[This is a review for Mob City season 1, episodes 5 & 6. There will be SPOILERS.]
At this point, one of the primary questions Frank Darabont’s Mob City faces is how it will be remembered. The six-episode season 1 was always going to be viewed as the director-writer’s rebound from his turbulent time spent with The Walking Dead, and considering he chose to make that rebound within the same medium (and with many of the same actors) it stands to reason that perhaps there was something for Darabont to prove. When the show wound up in the inhospitable surroundings of the pre-holiday television schedule, though, it began to look increasingly unlikely that there would be a season 2, a situation that would leave viewers with only a hint of what the series might eventually become. In essence, the show may be remembered more for what may have been, than for what actually was.
Following last week’s two-episode micro-binge, it seemed unlikely that Mob City would be able to convincingly wrap up its various storylines with the time it had left (i.e., the episodes, ‘Oxpecker’ and ‘Stay Down’). When the show left off, Bugsy Siegel was facing murder charges, while a witness Carl Steckler (played with doughy, fumbling precision by NYPD Blue‘s Gordon Clapp) was holed-up in a safe house awaiting his opportunity to testify (though in a show called Mob City, anyone waiting to testify is more or less just waiting to die). Meanwhile, series breakout, Robert Knepper (Sid Rothman) was waiting for Joe Teague in his apartment, for what seemed to be a very unpleasant visit. All of these major plot points were then added to the idea that Bill Parker was working to clean up the LAPD against the widespread corruption within the force. It was, quite frankly, a great deal of story that felt nowhere near an end point.
So how did Mob City manage to tie it all up? By leaving as many loose ends dangling as possible, of course. Still, to its credit, the show wound up securing the biggest loose end it had, by placing the still-unsolved murder of Bugsy Siegel in hands of the series protagonist Joe Teague (Jon Bernthal). In that sense, the story had history on its side – give or take a few flourishes and additional details to give an already gruesome slaying an even more gruesome bent – as Siegel’s real-life murder once more demonstrates why mobsters continue to endure in popular culture: The larger they become, the more sensational their demise, which, in turn, makes for a rather attractive tableau to set a larger story around. And the added benefit of Siegel’s murder never having been solved plays right into the expansion Darabont clearly had envisioned for this series, effectively turning these initial six episodes into the prologue to an ongoing program that will (likely) not see the light of day.
So much of what transpired in these six hours was so beholden to history and so entrenched in the specific, fictionalized accounts of actual events that even the Joe Teague storyline wound up feeling like it was operating in the background. The trouble is, with the series being bookended by the two murders committed by Teague, to ensure his ex-wife’s safety, the narrative essentially became unnecessarily bifurcated, or at least focused in the wrong direction. Siegel’s death did more than create a power vacuum within the context of the plot; it generated an inadvertent power vacuum within the show as well. Had Mob City utilized its historical figures to reinforce the fictional ones – instead of the other way around – perhaps the audience wouldn’t have been left with the sense that the show was doing much more work than needed to be done in order to arrive at its eventual stopping point – which, as luck would have it, was the start of a much larger narrative with a plotline seemed to rely more evenly on characters like Joe Teague, Ned Stax, and Bill Parker‘s burgeoning Internal Affairs division.
Following Siegel’s death, Milo Ventimiglia’s Ned Stax approaches Joe and seeks to enlighten him with the revelation of what a “powder keg” Los Angeles will become, now that the likes of Mickey Cohen (Jeremy Luke), Jack Dragna (Paul Ben-Victor), and Bunny (Ernie Hudson) will be fighting it out for control of what Siegel once held. As one of the many underutilized characters in the series, Stax had been seen primarily as someone interested in keeping the peace, and maintaining some level of order amongst individuals who were willing to kill to get what they wanted. This short bit of dialogue demonstrates the extent of Stax’s character, in that he was always intended to be the mouthpiece of the mob, a liaison of sorts to Teague and the world beyond organized crime – in that moment, he and Teague effectively became representative of the moral gray area that was so overtly referenced in the series premiere. After such a lengthy set-up, it would have been interesting to see how this dynamic would have unfolded.
And again, for everything that was going on, the season’s final episode essentially spent as much time alluding to the larger storyline that lay ahead, as it did in bringing Siegel’s – and by extension, Jasmine Fontaine’s – plot to a close. In the end, capping this short stint off with Bugsy’s assassination made season 1 look more like a proof of concept, than a full-fledged season. With all that it was setting up, ‘Stay Down’ demonstrated that even with its misfires, Mob City at least had a clearly drawn roadmap in front of it. It just so happened that map didn’t necessarily lead TNT anywhere it wanted to go.
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