Magic City: “Atonement”
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Magic City: “Atonement”

Things certainly seem placid enough when we start tonight’s episode, but the accompanying score gives us the impression that things are less quiet than they are too quiet, as does the fact that Ike’s sitting alone at the table, pouring himself a glass of something alcoholic. When he looks at the reflective surface of the ceiling, there’s little doubt that we’re supposed to imagine an internal monologue that kicks off with the words, “My God, I don’t even recognize myself anymore,” and it’s only an instant later that we learn why he’s got the long face: it’s the morning of Mike Strauss’s funeral.

Unfortunately, what starts as a strong scene, with Ike looking twitchily around the temple and feeling appropriately guilty about his hand in Mike’s death, falls into melodrama the moment the doors burst open during Mr. Strauss’s eulogy to his son. While it’s conceivable that a state’s attorney might pull a cold-hearted move like removing a body from a church in mid-funeral if they wanted to executive a power play against, say, a crime family, to do it in the midst of Mike’s memorial service seemed inappropriately harsh. From what we’ve seen, the guy seemed to be on the right side of the law as often as not, so why on earth would they traumatize his family like that? It’s a bombastic but hollow gesture, one based less in reality than a desire to get a gasp out of easily startled viewers and paint the authorities as the Worst People Ever. So much for starting out strong…

And that’s not even the only problem with the funeral. When Ike stands up to tangle with the intruders, it may be a minor sin, but there’s definitely a hint of Basil Exposition in his words as he pointedly clarifies that an autopsy’s already been done on Mike and that the authorities “had his body for weeks.” It’s far more annoying, however, to find that Danny’s apparently spent these weeks transforming into one of the most naïve, unobservant characters on television. How else to explain the fact that, after having been working in the D.A.’s office for the past several weeks, Stevie’s observation that D.A. Klein is building a case against their father only causes Danny to suggest that the D.A.’s just “doing his job,” and act as though he’s never even considered the possibility that Klein might be after Ike?

Okay, sorry, let me take a deep breath, and we can move on. It’s just that, dammit, I walked into this episode with high hopes, and they gave me nothing but frustration.

Post-funeral, Ike’s efforts to get Mike’s body back hit an immediate brick wall, with his attorney informing him that, basically, Klein can do whatever he wants, up to and including keeping the corpse for as long as he damned well pleases. Time for Ike to pour another drink and take things to a different, less in-your-face level by having Stevie contact Bill Patrick, a writer for the Miami Herald. Knowing this, the scene where he brings the writer to Klein’s office isn’t quite as much fun as it might otherwise have been, but it’s still effective, thanks to the trifecta of Klein’s shock, Ike’s smirk, and Bill Patrick’s barely disguised glee over the fact that the resulting story is going to serve as sweet revenge for the fact that Klein clearly didn’t take him seriously the last time they met. The only duff bit was Ike’s closing line, but Klein’s point about who benefited from Mike’s death clearly drew blood.

Victor’s trying to keep busy, but his frustration with the slowness of Ike’s efforts to get his wife out of Cuba is leading him to try other avenues, including some acquaintances of his cousin who are, we immediately presume, are even skeevier than Ike’s contacts. It’s a theory that certainly seems sound when we first meet Pierce Fuller of the Double Check Corporation, whose general demeanor make him seem as though he’s on the verge of trying to sell Victor life insurance, a used car, or a beautiful vacation property, possibly even all three.

We get a few moments alone with Danny and Mercedes, but only a few, as the set-up for a employee locker room sex scene is shot all to hell when Victor strolls in. This is particularly disappointing, as this was easily the hottest Dominik Garcia-Lorido has looked since the series began, but the point was presumably to establish a rift between father and daughter over her relationship with Danny. This isn’t exactly great news either, as it’s about as predictable a direction as they could possibly send things, but if that’s where they headed, it doesn’t happen this week. Instead, Danny gets clocked by the second-story man who’s been thieving from the hotel. Turns out it’s Divin’ Dave, who’s gotten so little screen time thus far that I had to look up him up on IMDb to even figure out who he was. (I just knew I was supposed to recognize him based on how long they lingered on the shot of him looking at the photos of Stevie and Lily.)

Meanwhile, Ben Diamond’s trying to get rid of Judi, which would be a terrible, terrible mistake, as she’s got a huge amount of potential. Thankfully, it seems that the show’s writers agree with me, since not only is she spared as a result of mistaken identity, but there seems to be something developing between her and Stevie. But, then, there’s something developing between Stevie and every woman on the show, so who the hell knows what’s going to happen with that? If it progresses, hopefully we’ll get less groan-worthy moments like Stevie’s palm reading (“you’re going on vacation”) and more material like Judi asking, “Are you going to worry this to death, or are you finally going to fuck me?”

