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McMafia - Final episode reviewed


Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

WARNING: Spoilers discussed

THE final episode of McMafia confirmed the direction that this series was always heading in: the wholesale corruption of an innocent.

The BBC drama has been compared to The Godfather since its opening episode and, true to form, the journey of banker-turned-gangster Alex Godman (James Norton) was completed in typically engrossing fashion.

By the final minutes, Godman had overseen and carried out the elimination of his main nemesis, orchestrated a position at the top of the tree and all but waved goodbye to the ones he loved (from his disgraced father to his ex-fiancée).

The journey has been an absorbing one. Constructed meticulously, rather than spectacularly, the show succeeded by virtue of its slow-burn approach. The intricacies of rising through the underworld ranks were conducted with the style and precision of a chess match.

True, viewers had to be patient, particularly early on, as the myriad characters and locations came together. But the attention to detail and authenticity paid dividends even when requiring viewers to do a lot of work.

The decision to employ a truly multi-national cast was a wise one, ensuring that each role was occupied accordingly. While the quality of most of those actors also ensured that the power and nuances of the performances more than compensated for the lack of action that some people may have been anticipating.

Primary among these was David Strathairn’s Semiyon Kleiman, a former ally of Alex, turned snake, who was sadly absent from this final episode. Having made his deceptive play in the penultimate episode and placed Alex in the firing line, viewers may have expected some kind of reckoning for the character. Alas, this was not to be. Although his continued existence keeps him in play for any potential second series.

Another of the McMafia‘s biggest assets, however, was used to the max. Merab Ninidze’s Vadim was a towering presence, as he has been throughout the series. Wounded emotionally, following the Godfather III-style death of his daughter in the previous episode, this was a driven man falling apart at the seams, no longer able to make sound business decisions and placing his status at risk at every turn.

By the time Godman stood before him, as unlikely executioner, Vadim was a shadow of his former self, and yet someone we could almost [and that’s almost] sympathise with. We felt his hurt at the loss of his family… even though, in previous episodes, we had witnessed him beat a man to death and extol the virtues of attacking his enemies’ families. It’s the mark of a great actor that Vadim was, by no means, one dimensional.

Alas, the same cannot be said for Norton, whose performances throughout the series provided one of the few weak links. Early on, Norton’s passive nature could have accounted for a certain naivety, or a sly way of making the character unreadable. Yet, as the episodes and twists unfolded [including the loss of his unborn child], Norton very rarely showed the emotion that could really have made his character’s journey so tragic.

Returning to The Godfather comparisons, Al Pacino’s descent into villainy was an agonising thing to watch: conveyed with all the passionate heartbreak that Pacino could bring to the screen. He remained root-worthy even at his most dislikeable.

Norton’s cold Godman was easier to begrudgingly admire than to ‘like’. The tragedy of his journey, as a result, felt less pronounced. By the time he had even out-manoeuvred the Mexican drug dealers who had become belated allies (and openly betrayed Caio Blat’s Antonio Mendez into the bargain), there was a sense of closure that felt as business-like as a Godman handshake (and less personal as a result).

As a result, McMafia – as a whole – remained a highly intelligent, and often gloriously intriguing, drama that remained emotionally cold. The emotional arcs failed to tug at the heart-strings as you perhaps felt they should.

And yet that didn’t ultimately detract too much from the overall enjoyment of the series as a whole. The insights it provided into contemporary organised crime were as grim as they were fascinating, while the locations added plenty of style, and the performances from the majority of the ensemble were exceptional (particularly in the way they gave lesser known actors from around the world the chance to shine).

McMafia therefore has to rate as a huge success for the BBC. And the type of show we would love to see return for a second series.

Read our exclusive interview with McMafia’s Clifford Samuel