Every now and then it pays to add a highly recognizable guest star to a show’s lineup in an effort to lend it some credibility and to use the audience’s knowledge of said guest’s past roles as an ominous indicator of where the present storyline could be headed – as is the case with James Caan showing up in the second episode of Magic City.
Given his history, it likely comes as no surprise that Caan is portraying Sy Berman, an aging, hard-nosed mobster from Chicago who has to deal with the unpredictable and greedy Ben Diamond in addition to the financial mess being caused by Castro closing down all the casinos is Cuba.
It’s a short scene and Caan easily slips into the surly I’m-getting-too-old-for-this routine that the character calls for, and, at once, Magic City has a promising new character and a new subplot that seems poised to take center stage and hopefully bring the various threads that’ve been dangling – or were otherwise pushed back after the season premiere – together and add a dash of spice and a sense of danger to what can sometimes be the languid pacing of the program.
Pairing Caan off with scene-stealer Danny Huston was also a good idea, as he seems to always be having a good time onscreen (and considering the things he’s been asked to do so far in the series, you can’t blame him) and his energy translates well to his talk with Sy. There’s a history between the two, and although we don’t know the details, the wary manner in which Sy regards Ben’s nature – especially with money – tells us pretty much everything we need to know.
Besides, the more interesting takeaway is how the Chicago mob sees Ike Evans as disposable, and just how much of its financial future is riding on the gambling bill Ben’s trying to push through with the help of the most overtly lecherous TV politician not appearing in Boardwalk Empire. It’s not entirely clear where they’re headed with the Cuban casino plotline, but after the final shot of the episode revealed Ike was flying to the island, it seems a good bet that Ben and Sy will be involved soon enough, and they’re not likely to see eye-to-eye on whatever proposal Ike may be putting on the table.
Ike’s betting large on this one, and he’s even confident enough to refer to himself as a shark – in a bit of dialogue that assumes no one has ever watched an episode of Breaking Bad. But Ike’s not the only one getting too big for his britches. There were a few Ben Diamond lines that really stood out during ‘Angels of Death,’ which suggested The Butcher had grown large enough – in his own mind, anyway – to feel he no longer needed to be watched over or controlled by the powers that be up in snowy Chicago.
This idea of a looming presence that is perpetually out of sight was tied not too subtly to Ben and the Evanses celebrating the Seder – though separately and in drastically different ways. Ben acknowledges the occasion by throwing a massive bacchanal and enjoying some light conversation and an illicit white substance with his wife’s touchy-feely ex, Nick Grillo (Jamie Harris), then settling down to drunkenly quote Lord Byron before relieving himself on the one-way mirror while gazing down upon a mass of writhing bodies in the bed below.
However, Seder was a bit more sedate for the Evanses. The most heated point of the evening belonged to Vera explaining to Meg what the salt water was for. But really, the night belonged to Ike’s dead wife, since her presence was overwhelmingly felt in everything from Lauren’s new white gloves to Grandpa Arthur’s words at the table. And so, in one fell swoop, Magic City manages to underline the two recurrent themes in the show in the least subtle manner possible.
At this point, it seems like Magic City is keeping a running tally of how many times it can drop the word “family” into otherwise casual conversation and, at the end of the season, it’ll meet up and compare with Fast and Furious 6 to see which storyline reigns supreme in ham-fistedly bringing every character thread back to that single notion.
All joking aside, it’s nice to see the series is trying to connect its subplots by taking stories that could have been forgotten – like the death of Victor Lazaro’s (Yul Vazquez) wife at the end of last season – and making them relevant within the context of a single episode. With luck, the series will continue to find more and more inventive ways of doing this as the season progresses.
Magic City continues next Friday with ‘Adapt or Die’ @9pm on Starz.