To the credit of everyone involved, Magic City returns for season 2 by picking up soon after last season’s finale left off.
In the premiere episode, ‘Crime and Punishment,’ there’s no use of the dreaded time jump – which considering this is a period drama would be an awful waste of the show’s setting – allowing the momentum of the previous season to carry directly over, and the result serves as a refresher or a perfect jumping on point for new viewers.
Whether or not this tethering is going to be a boon or a detriment to this season’s storyline will be of particular interest, however, as the overall narrative begins to unfold. Quite a bit has been made about how series either use the episode format to its fullest potential – i.e., tell a complete story within the frame of an hour (more or less) that still manages to progress the overall storyline of the season – or make the episode operate as though it were simply a small fraction of what would amount to be (in this case) a very long movie.
As it stands with ‘Crime and Punishment,’ Magic City is still working on developing the conflict between Ike Evans and Ben ‘The Butcher’ Diamond (Danny Huston) – in regard to the various goings-on at the Miramar Playa – into something that has genuine heat and excitement. Huston manages to infuse some much-needed craziness into nearly every scene he’s in (even when he’s passed out on a two-way mirror peering into his wife’s bedroom) and is therefore the character who seems to bring the most to the mix.
Thrown in the jumble early on this season is Ike’s wife Vera (Olga Kurylenko), who spends most of the episode being made aware that the hotel she thought belonged to her husband lock, stock and barrel, also belongs, in part, to a silent partner and now a portion has been sold to Ike’s former sister-in-law Meg (Kelly Lynch). Last season, Lynch brought an interesting wrinkle to Ike’s status as a widower, suggesting his deeply personal relationship with Meg may have been romantic (or very close to it) in the past.
Of all the characters in season 1, Vera seemed to have one of the most limited storylines. While Ike was bouncing between keeping the Miramar afloat and appeasing Ben Diamond, the blandly interesting Evans boys (who have about as much a family resemblance as Brad Pitt and Louis CK) were each struggling with defining their identity under the shadow of a father. Stevie (Steven Strait) chose an affair with Ben’s wife Lily (Jessica Marais), while Danny (Christian Cooke) soberly took an internship with the district attorney and began a relationship with a hotel maid played by Dominik García-Lorido.
As it was, Vera found herself relegated to watching her young daughter and occasionally being hit on by an old acquaintance who urged her to start dancing once more. Seeing Vera take a more assertive role in the management of the Miramar certainly opens the character up to learning more about Ike’s unfortunate deal with the devil and creates a potential conflict between her and Meg, but what it says for the overall plot of the show is far from certain.
So far, that plot has been fairly slow-going. There have been developments – the death of Leland Orser’s Mike Strauss early on last season is brought up again in the opening moments of season 2 – but they haven’t necessarily been plentiful enough to afford the show much of a sense of momentum. The fact that Ike is rotting away in a jail cell while the tenacious Jack Klein (Matt Ross) burns evidence that would get him out and continues to threaten his star witness, Judi Silver (Elena Satine), feels like an interesting direction for season 2 to take. But by the episode’s conclusion, much of the drama surrounding Ike’s imprisonment and future is all but dissipated or otherwise resolved too early and too succinctly with Ms. Silver’s testimony.
Thankfully, there are plenty of directions the story could take and with the sheer amount of characters and ancillary narratives milling around, it seems hard to believe some of them won’t find their way into a more forceful plot demanding the audience’s attention. Right now, there’s little to hook casual viewers beyond the spark created by Danny Huston’s lively, manic performance or the lush scenery (lavish set decoration and otherwise) that has been doing most of the heavy lifting so far.
As a bright note, however, this season does have the added benefit of James Caan joining the bunch as Chicago mobster Sy Berman. With any luck, Caan will help bring a little life to a great-looking period drama that can sometimes take the laid-back nature of its setting too literally.
Magic City will continue next Friday with ‘Angels of Death’ @9pm on Starz.