Sometimes, when a television show really gets cracking, maybe two or three seasons into its run, a fun little pattern develops in a small tangential area and it creates a life of its own, almost separate from the actual on-screen proceedings. For Mad Men, it was the episode descriptions that were so vague and spoiler-free they evolved into something like an ongoing dada art project, with the masterpiece being, of course, “Don has difficulties.” For Fargo, it’s the character names, which you don’t even need to watch the show to enjoy, as criminals named “Lorne Malvo” and “Nikki Swango” and cops named “Molly Solverson” and “Gloria Burgle” require zero context to brighten any gloomy day.
This is also the case with Netflix’s Narcos franchise and the promotional photos the show releases before each season. Five seasons in, three for Narcos proper and two for the Narcos: Mexico spin-off, and it’s undeniable. They’re incredible and perfect and often hilarious in a way I’m not sure Netflix intends but I accept with open arms anyway. They might be my favorite part of the show at this point, which is saying something because I really enjoy Narcos, the actual show.
Examples will help. Join me, if you will, on a cocaine-fueled ride through the archives of Narcos promo images.
NARCOS, SEASON 1
This is the first image the show ever released. It shows Pablo Escobar sitting in front of an absolute mountain of cocaine. It is also the best picture. Not the best picture from Narcos or even the best promotional picture for any television show. No, this is the best picture, full stop. It’s delightful in so many ways. My personal favorite has always been the little naughty schoolboy smirk he’s doing, like he’s a Colombian Dennis the Menace, like he’s saying, “I created a murderous, multibillion-dollar cocaine empire that altered international relations and triggered a futile, expensive, decades-long war on drugs in America that has overwhelmed police forces and led to a disturbing policy of mass incarceration. Ain’t I a stinker?”
It’s a good picture, is what I’m saying. And it gets even better when you compare it to the selections from…
NARCOS, SEASON 2
The first season of Narcos was all about the rise of Pablo Escobar. Expanding, growing, dominating. The second season was about the downfall. Running, sulking, crumbling. But you didn’t need me to tell you that because you see that picture of a sad Pablo Escobar sitting on a bench swing and staring off into the cold and unforgiving distance. It is, to be clear, a hilarious picture, with or without context, but especially with, because nothing has ever said, “My empire is falling to pieces and I’m about to get murdered on a roof as I flee a mid-sized army that is hellbent on my destruction” quite like sitting like a formless blob on a stand-alone bench swing in the middle of the yard.
But even if we agree that this is the gold standard of Sad Kingpin images, I am pleased to report that season two of Narcos also features the silver and bronze winners in the category as well. Allow me to present Sad Pablo in an Empty Swimming Pool and Sad Pablo Sitting Alone at the Dinner table.
All of them perfect. All of them almost self-contained little memes. No set of images has even represented the “at first I was like ____ but then I was all ___” fall from grace joke construction quite like the cocaine rascal season one picture next to the bench swing one. You barely even need to watch the show. These images tell the whole story.
NARCOS, SEASON 3
Season three shifted the focus from the now-deceased Escobar to the quickly-rising Cali cartel. The show survived the loss of Escobar by telling a story about how the drug business continues even as kings fall, which was good. The images, however, took a hit. The selections from season three are the weakest of the series, even if they did give us Pedro Pascal Pointing at a Criminal Organization Corkboard, which is just a few strings of red yarn connecting the pictures away from being perfect, and…
… Drug Dealer Wearing a Busy Silk Shirt in a Church While Tucking His Thumbs Into His Belt in an Attempt to Be Menacing. They’re good pictures! On any other show, they’d be at or near the top of the list. But here, on Narcos, after two seasons of images that depicted the rise and fall of the world’s most famous drug trafficker, they are garbage for me to spit on. P-TEW. That’s me spitting. My computer screen is all wet now. Hold on. Let me wipe it off. I need a clear view, after all, because things are about to get really fun again.
Welcome to Mexico…
NARCOS: MEXICO, SEASON 1
After three seasons in Colombia, Narcos picked up stakes and moved to Mexico to track the rise of Félix Gallardo and, eventually, as he’s still just a minor character in the show, Gallardo’s ambitious young foot soldier, El Chapo. That’s Félix in the image at the top of this section. I like this one a whole lot because it makes it look like his journey to the top of the drug trade started with him receiving a shipment of cocaine by accident and deciding to just go ahead and roll with it. Which is not what happened. But look at his face and the way he’s holding both the cocaine and his sunglasses and tell me you can’t hear him saying, “Dangit, what am I supposed to do with all this coc-… WAIT A SECOND!”
It is a very good picture and, again, tells the first part of a story that the show will continue over the next season or two. It is also only my second-favorite image from this season. That’s because my favorite is and always will be…
… this one. What I like about this picture is that, even though a number of the images I’ve selected here feature a person quite literally holding or posing near large amounts of packaged cocaine that is ready to be smuggled, nothing I’ve ever seen in my entire screams drug dealer quite like wearing a gold velour tracksuit while being chauffeured around in a Jeep by heavily-armed members of the military. It’s… kind of beautiful. It’s so aggressively on-the-nose that you would be justified in thinking I pulled it as a random screencap from an episode to present it with the context that created it. I didn’t, though. Netflix selected this image and put it on their press site. On purpose. I have never wanted to become a global drug lord more than when I first saw this picture. I think I’ve figured out the process:
- Step One: acquire a gold velour tracksuit
- Step Two: Do… drug things?
- Step Three: Etc.
It’s almost too easy.
This brings us to the latest update to the collection, for the second season of Narcos: Mexico. I know what you’re thinking. I can hear you all the way over here. You’re saying, “Okay, great, but where do they even go from here? What mountains are left to climb? What dragons are left to slay? How can they possibly continue to surprise and innovate with picture-perfect images of drug dealers? I mean, unless, say, they’re able to throw one together with freshly-minted female kingpin who is wearing sunglasses and a busy silk shirt that exposes her abdomen while leaning casually against the bed of an open truck that contains a mountain of cocaine. But there’s no way they could pull that off. They’re good, but no one is that good. Right? Right?!”
NARCOS: MEXICO, SEASON 2
My friend, it brings me great pleasure to inform you that the Narcos franchise is, indeed, that good.