It must be nice working for Starz and knowing a second season has already been ordered before your program even premieres. Early renewals aren't uncommon in the realm of pay-cable networks - HBO does it all the time - and Starz has treated Spartacus and Boss to the same good news as they did Magic City. Considering how long it took the series to find its legs, it is now clear that the storyline set up during the course of this first season will be running headlong into season 2.
Since the penultimate episode left much of the drama wrapped up enough to make savvy audience members wary, 'Time and Tide' begins with the odd emotional disconnect of watching Maria, the wife Victor Lazaro (Yul Vazquez), who has been trapped in Cuba since the revolution, get gunned down along with several others hoping to flee the island country. And while it is made clear that no body was recovered – therefore her "death" is open to go either way – it feels somewhat shoehorned in. Regardless of the importance Maria, Victor, or their daughter Mercedes (Dominik Garcia-Lorido) will play in the next season, to open with the supposed murder of a minor character known only through an equally minor subplot, robs the moment of its full potential -- in favor of creating an atmosphere of misfortune for everyone else. It's a risky move that seemingly pays off in that respect, but one wonders if shifting it elsewhere may have been more impactful.
The distraction of seemingly killing off a woman who existed for that sole purpose works by leading the audience to believe anyone may be expendable. The sneaky trick puts thrill-seeking Stevie (Steven Strait) and Lily Diamond (Jessica Marais) firmly in the episode's crosshairs. Since Divin' Dave Donahue (Andrew Bowen) took his last dive, everything seemed to be coming up Stevie, but unfortunately, Dave's lover/punching bag, Janice (Willa Ford), delivers a copy of the illicit photos to Ben Diamond (Danny Huston) and it appears the worst is in store for his wife and the young Evans.
Mob fiction has provided a basic, boring blueprint for how this should have played out, so it's nice to see that Ben's perversions are capable of overcoming his rage. This character quirk offers him the chance to toy with his prey instead of simply murdering them - something that wouldn't have done the series any good at this point in its maturation. Making Ben a sadistic voyeur is not only a pleasant move away from the dog-shooting psychopath we've seen in past episodes, but it also creates a needed complexity in the character, wherein he's allowed to respond to certain stimuli (i.e. the revelation his wife has been sleeping with his partner's son) in a way that's not entirely expected. It's lurid and kind of gross, yes, but it sets Ben up to be more of a calculating villain than the simple death dealer he was at the beginning of the season.
And considering Ben's response to Ike's arrest for the murder of Jimmy Shoes, it's clear that manipulative brain of his is working to make the most out of everyone's bad situation.
To that end, the rock-and-a-hard-place that are Jack Klein (Matt Ross) and Ben Diamond has begun to squeeze Ike Evans (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) out of everything he holds dear. In a particularly unconvincing scene, Klein arrests Ike just as his pitch to have a television program film at the Miramar gets underway. Apparently, having the owner of the hotel you're considering filming in be arrested for murder isn't cause to cancel the meeting – especially if said owner's gorgeous wife steps in and piles on an assortment of over-the-top concessions to win the client over. Someone even brings up Ike's arrest almost as an afterthought, and his concerns are immediately brushed off like that sort of thing is commonplace. This kind of impatient and implausible writing handicapped Magic City early on, so it's disappointing to see it come up after the two previous episodes suggested this malady had been overcome.
It's all just a way to have Cliff Wells (Steven Brand) become an issue regarding Vera (Olga Kurylenko) in the future, and instead of playing up Vera's need for independence and identity, it works to make her easily manipulated by a smarmy director. Cliff Wells and his obvious intentions regarding Vera isn't a bad subplot to have (although it's a bit generic) it is the means by which Magic City retains Cliff that is so ludicrous as to nearly eliminate all credibility for Vera and the people contemplating business with the Miramar.
On the bright side, though, Jack Klein may be turning into the villain we had first glimpsed in Ben Diamond. He clearly has no problem smacking a half-starved Judi Silver (Elena Satine) around and then eating a pickle while shoving a gun in her face, so there's that. But what's really intriguing is that while Klein is seemingly ruthless, he's utterly hell bent on bringing Ben Diamond down. The effect of this positions the Evans clan and the future of the Miramar between two powerful forces that appear poised to dictate the future for Ike, Stevie and Danny (Christian Cooke). With luck, this dynamic will be explored more in season 2.
Interestingly enough, it seems like the wild card in this situation may be the one everyone had written off. Danny now serves as the Michael Corleone of Magic City. He's not a part of the family business (in the illegal sense), but the possibility for him to ingratiate himself with Jack Klein on behalf of his father has been set up. Now, it will be interesting to see how Danny develops after having remained such an enigma for the majority of season 1.
And that's largely the emphasis Magic City leaves for the end of its first season: The question of how things will turn out. Here, conclusion plays second fiddle to continuation. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, Magic City seems like the kind of show that is ripe for more robust character beats, rather than relying on a tried-and-true plot of murder and consequences.
Despite a slow start, Magic City showed up with some late game heroics that started to tell a compelling story, but had to slow down for the turn into season 2. Hopefully, the continuation of this story will be able to move with the sure-footedness demonstrated by those last few episodes – we'll just have to wait and see. One can't begrudge the series for ending on what amounts to be a cliffhanger too much, though. After all, this is a period drama, so it's expected that everyone would be looking to the future for answers.
Magic City will be back for season 2 sometime in 2013 on Starz.
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