This McMafia review contains spoilers.
McMafia Episode 4
McMafia episode 4 turns the aura of espionage it has been building to modern crime. In a mafia show set during the tech age, hackers are hijackers. IT guys tap a few keys and entire cargo loads make payoffs. The word “tap” used to be the term for killing or having sex with someone, now a mouse click is a handgun with a silencer. Not that there’s any shortage of firepower.
Last week rewarded us with a beautifully violent proto-crime movie scene. Vadim Kalyagin (Merab Ninidze) meets with a cop who is reluctant about being on the take. Vadim proves he is a hands-on boss, beating the cop to death with a pipe. It is as good a mob violence scene as any gangster classic, and carves out McMafia’s own distinct take on the genre. The modern Russian mob is unlike the Italian mafia of the movies because they don’t care about legal authority. Tony Soprano knows enough not to go after a cop who won’t take a cut to look the other way. But it is a personal affront to Vadim. The man has pride. He is the authority, beyond the reach of law enforcement. Russian mobs are enabled by the state and state workers have no authority at all.
Alex (James Norton) appears to be on the other side of the violence debate. But that’s mainly to keep up appearances. He prefers his crime neat, tidy and removed, having seen first-hand what it’s like to be hands-on. He had to run to a safe room while his uncle Boris was executed. So far, Alex is still putting up the front that he’s reluctant about doing anything illegal, but the cracks are beginning to show.
Alex’s compliance officer Karen can’t get into the global fund data and is getting worried. She goes to Alex’s fiancé with concerns and opens up suspicions. Alex’s cell phone rang while he was in the shower and Rebecca (Juliet Rylance) picked it up, noticing it was a cell she didn’t know about it. When she asks him abuot the new phone, he tells her it’s for security. Rebecca wonders if this seems paranoid and Alex says everyone in business will be doing this soon enough, and that his whole company was issued new phones. Rebecca buys this until Karen says she wasn’t issued a new phone.
What’s most interesting is how Rebecca is being forced into the perspective. She comes from a world far away from crime, and anything illegal is almost incomprehensible to her. Both she and Karen have been trained to look for red flags, but are new to detecting it in real time. McMafia brings understanding to the innocents slowly. No one realizes they’re into something dangerous until they’re too deep to get out. The same goes for Alex, but he is still showing some kind of ambiguity.
The most telling difference between Alex and Vadim is the distance they put between themselves and what’s going on in their organizations. Vadim obviously came up through the ranks, did every kind of job at a time when the work was the wettest. He clawed his way to the top by sheer ruthlessness. Even now that he’s on the top of the game, he still makes his presence known on a personal level. Vadim will wrap a towel around a pipe and beat the shit out of you himself.
Alex, on the other hand, new to the game, uninterested in the business that got his father kicked out of Russia, is removed. During a pivotal scene, involving betrayals on a Machiavellian scale, he listens on his cell phone, pacing on a London crosswalk. While that technically makes him “street,” it also best identifies how his worlds are merging, and how the world of financial crime and technology are codependent.
We are shown how the heroin is smuggled through the India and the Pakistan border. Packaged into easily transported bundles, it is pushed through tubes shoved between the two border fences. The higher ranking mobsters who are running the operation watch from a safe distance, but are still there near the scene. The heroin is taken to loading dock where it hidden in the workings of household appliances, which are then sealed back to factory packaging. Semiyon Kleiman (David Strathairn) sets his people up to hijack the heroin. The product in Mumbai is hiding in plain sight, which is something Alex is learning to do to keep his double life undercover. Nowadays, anyone can uncover anything with a key stroke.
Chopra is becoming a nuanced character. He begins the episode by rejecting the idea that a little girl looks like him by telling the mother, “I love you, but she can be anyone’s” and later tells a witness “You are a good man, I will look after your family,” right before shooting him in the head on a street, and laying guilt on a henchman. Chopra becomes central to the motion of the story and the duplicity. He and Alex both spend time grooming their tech protégées, and become digitally bonded.
Alex goes to Tove Miller, the IT guy he fired, personally with an offer for a side job and some references. Tove is a denizen of the dark net, connected with hackers worldwide. A hacker in the Middle East is cajoled into working the theft of Vadim’s heroin in Mumbai. Tove says this man is one of the best, and we get a feeling that the gangsters don’t kill best, they convert them and use them over and over again. Chopra enters the man’s home, admonishes him for being so nice to a home intruder, and offers him a cricket bat. During the actual heist, you can see the computer hacker really getting into the work. Yes, he is doing it under a threat of death, but there’s something in his face that says “this is exciting.” He is emotionally involved.
The technology is so involving that one of the suspenseful highlights of the heroin theft is when the hacker says he has to reboot. This makes episode 4 a high point for McMafia, updating the crime syndicate while focusing on the specifics of a heist, the day-to-day business-as-usual details.