Throughout the history of television, there has been a long, depressing tradition of a series’ second episode being little more than a retread of its first episode. It’s not that there isn’t a perfectly good reason for it—the second episode, generally made several months after the first episode, gives the producers the opportunity to underline the key elements of the pilot as well confirm to viewers that, yes, you’re going to see the same kind of stuff this week that you saw last week, hopefully inspiring them to come back in subsequent weeks—but the end result still almost always leaves you feeling that you might as well have just skipped ahead to Episode 1.3. With today’s television model, though, this tradition really needs to come to a close, particularly when it comes to cable dramas, where the seasons are so much shorter that they really can’t afford to waste an episode by doing a retread.
That’s not to say that Magic City’s second episode, “Feeding Frenzy,” was either a complete waste or a total retread, but those claiming the latter would be able to reasonably argue their point on more than a few occasions.
Both Episode 1.1 and 1.2 did revolve around the hustle, bustle, and sketchy business affairs going on in advance of an impending special event at the Miramar Playa—last week it was Sinatra, this week it was Clayton Textiles’ Miss 1959 Pageant—but, okay, fair enough, we’ve probably all seen enough episodes of Fawlty Towers to be resigned to the whole “we’ve got to get ready for a truly momentous occasion!” thing being a necessary trope for any series set in a hotel. The lack of any real progression in so many of the storylines, though, was highly disheartening. Thank God Mike “disappeared,” that’s all I can say. Otherwise, things would’ve stayed more or less at a standstill, save for the non-stop drama surrounding Lauren’s bat mitzvah.
It’s such a shame to discover that Ryan McGee’s favorite line from the first three episodes (“What the hell is so wrong with a little yum yum?”) is part of the most disappointing storyline of the week, not that the man who delivers it—the always-awesome Alex Rocco, who plays Ike’s curmudgeonly father, Arthur—is in any way at fault. When introduced in the pilot, Arthur comes off as a highly intriguing character. Although he’s now retired and spends his days playing chess, strumming a stringed instrument (sorry, I’m blanking on exactly what instrument he was playing) with his buddies, or basking in the warm glow derived from a below-the-belt sponge bath delivered by his nurse, he still has enough connections to be aware of the goings-on in his son’s world. This week, however, all of those interesting aspects of Arthur’s character are stripped away in favor of having him, all during the course of a single episode, reveal that he’s never set foot inside a temple in his life, steadfastly declare to anyone who’ll listen that he never will set foot inside a temple, and, to the surprise of no one except the characters of Magic City, ultimately backpedal and set foot inside a temple after all, so that he doesn’t disappoint his granddaughter. Rocco gets a few good lines, of course, and Lauren is thankfully toned down somewhat from the pilot, where she proved grating whenever she opened her mouth, but as a whole, the whole bat mitzvah storyline feels at best forced and at worst depressingly schmaltzy.
The producers of Magic City may well say that “Feeding Frenzy” is less a retread than an opportunity to further strengthen concepts introduced in the pilot, and that would certainly be their right, but it really isn’t necessary. After seeing Ike and Ben interact poolside at the latter’s palatial estate, we understand that Ben’s incredibly volatile, which is certainly a big reason why he holds the upper hand in their business relationship. As such, Ike’s brief boat trip feels ultimately superfluous, even if it does offer Danny Huston the opportunity to be bathed in fire as he delivers another insanity-tinged monologue. And, really, did we need the moment where Ben stops his phone conversation to go out and shoot Lily’s dog in the head? We get it: the dude’s crazy. Similarly, the Lily / Stevie relationship continued in much the same fashion as before, switching out last week’s beachside rendezvous for a romp in the backseat of one of Ben’s cars, inching forward only in the sense that Ben slightly acknowledges his suspicions of Lily’s shenanigans by assuring her that he’ll be able to smell if she’s been with another man (which is only slightly less repulsive than his comment about “rust”). Maybe something will come of the fact that Stevie’s apparently already gone back to sleeping with his elevator friend—every time we’ve seen her, she’s either going into or coming out of the elevator—but it’s hard to say at this point. One suspects, however, that Lily could well prove to be the jealous type, at least with the guys she’s seeing on the side. Either way, you know those cheesecake shots are going to come back to haunt them both.
