This McMafia review contains spoilers.
McMafia Episode 7
McMafia episode 7 is a shocker, and a very sad entry in the series as the collateral damage of the war between the Russian crime factions hits close to home, yet again. All the best gangster movies are family-driven, and McMafia continues to take on and out key emotional figures.
The series warns us at the beginning with one of their patented false leads. The episode starts with Alex (James Norton) finalizing plans to protect his family, and his father hating it. Dmitri (Aleksey Serebryakov) can’t stand the idea of being looked after by his own son, after spending a lifetime trying to protect his son from exactly this kind of thing. As far as Dmitri is concerned, the most dangerous thing Alex should be doing is playing cricket or something equally British.
Dmitri urges Alex to go to Vadim on his knees and beg for forgiveness, and gives him the name of his friend Oleg at the Russian embassy who can lay down the padding. The Kremlin doesn’t want any trouble with England, so Dmitri feels there is an opening. Oleg almost immediately offers the most useful of suggestions: don’t drink the tea.
In a subtle nod to the beefcake shots of Vladimir Putin, Vadim Kalyagin (Merab Ninidze) is first seen chopping his own wood. He doesn’t have the Russian president’s physique, but he’s got the upper body strength of a loan shark’s collector. He is not showing off, the only witness to his workout is his daughter Natasha. She is his soft spot, and a constant reminder that his own wife is dead because of a mistake he made.
Vadim is actually quite likable. Natasha asks if he’s in trouble and he offers up that he’s always in trouble. He offers it up in a way that says he’s accustomed to it, she should be, but it doesn’t make him a bad guy. You could almost picture him making a cute face and putting his finger on his lip, like the Lou Costello cartoon saying “I’m a bad little boy.” Of course, Vadim would have to kill you if you pictured him that way, this is a guy who chops his own firewood because the logs you get at the store are too big.
Semiyon Kleiman is a slimy, treacherous bastard. David Strathairn is amazing. I like the actor, and hate the character, would be willing to gouge out an eye personally, which makes me like the actor even more. He turns on Alex at the very first chance. Before the first chance. He turns on Alex pre-emptively. The young male heir to the Godman family hasn’t done anything. He hasn’t had a chance to think about what he could even be doing and why he would risk the peace he brokers with Vadim, and Kleiman is already whetting the knife he is going to twist in his back.
Vadim has no slime. He works his evil out in the open. There is a scene, when Alex is leaving Istanbul to return to London, where Vadim gives a message for Alex’s father. Alex appears happy to hear it. He takes a neighborly tap on the arm, and as Vadim is walking away, Alex’s entire face drops into deep confusion and discernable concern. Vadim has bested him again, smilingly. He is a top-form mobster.
“Veniamin will be happy to see you,” is the message Vadim tells Alex to pass on to his father. He’s right to be troubled. This is a shot across the bow. Vadim was a commander in Afghanistan, but his recent run-ins with the Godman family has eaten away at the respect he commands from the other factions in the Russian criminal underground. There isn’t only competition within the Russian crime syndicates, but also within the government agencies that try to protect them.
Alex is not a drug dealer, he’s a broker. He brokers a passport to get Lyudmilla Nikolayevna (Sofia Lebedeva) out of Kleiman’s grip, and wins the confidence of the Mexican cartel head. But what does that get him? Not much, really. Anyone can get a blessing. It’s all okay until someone starts losing money. In banking, when people lose money they get upset, but not harmed. In the drug business, a loss of profit is a dangerous thing.
Rebecca (Juliet Rylance) left Alex because she didn’t love him not because of any bad dealings with gangsters, she tells the police, standing by her man’s story even if she can’t stand to look at him. When she finally does let him in to her hospital room, she explains that it’s not just a story she told the police. Rebecca sees that Alex’s father sent him to England to learn to be civilized, but he’s not. He grew up poor and scrappy, and no amount of dry cleaning will get rid of the criminal stench under his white collar. She could forgive him for that, and the shooting, even, in time, but she lost the baby and she will never be able to emotionally recover from that.
But the family drama gets very uncomfortable, a little more raw than you usually see on TV when the family deals with Dmitri after he is separated from his mistress, who was Katya’s friend, and Alex’s “first woman.” The children pay her off and pull her away. Dmitri is not only broken, he’s leaking. Katya blames her father for turning her friend into a whore, and a pregnant one at that, something that would kill her mother.
Vadim is a complete old softy for his daughter. This means he will hit out hardest if she were ever in harm’s way, which the scene where he is giving the speech subtly hints at. I found myself worrying for his daughter, mainly because the biggest threat of the sequence is so obviously hanging over Alex, and McMafia tends to throw false leads that curve slowly into the truth. McMafia shocked and saddened me, cementing my affinity with Vadim as the most sympathetic character on the show.