The phrase "adapt or die" calls to mind the idea of progression and change – often for the better, or, at the very least, for mere survival. And while Magic City has chosen that phrase as the title for the third episode this season, it's worth mentioning that the idea of progression and change are also staples of good television storytelling – facets that have been, at times, underwhelming or absent in the series.
But after two episodes that served primarily as a refresher for the events of season 1, and then as an introduction to some of the new key players of season 2 – i.e., Sy Berman (James Caan), Nicky Grillo (Jaime Harris) and Carlos Ruiz (Esai Morales) – 'Adapt or Die' finally sets in motion a storyline that has a clearer idea of where it's headed than the season before.
Now that's not to say any of this is being overly telegraphed, but the various plot points and multi-character elements that have been introduced seem to suggest a more propulsive story involving Ike Evans and the Miramar Playa that's also set largely around characters playing against one another in regard to the gambling legislation Ben Diamond is betting will be pushed through by Senator Sloat.
Phase one of Ike's plan was to travel to Cuba and convince Castro he'd be the man to run the casinos, promising a large enough influx of cash to keep Fidel happy and to influence Sy back in snowy Chicago to give Ben Diamond the ol' heave-ho when it comes to his stake in the Playa. And as far as Magic City's period elements and manner in which the series has chosen to handle them, the trip to Cuba managed to be just as heavy-handed as one might have expected.
Sure, the series avoided casting someone to appear in the background as a slightly out of focus Fidel Castro, but that didn't stop the episode from inserting things like soldiers chasing a pig through the vacant lobby of the hotel, or throwing subtlety completely out the window by seating Ike next to Jack Ruby on the flight back to Miami.
Overt representations of the era aside, it looks like Ike struck out after meeting with a high-ranking female official in Castro's outfit who doesn't take too kindly to Americans using her country as their personal playground. Having an American businessman try an negotiate a deal on several casinos with a communist was arguably the most interesting bit of the entire episode, but it felt like it ended too quickly and deliberately fizzled out in favor of making room for the "surprise" reversal at the end. Thankfully, Ike's trip wasn't a complete loss, as he was able to recover the remains of Victor Lazaro's wife.
While the Lazaro family storyline from season 1 didn't add up to much beyond Maria's death (which, for some reason, still feels unresolved despite her being laid to rest) and Danny and Mercedes beginning a relationship, it now looks as though the family may play an integral part of Carlos Ruiz's anti-Castro movement – as they have plenty of reasons (attractive mustachioed men notwithstanding) to support such a conflict.
Between Mercedes and "Madam Minister," there would have been plenty to illustrate the influence of the show's female characters (in regard to the storyline and not just its pay-cable status), but 'Adapt or Die' also managed to play up Meg Bannock and Judi Silver - to a degree they've not really seen before, either.
Yes, Judi's been an important part of the plot from almost the get-go, but here, coaxing Danny into a foot massage before chiding him for questioning whether or not his father is a killer, it felt like she'd finally taken a step toward becoming a real character and not just a device to tie plot threads together and make Jack Klein seem relevant.
The same can be said for Meg. After being introduced late last season, she didn't have much to do other than bankroll Ike's crisis management plan, but now the series seems intent on ratcheting up the sexual tension between the two, and the result so far has been mostly positive. Hopefully, the same can be said for her assignment to resurrect the Secret Six – which sounds like it could either be a fun subplot featuring Miami's ultra-rich and influential residents going toe-to-toe with the mob or a hokey bit of cloak and dagger that pulls Meg away from Ike and the simmering, sublimated attraction they have for one another.
At any rate, with its various plots moving at a decent clip, 'Adapt or Die' feels like the official start of the season and or a storyline that might have some real consequences.
Magic City will return on Friday July 12 with 'Crossroads' @9pm on Starz.