At least Stevie gets more action than poor Danny, who clearly won’t be taking it to the next level with Mercedes until her mother, Maria, makes it out of Cuba and arrives safely in Miami Beach. Given the location and timeframe of the series, it’s no wonder that the Cuba storyline is a thread that runs through the lives of many of the characters, including Ben, who’s frustrated with Castro’s rise to power (“that bearded prick”), and Victor, who, in addition to being Maria’s husband and Mercedes’ dad, is the general manager of the Miramar Playa. Again, though, all we really did was get further reminded that things are crazy in Cuba and Maria’s still stuck in the middle of it all.
As noted, it’s really only the “disappearance” of union leader Mike Strauss that leads to new developments. We meet Jack Klein (Matt Ross), Miami’s D.A., who’s started an investigation to find out what’s happened to Mike. When things first kick off, he’s got his sights set on Ben Diamond, but by the end of the episode, it looks as though his initial estimation of Ike as just “a hotel guy” are about to be changed, depending on whether Judi decides to blab about how she came to be in a room with Mike just as he was hauled out. (Just as a quick sidebar, Judi looks to be shaping up as a bigger player in the series, since she seems to be Ike’s go-to girl for somewhat unsavory assignments.) Will Danny’s law school classmate drag him into the investigation? Hard to say at this point, especially since Klein and his boys aren’t taking the kid seriously, but Danny definitely doesn’t seem to be the apple of his father’s eye in the same way that Stevie is, so it’s certainly possible.
Oh, I almost forgot: there's one additional storyline introduced, namely the relationship between Ike and his former sister-in-law, Meg Bannock (Kelly Lynch), which is understandably more about business than family nowadays. Listening to their phone conversation, did I detect a hint of flirtation? That'd be a shame, as Vera and Ike seem to have a legitimately solid relationship, with him having declared that he feels something for her that he never even felt for the father of his children, and her going above and beyond to convert. Either way, Lynch looks to be an interesting addition to the proceedings. Fingers crossed that seeing more of her will help Magic City actually start revving things up a bit.
- Someone’s destined to start a drinking game where you take a shot every time Ike silently stares off into the distance. And when they do, they will get very, very drunk.
- I liked the way Vera kept her cool around Arthur but then showed her frustration when discussing it with Ike. (“You handle that crazy bastard!”) I also laughed at Ike’s reaction to it: “Oh, my God: I went to bed with Rita Hayworth and woke up with Golda Meir!”
- One of my major pet peeves with period pieces is wink-nudge jokes about things that we know either will or won’t happen in the future. Mad Men generally does them in an organic, incident fashion. Magic City doesn’t seem to have as much interest in that, given the brief “video jukebox” bit, but at least Ben’s presumptions about Castro’s short reign of power seem more or less based in the feelings of the era.
- Nate, the guy from Clayton Textiles, was more creepy than funny, but he did score a few laughs with his delivery, particularly when he scoffed at Ike and said, “You Jews and your worry…”
- I hope we see more of Ike’s go-to photographer for blackmail shots. She was pretty awesome.
- Although I’m sure the general feelings on homosexuals in Florida in the late ‘50s were indeed about how Klein acted toward the desk clerk from the seedy hotel where Mike and Judi hooked up, that whole scene felt gratuitous, as if to say, “Boy, we sure have come a long way since then, haven’t we?”
- Lastly, I promise not to be so late with next week’s review, but I didn’t even know I was going to be reviewing the show until about 10 minutes before leaving for dinner and a movie with my wife. By the time I got home, I was exhausted, so I didn’t feel comfortable writing it up until I was better rested. Not that that probably made any difference, but you never know.