In its pilot offering, Magic City told a safe, fairly predictable mob tale with a clear-cut beginning, middle and end. A problem was introduced, our characters discussed that problem, and then the problem was swiftly (and, perhaps, too dispassionately) eliminated. But at a time when many of the best dramas on television (Mad Men, Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones, among them) are so heavily serialized, so well-modulated and so lauded for playing with such high stakes, the true measure of a great television drama tends to be how well it complicates its second hour.
Though Magic City is not a great show, it at least has the potential to be a pretty good one, and “Feeding Frenzy” was surely a step in the right direction. Last week’s far-too-easy removal of Mikey Strauss by gangster Ben has thankfully visited more stress on Ike Evans, not less, and the world of the show is now both more expansive and more dangerous than one may have guessed from the previous episode. Even if a number of these characters aren’t all that compelling, they’re at least pushing each other into situations that are.
Ike’s eldest son Stevie, reliably steered through every scene by his penis, spent most of last night’s episode doubling down on his affair with Ben’s wife, Lily. It’s only a matter of time before the other shoe drops on this doomed relationship, but last night we were given a clearer sense of the horrific nature of the Ben-Lily marriage. In one particularly effective scene, Ben shot and killed Lily’s dog for barking while he was on the phone. Imagine what this guy will do once he finds out his wife is fooling around behind his back — or if he finds those photos Stevie’s been taking of Lily in her underwear.
After having spent most of the pilot warming the bench, Ike’s other son, Danny, moved into a fairly intriguing position as a law student who demonstrates stronger morals than his father. By all indications, Danny’s a kind-hearted, well-meaning guy — and that makes him a soft target for the district attorney’s investigation of what really happened to Mikey Strauss. That investigation is one of the strengths of “Feeding Frenzy,” as it cranks up some of the machinery needed to make Ike’s life a living hell.
On his own merits, however, Ike Strauss remains far less interesting than the environment he occupies. Rather than being a proactive force of nature, he’s a reactive pawn of Ben Diamond, who himself is operating in a parallel environment that only tangentially crosses the world of the Miramar. In “Feeding Frenzy,” Ben threatened to make Ike shark food if the latter couldn’t turn the Miramar into a gambler’s haven — but so little is known about Ike that it’s hard to feel emotionally invested in his safety. That sense of remove could be a huge problem for Magic City, as this is a show that rests heavily on an (unearned) assumption that Ike Strauss is interesting, relatable and cool.
But as the long arm of the law began to stretch out toward the Miramar, “Feeding Frenzy” thankfully paused to take a closer look at Ike’s relationships with his wife, Vera, and daughter, Lauren. Vera, who described herself as “the shiksa bitch who married the prince” struggled to understand her place in Ike’s Jewish family as teenage daughter Lauren prepared for her bas mitzvah. It was a nice, character-driven subplot in a series that, so far, has offered up far too few of them.
Yes, this episode had gangsters and guns and backroom deals aplenty, but by taking a moment to focus on relatable human frailties, rather than simply pressing forward toward a mafia trope, Magic City hinted there might actually be more on its mind than mob business as usual. And if that's the case, it could prove worthwhile television.
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