Who are the real monsters in 'Narcos: Mexico'?

SINGAPORE – In the Narcos universe, things are hardly ever black and white.

There's the charismatic Pablo Escobar, who was both hero and devil to many people. There are the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents who, in the name of enforcing the law, sometimes violate it.

It's no different in the upcoming spin-off series Narcos: Mexico, which starts streaming on Netflix on November 16.

"We would be doing a greater disservice to the viewers and the world to paint these people as monsters," said showrunner Eric Newman in a media roundtable on the sidelines of Netflix's "See What's Next Asia" event on Friday, November 9.

Newman was asked about concerns that Narcos ends up glorifying the drug lords and cartels that it features. The first two seasons of Narcos were about Colombian drug lord Escobar's rise and fall, while season 3 covered the Cali cartel, which took over after Escobar's.

"If you see the show, these people (the leaders and members of the drug cartel) meet horrible endings. They're dead or in jail. They're also not particularly happy people. Our goal in the show is never to glorify but at the same time, you have to humanize these people," Newman said.

In a way, it's the "humanizing" of these real-life personalities that exposes systemic injustices that led to their being monsters. "These are not people who sprang forth from their mothers' womb as monsters," said Newman, adding that factors such as poverty, injustice, and American meddling led to the ultimate rise of drug lords and cartels.

And while they are careful never to paint their characters as evil or good, there's at least one kind of character that Newman isn't afraid to call "monsters."

"Those who betray public trust? Those are the real monsters," said Newman. 

ANALYZING 'NARCOS.' Eric Newman speaks during the Netflix event at the Marina Bay Sands on November 8, 2018, in Singapore. Photo by Ore Huiying/Getty Images for Netflix

ANALYZING 'NARCOS.' Eric Newman speaks during the Netflix event at the Marina Bay Sands on November 8, 2018, in Singapore.

Photo by Ore Huiying/Getty Images for Netflix

This part of Mexico 

The upcoming spin-off series follows the origins of the Mexican drug war, the rise of "businessman" Felix Gallardo (played by Diego Luna) and DEA agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena (played by Michael Peña). In telling the origins of the drug war – and the United States' role in it – Luna said the series also explains why relations between the countries, which share a border, are “difficult.”

The Mexican drug war is technically still ongoing between the government and drug trafficking syndicates. The Mexican side of the equation focuses on dismantling drug producers found on their side of the border. The illicit products typically find their way to the US side of the border.

Luna said it's a side of Mexico that he isn't proud of. "It's not a series that will make you go, 'Oh look, I love Mexico.' Gladly, there are other stories of Mexico out there," he said.

Gallardo, said Luna, was a "very complex" character who was difficult to portray – mostly because of the violence involved. The Mexican actor earlier told media in a Netflix panel that he chose not to speak to Gallardo himself, who is in prison for murder.

Instead, he relied mostly on existing news reports about the convicted drug lord.

"It's not a story about a bad guy," said Luna, who was a child when the real-life events which the series is based on, actually happened. Ultimately, said Luna, the series is not about his character or Kiki, or the Mexican government, or even the American government.

"[The main character of the series] is cocaine," he said. – Rappler.com

Narcos: Mexico premieres on Netflix on November 16, 2018.