This McMafia review contains spoilers.
McMafia Episode 8
“Never ask me about my business, Kay,” Michael Corleone says to his non-Sicilian wife at the end of The Godfather. The new patriarch of the crime family gives her one last bit of information to ease her mind, but it is a lie. Then his trusted counselors close the door on her. In McMafia episode 8, the season finale, set in the modern age of gangsters, this is done with the decline of a call on a cell phone, only slightly chillier than breaking up with someone via a post-it note.
It’s not like Alex (James Norton) wasn’t warned. His rival, Vadim, tried to spare the young banker the pain of late withdrawal from the life. “If you chose this life you have to give up everyone you love,” Vadim advises Alex. “You have to be alone until someone puts you out of your misery.” Vadim is the most sympathetic character on the show. It is largely because of Merab Ninidze who plays him. As much as McMafia pushes the Russian mobster as the bad gangster, Vadim Kalyagin connects with the audience in a larger way than Alex does. The scene with Ilya when he is holding back tears, the scene where he says they killed my child both wrench and finally Vadim’s face as a grimace of pain as he drops the soil on his daughter’s grave. It is truly heartbreaking, he does it so well.
Alex’s own father Dmitri (Aleksey Serebryakov) set off the decline and fall of the Eastern Crime syndicate in the least civilized way. Alex almost lost his wife Rebecca (Juliet Rylance), but Vadim did lose his daughter in the crossfire of an execution attempt. The older Russian mobster lost his wife to a mistake he himself made and now lost his daughter to someone else’s bad choice. Vadim learned from his past mistakes, and grew strong enough to do something about others’ blunders.
The episode opens with Alex having trouble at Moscow customs. His passport set off alarms. He’s not even allowed to make a call and let his family know. The suspense builds as Joseph, the henchman he inherited from Semiyon, waits to pick him up at the airport. Alex had no idea what his father did when he took the flight to Moscow and Vadim’s right-hand man Ilya is always one step ahead. The airport detention sets up a great chase sequence that takes up the entire opening. With all the henchmen and thugs chasing after Alex, above and below the streets of Moscow, the scene leads to what looks like a confrontation between Alex and Vadim personally.
Vadim has no fear of authority. He is the authority. “You think I’m afraid of you?” he threatens Ilya’s bureaucratic boss. “You’ve taken your cut all these years and now you’re going to turn on me? I’ll turn on you first.”
Vadim’s daughter’s funeral is very Godfather, but what a difference a few generations make. No one is kicking in doors with rifles in their hands, or catching crooks in revolving doors, the counterpoint tension plays out in board meetings where Vadim’s fate is being decided. This writer sees a parallel between Johnny Ola, the man who showed Fredo the best of Cuba’s nightlife in Godfather II, and Oleg, Dmitir’s well-connected friend. Oleg tells his connected friend high-up that Alex could be humble but ruthless, even though the young criminal has only perpetuated paperless crimes of finance and five-point restraints of trade. Alex says Vadim is old fashioned, too emotional and wants to cut the human cost of the heroin trade while bringing up the profits. Neither Alex nor the Russian syndicate can afford to leave Vadim alive, it is decided. Alex looks upset, but not so much so he’d upset the apple cart he himself wants to pull.
At the very end of the old gangster’s reign, a look passes over Alex’s face that looks like he’s going to be sick. But it is not enough to counter the impression made by Vadim, nor is it enough to bring sympathy to the new boss, who turns out more like the old boss than the audience has been led to expect. This is confirmed by the “don’t ask me my business, Kay” coda. He can’t talk over the cell phone.
McMafia ends its first season with Alex’s transition to crime lord complete. He has internalized all the struggles and stuffed them under his stiff upper lip. If the series moves forward, it will be interesting to see how the new generation of criminal maximizes profits while minimizing risk. It would be a risk to take away the most violent ways of business in a mob series, and now that Alex Godman made his button, business is looking good.