important because she is Walt’s main opponent, even if the clash happens behind the scenes. Finally, in the end of the 4th season, she tooks his side in his “battle” with Hank. The family is the most important reason, for which Walter starts his business, and it is precisely their loss that breaks him the most.
Marie Shrader is Skyler’s sister and Hank’s wife. Unlike other supporting characters, her development and role, as a whole is the smallest. Although she appears quite often, she doesn’t evolve much. However, she’s an important part of Hank’s life and a very big supporter. Without her, he would probably collapse. She is no less irritating than her sister, but at least she doesn’t fill up her screen time time with mumbling.
Saul Goodman, the lawyer we’re in love with at first glance. A brilliant snare, who is the main link between Walt, Jesse and the criminal elite. A lawyer of all possible geeks, the miracles of which he is capable, have no end. He has a person for everything. Money laundering person, assassin, person for changing identity, and many others. Saul is the choice of every self-respecting criminal. Bubby, greedy, charismatic, he steals every scene in which he is present. He always has a way out of the situation, but once the danger gets near him, he’s the first to run away. As brilliant, as he’s cowardly, his spin-off, which acts as a precursor to BB, introduces us to his life and how, from a simple deceiver, he becomes the best “criminal” lawyer in New Mexico.
In the end, but not least important is Mike Ehrmantraut. A former, corrupt cop who leaves the force because his son is killed in a DEA raid gone wrong. He represents the “muscle” behind Gus Fring’s operation. Acquainted from top to bottom with security techniques, he seems to be anywhere at all times. Walt does something stupid, Mike is there to stop him. Jesse’s going to do something stupid, Mike is there. Saul thinks of making something stupid, guess who intervenes. In general, Mike works entirely for Gus’s interests and is a major part of his distribution, controlling all mercenaries and front people. Presented as a loving grandfather, you just can not help but love him. He’s just the definition of badass and without him, this show would be blunt.
3.2 The entire Escobar family, Valeria Velez, the rest of the Medellin bosses, some of the close sicarions and more
In general, Narcos, has a speck of supporting characters, some important, some not so much. But almost none stand out or get any good development. As I said in the previous article, the focus is too much on Pablo. However, I will look at the most common characters present. Starting with Tata Escobar. Pablo’s wife, who was initially represented almost as a queen, and subsequently as a victim, who was forced to seek political asylum. In all two seasons, she is presented as a loving mother, supporting Pablo and his business. She so blindly believes in him and his skills to solve problems, that until the end she hopes that he will prevail. She is the most important person in Pablo’s life and he would give his life for her and his family.
Next on the list is Pablo’s cousin, Gustavo Gavira. From the very beginning, he had a major part in Escobar’s business. His job was to keep track of payments made to policemen and politicians, the movement of the coke across the border, and the arrival of money in the treasury. It can be said that he is the most interesting supporting character in the series. Gustavo is very much Pablo’s common sense, so the moment he’s killed is of great importance. After this event, Pablo totally sinks into “madness” and paranoia. Gavira is perhaps one of the most innocuous victims of this drug war.
A very important role and a great supporter of Pablo, is the journalist Valeria Velez. This character is based on the real person, Virginia Vallejo. Actually, she was really a renowned journalist with a huge rating. At the beginning of Pablo’s political career, she was Pablo’s main propagandist, comparing him to Robin Hood. She was also his mistress for a long time before he began to hide. Thanks to her, a great deal of reports have been distorted to alter the public image of Escobar from a trafficker to a common citizen and a victim. However, at the end of the story, even in Medellin no one can be convinced that Pablo is innocent. It is a clear example of how media manipulation can radically change the perspective of people towards a problem. Something we see even today.
For the other bosses in the cartel, there is not much to say. Some play a slightly more central role, while others remain in the background. After all, most were killed or extradited to the United States. The truth is that the Medellin cartel began to collapse as soon as Pablo went into exile. That gave green light to the Cali cartel to take over his business. However Cali was also dismantled in the 1990s. This does not mean that coca traffic to the United States and Europe was over, but simply that the big cartels give way to the smaller ones.
Finally, I’ll talk about Pablo’s sikarios. Four of them play more important roles, Nelson Hernandez (El Negro, Blackie), Juan Diego “La Quica” Diaz, Roberto “Poison” Ramos and El Limon. The latter appears only when Pablo has already begun hiding and provides him with transport in Medellin, avoiding police blockades. He is the last killed sicario. The first three have a very prominent presence during the seasons and play an extremely important role in Pablo’s empire. Roberto was killed in police action and Blackie and La Quica were captured. This, coupled with the cash flow cut, left Pablo vulnerable.
Altough, the support cast in Narcos is larger than the one in BB, they are not very well developed. Let’s not forget that BB had 5 seasons to establish its characters, while Narcos tried shoving all of Pablo’s circle into 2. Narcos is perfectly compressed, with no episode feeling out of place. However for that I’ll speak in the next article. The important thing here is that BB developed all its character to nearly perfect levels, without leaving any behind.