Elsewhere, Lily’s heading to bed with her husband for a change. Wow, Ben’s got even more of a God complex that we’d been led to believe, but I much prefer seeing it displayed verbally rather than via the slaying of innocent animals. It’s amazing that Lily would tempt fate by giving Ben the offer to “rip my heart out and eat it,” given how he always seemed perpetually coiled and ready to strike, but the gambit pays off as she heads downstairs to pleasure herself while “God” remains in his heaven and commits…wait, hang on, is masturbation actually a sin? (And can you believe there’s actually a Wikipedia page devoted to the matter?)

I’m going to pretend that the phrase “sexy 11-year-old gymnast” was never used to describe Vera’s body, because otherwise I’m never going to be able to look at Olga Kurylenko the same way again. This whole Vera-wants-a-baby / Vera-feels-insufficiently loved-by-Ike storylines aren’t the most exciting thing in the world, but at least they feel based approximately in reality, as does the ongoing struggle to get in touch with Jackie Kennedy and confirm that she isn’t backpedaling on her agreement to co-host the B'nai B'rith event. The scene with Vera and Powers in the bar is a lovely, subtle moment—in other words, everything the funeral wasn’t—which highlights what a great deal-maker Vera can be when she turns on the charm. (I still don’t think it’s going to get Jackie next to her at the dais, though.)

The emotional smack in the face Vera receives when she shows up at the hospital as the perfect wife and stepmother would, only to walk in on Ike regaling the comatose Danny with stories about Molly, is delivered in a similarly subtle but effective manner. (I’m amazed they resisted the opportunity to have Vera and Meg cross paths.) But if anything develops between her and Stevie, I’m going to be pissed. The idea was teased in the pilot through Stevie’s reaction to her nude sunbathing, but it hadn’t been touched on since, and I was hoping it had been forgotten. I still really don’t think they’re going to down that road, especially since Stevie expressed mild disgust when he observed, “Spoken like a mom,” but the fact that they even acknowledged his attraction to her tonight made me nervous.

Although things wrap up better than they started, thanks to a surprisingly restrained but still threat-filled conversation between Ike and Ben (he can be over the top sometimes, but Danny Huston nailed the delivery on the line, “That’s why God made bullets”), the way Ike got Mike’s body back from Klein was so convenient as to be ridiculous. The governor’s chief of staff is a regular gambler at the hotel, but it just suddenly occurs to Ike that he might be able to use him to get Mike’s body back? The fact that the character’s name is only given as The Whiner would seem to show about how much thought went into this idea.

As we end, Mike’s in the ground, Judi’s in the bar, and Ben’s spinning in the sun, and Ike’s still twitching just as nervously as he was at the beginning. Frankly, so am I, because Magic City is turning out to be infuriatingly inconsistent. I left last week’s episode with high hopes, but I’m leaving this week’s with fingers crossed. With the entire first season in the can already, there’s no way that any of my concerns can possibly be addressed until Season Two goes into production, so all I can do is hope that the producers got into a groove as they progressed with the show…and believe me, I’m hoping that with all of my might.

Stray observations:

  • “Ladies, lunch is on me. Order whatever your stretch marks will allow.” Alex Rocco may be my favorite actor in the cast, but Vera has the potential to close in on Judi as my favorite character.
  • Speaking of Judi, I loved her expression after she assured Stevie, “It’s okay: you think about her, but you fuck me.” As a call girl, she’s used to saying whatever it takes to make her clients happy, but it clearly takes a lot out of her to do it when she actually feels something for the person.
  • On the other hand, Klein’s being developed into someone so despicable that I’m already having trouble treating him as a legitimate adversary, but I did laugh when he described the Miramar Playa as “that ridiculous wedding cake you call a hotel.”
  • A tiny but enjoyable detail: Ben’s breath fogging up the glass of his window from heaven, as it were.
  • Hey, did you catch how we only saw the shoes of Not-Judi’s killer? ‘Cause his name is Jimmy Shoes, get it? Get it…? Say, does it hurt when I elbow you in the ribs like this?
  • “The little prick was crying so hard he blew snot all over the cards.” Did I mention I like Bel, too?
  • “The bitch will not die by my hand.” Is there any reason to believe that we shouldn’t take this to mean that Ben could still order someone else to do it and claim that he technically remains a man of his word? Not based on what we’ve seen of Magic City thus far.

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