Media Corner: ZeroZeroZero

Media Corner: ZeroZeroZero

Last time it was Spontaneous, and now ZeroZeroZero. The main page banner ads on Amazon Video are apparently not to be ignored.

Way back in 2000 director Stephen Soderbergh gave us a highly ambitious, award-winning masterpiece called Traffic. It was a meditation on the drug war from both sides of the US / Mexico border including the perspective of the dealers, the police, the politicians and (perhaps most importantly) the addicts. The movie had an iron spine and a clear message; the drug war is a war upon our own families that serves only to make gangsters rich and dump bodies in the streets.

ZeroZeroZero has a very different message; that family is at once the most important and most difficult part of anyone’s life. But just like Traffic it is comprised of three interlocking narratives about cocaine. In this case, tracing the journey of a shipment from the perspective of different parts of the supply chain. The Mexican drug cartel producers, the American drug shipment brokers, and the Italian mafioso purchasers who want to sell the stuff in Europe.

As per usual with an Amazon series, the casting is superb. So is everything else. In fact, I can only muster one real complaint; The Italy narrative and the shipment narrative are intertwined and tonally similar, but the Mexico narrative is a mostly self-contained story with a very different feel. As such it was a jarring tonal shift every time the focus switched back to it. It almost felt like it was being directed by a different person. And while it did all tie together in the end in a satisfying way which made me feel smart for seeing it coming, I still wish the Mexico narrative had been handled differently, or at least been more intertwined with the other two.

So since every character is a drug dealer…who do you root for in a show like this? The show clearly presents the two American brokers as the most sympathetic. They were both brought up into this business not of their own choosing, and they’re not violent criminals, unless you count all the violence surrounding them. They never kill anyone that I’m aware of, or even hurt anyone who isn’t shooting at them first. They’re also young-ish adults dealing with the recent death of their (drug broker) father, and the brother of the pair is coping with the onset of a terminal illness. The show puts more effort into humanizing them than anyone else. The next most human character is the Italian mafia chief who ordered the cocaine in the first place.

He gets a lot of expositional scenes devoted to explaining why circumstances required him to be such a savage killer in order to prevent even more bloodshed and chaos. His traitorous nephew gets an explanation for his decision to betray, but he’s also shown to be slightly weasel-ish, and the show clearly wants us to want him to get his comeuppance. Almost no effort is given to humanizing the Mexican characters, who mostly consist of a unit of ex-army commandos who defect to work for a drug lord and behave like bloodthirsty sociopaths for the entire series. In fairness, they are cartel hitmen, and if you’ve ever read a news story from Juarez then you know this isn’t far off. Only Manuel, the leader of the hitmen, gets any depth. He has a subplot involving the pregnant widow of an honest cop he murdered who he is supporting financially. But he’s such a creepy, cold blooded murderer the rest of the time that it’s impossible to sympathize with him here.

My final verdict is that you should definitely watch ZeroZeroZero. It’s just too good to miss. Every level is handled well and it shows, once again, that we are living in the golden age of streaming drama series.

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