In Netflix’s crime drama miniseries Griselda, Sofía Vergara portrays infamous drug queenpin Griselda Blanco. While the prosthetic work can be distracting, Vergara’s performance goes above and beyond. As we follow Griselda’s ascension — or fall, depending on your point of view — through the cocaine underground, her demise appears all but certain. That so, Vergara is the unexpected aspect that makes her character’s demise so compelling to watch, even if some of the series’ other parts don’t always converge around her as forcefully as they should.
“Griselda” is a vengeance narrative. The film follows the ascension of real-life drug kingpin Griselda Blanco (played by Sofia Vergara) to become the Godmother of the Medellín Cartel. But this isn’t the story of a frightened damsel who becomes entangled in the underworld. Instead, creator Eric Newman provides a glimpse into the mind of a meticulous and clever woman determined to reclaim everything that has ever been stolen from her, even if she destroys herself in the process. The programme is violent, interesting, and full of high drama, with a fast pace and well-acted performances. It all starts with a courageous escape.
The limited series, produced by the same team as “Narcos,” takes place in Medellín, Columbia in the late 1970s. An apparently concerned and hurt Griselda rushes through the front entrance of her tastefully decorated home. Before packing, she calls a friend, Carmen (Paulina Dávila), and wakes up her sons, Ozzy (Martín Fajardo), Uber (Jose Velazquez), and Dixon (Orlando Pineda). As she leads the boys out of the house, luggage in hand, she informs them that she is divorcing their stepfather and that they would be going to Miami.
Griselda experiences unrest in Medellín, but when she and her sons go to Miami in 1978, she welcomes the city’s vibrant vitality. Despite the show’s familiar beats, what makes “Griselda” so compelling is that the viewer meets her right in the middle of her life; this is far from the beginning of her journey. Griselda clearly understands the art of reinvention.
Griselda, who lives in Carmen’s modest house with her three sons, is dissatisfied with her job at the front desk of her friend’s travel business. Undeterred by her vows to Carmen about getting out of the drug game, she starts working right away to sell the kilo of coke she’s brought into the country. Determined to rebuild for herself and her children, the show sees the crime boss meticulously devising a strategy for complete authority. She modifies her approaches in response to misogyny, machoism, aggression, and intimidation. Vergara, who is an executive producer on the programme and has made a career in comedy, finds it fascinating to watch her evolve into an increasingly furious and violent lady, complete with prosthetics and 1970s dress.
While “Griselda” condenses the three years La Jefa spent in South Florida into six hour-long chapters, no moment or line of speech is wasted. There are no insignificant characters or choices. The scenes are so sharply trimmed that the series flows perfectly. As methodically as the show traces Griselda’s development as a saviour for the underprivileged, by Episode 5, “Paradise Lost,” which takes place in 1981, it’s evident that this life of slaughter, police surveillance, and extreme paranoia has transformed Griselda into someone else entirely. With a shorter haircut, aged complexion, and yellowing teeth, she has transformed into a crack-cocaine-fueled Scarface-like monster in a luxurious castle. A crazy episode that features telenovela tropes, it’s almost frightening to watch, but the tumultuous narrative demonstrates how quickly power and wealth can corrupt the human soul.
The entire cast, including Vergara, shines in this portrayal of ambition and retribution. Martín Rodríguez’s portrayal of Miami’s top-hitter, Jorge “Rivi” Ayala-Rivera, is one of the most captivating performances of a criminal mastermind on television recently. Slithery, unpredictable, and sensual, he has an unsettling presence that grounds the audience in the age and super-specific environment. The performers and environment compensate for a few flaws in “Griselda,” such as Griselda’s hand-motion while holding a cigarette throughout the series. It’s supposed to show how her mind makes plans, but it feels too obvious. There’s also an odd slow-motion scene in Episode 2, “Rich White People,” that doesn’t exactly suit the show’s tone.
Despite its slight flaws, “Griselda” soars, depicting a lady who becomes a predator after being prey for so long. Though it is not idealistic, there is a lot to be said about taking charge of one’s own story. After all, if we’re honest with ourselves, some of what we do is for survival. Others, however, serve to feed our pride and egos.