In 2015, the Netflix series “Narcos” enthralled audiences with a retelling of the life and business of Columbian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. An instant hit, the series was renewed for four seasons, the third of which premiered this past September to critical acclaim. Now, attempting to feed off of this success is “The Mechanism,” a “Narcos”-esque show from the same producer: José Padilha.
Departing from Escobar’s Colombian cartel, “The Mechanism” takes place in Brazil and is loosely based on the investigation of rampant bribery and foul-play in the state-controlled oil industry, known as Operação Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash). Told through the eyes of police officer Marco Ruffo (Selton Mello, “The Movie of My Life”), the series highlights both the personal and professional consequences of trying to take down corrupt public officials. In the first episode alone, Ruffo’s family is threatened by the money-laundering criminal Roberto Ibrahim (Enrique Diaz, “Rust”). The second episode jumps 10 years ahead, the case still unsolved, with Ruffo struggling to find another job because he’s been marked with retirement due to mental illness.
With the narration-based storytelling and a crime story plotline, the comparisons to “Narcos” are obvious and unsurprising. What would be surprising is if “The Mechanism” receives the same praise as its predecessor, as quality is not one of the things the two shows share. Though effective in introducing its main character and understanding his obsession with solving the corruption scandal, Ruffo’s voiceover is suffocating at points — often using cheesy one-liners and unnecessary profanity to tell the story. There is a chance for recovery when the series continuously shifts focus between Ruffo and his badass woman mentee, Verena Cardoni (Caroline Abras, “Something Like That”). Yet without sustaining the narration-style that the show debuted with, some later parts and episodes feel disconnected, and as a result, the audience fails to understand some main characters, like Verena, as much as they may others.
In fact, most of the issues with “The Mechanism” comes from its dialogue; not necessarily what it contains, but rather how it is presented. The show does not use subtitles, but instead dubs its Spanish and Portuguese-speaking actors with English voices. This makes for an uncomfortable and distracting experience, one that could be resolved if the majority of American people wouldn’t mind understanding their shows through subtitles rather than relying on less-than-exemplary dubbing.
The saving grace of the series is its cinematography, which showcases the sweeping skylines of some of Brazil's most beautiful cities, including São Paulo and Brasília. In more poignant shots, the severe economic inequality of Brazil is depicted through contrasting scenes of the lavish houses of politicians and the sagging huts of a poverty-stricken portion of the public.
Yet not even this can redeem “The Mechanism” from the larger problem of the genre that it hails from.
While perhaps entertaining, there are dangerous undertones to the thread of series and movies that use the stereotype that Latin America is nothing more than a crime-infested drug hub. Even the promotional art for “Narcos,” a series praised for its representation of Escobar’s Columbia, turned the entirety of South America into a single pile of cocaine. From dramas like “Narcos” to comedies like “We’re the Millers,” Latin Americans and their countries are turned to nothing more than drug dealers or their victims. This phenomena just perpetuates an unfavorable view of its population that many in America are attempting to foster.
As important as it is to learn about and understand the violence and struggle that many are facing in Latin American communities, there has to be better ways to do so. Tacky, over-dramatic Netflix shows can be fun to watch, but they only succeed in making entertainment out of the real-life and ongoing misery of the citizens they address. Instead of relying on an eight-part series for global news, perhaps we should demand more of our media in their depictions of ever-vibrant culture of the Americas, and not just their unfortunate blemishes. Though “The Mechanism” may shed light on a serious and topical issue that those outside of Brazil may not know about, it does so in a way that is trivializing and artificial. True understanding comes from resources beyond what is fun to watch; and if someone really wants to educate themselves on the political and socio-economic issues of surrounding countries, “The Mechanism” is certainly not the way to do it.