If 'Castles Made of Sand' had begun the series, Magic City would have been off to a rather promising start. While the series has improved with each passing week, the jump in quality from the premiere to last week's 'Feeding Frenzy' and now 'Castles' has given some legitimacy to Starz' eagerness in awarding the show an early second season renewal.
Discovering a character's history (shared or otherwise) can be something of a tricky proposition. On one hand, the writer clearly wants to establish a sense of continuity between the unseen past and the present, but what often results is a long, drawn-out exercise in exposition. To a certain extent we were given too much of that in the premiere and a little less in episode two. Here, however, with all of the characters more or less established, the idea of exploring their past, and what it may mean for their future is handled with a fairly deft touch.
After introducing Meg Bannock (Kelly Lynch) in last week's episode, we finally get to see how she and Ike (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) interact with one another. Their previous phone conversation suggested a hint of sublimated romance between the two, and as they enjoy a glass of scotch, it's clear that is certainly the case. The scene also manages to be the series' best attempt at providing some context to the time period and to Ike Evans' place in the world. Previous attempts have forced the perspective a bit too heavily, but here, as Ike is wholeheartedly ignored by an anti-Semitic waiter, Magic City takes a step forward in its storytelling ability by not singling the moment out with a response other than Ike's laughter. As Meg tells him, they've met on her turf, and without any unnecessary dialogue, the audience grasps just what it means to be a Bannock, and what stock Ike's late wife came from.
More importantly, Meg and her money become Ike's way of dealing with a bigger and certainly more dangerous problem in Ben Diamond (Danny Huston). Here, Diamond, too, has cooled his heels from the glass-smashing, dog shooting evildoer he was portrayed as in the first two episodes. Now, Diamond has settled comfortably into a role where the players of Magic City, and the audience alike, are aware of the menace he represents. Huston's performance in the scene with Stevie (Steven Strait) is a perfect example of how Diamond's ruthless reputation precedes him - even when he's merely offering his services as a favor to Stevie's father.
Perhaps Ike's dad, Arthur (Alex Rocco), summed it up best when he equated Diamond to a cancer that Ike is simply going to have to live with - until it either kills him or goes away.
The Magic City trio of Morgan, Lynch and Huston offers everything good about the show so far. Hinting that Lynch may play a bigger role in the future of the Miramar Playa, and possibly, Ike's life, is a sign the series is headed in the right direction. To that extent, placing Meg Bannock as a potential rival for Vera (Olga Kurylenko) in Vera's mind, anyway, is as good a reason as any to give Vera a storyline that does not directly involve Ike.
Up to this point, Vera has been a bit of a question mark for the series. She could have been comprised of any number of clichés afforded to women possessing her beauty - a Betty Draper clone comes to mind - and certainly, Vera's story does closely resemble the former Mrs. Draper. For instance: her looks took her to the precipice of fame, only, for whatever reason, she chose marriage to an older, incredibly successful man over a career. But unlike Betty, Vera lacks that undercurrent of anger and pettiness, and instead seems genuinely hurt that Ike would prefer time with his dead wife's sister to an evening with someone she holds in high regard. So when pageant director Cliff Wells (Steven Brand) propositions Vera with the promise of all she had given up, there is clearly a moment where she considers Cliff's offer. What drives her to refuse the proposition is likely the same thing that drove her to accept Ike's proposal of marriage. It's a tad thin, but enough to keep any interest in Vera alive.
'Castles Made of Sand' also beefs up the thin plotline concerning Stevie's relationship with Ben Diamond's wife Lily (Jessica Marais). What once seemed like a destructive act perpetrated by a lawless woman has now morphed into a plea for help from a woman unable to fathom the trouble she's gotten herself into by marrying a gangster. Perhaps the dichotomy between Lily and Vera will provide for some decent character development between the two.
Given that Magic City season 1 is only 8 episodes long, it seems clear that the Mike Strauss (Leland Orser) murder is going to be the major catalyst for the season's larger plot thread. After seeing Ike extend an offer of employment - spawned by a rejection of free money - to Mike's wife (widow), we see the way he is playing both sides. Assisting the wife of a man whose death he played a small role in, but at the same time, Ike is proactive in his efforts to make sure any loose ends don't lead back to the Playa.
Since these efforts result in yet another dead body (albeit by suicide), D.A. Klein (Matt Ross) may be now be setting his sites on Ike more than ever.
Magic City continues next Friday with 'Atonement' @10pm on Starz.