Magic City: "Castles Made Of Sand"
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Magic City: "Castles Made Of Sand"

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Magic City

"Castles Made Of Sand"

Season 1, Episode 3

As cable dramas go, Magic City still has a long way to go before it gets anywhere near the front of the pack, but while it’s trying to find its feet and – fingers crossed – actually carve an identity beyond just being the latest in the recent line of ‘60s-set drama, at least it’s worth watching. Not the cast isn’t full of a couple of 18-karat barnburners in the cast (to use the appropriate Sinatra slang), but in this case, I’m speaking of the look of the show, which is, to pick a phrase at random, kinda snazzy. If I didn’t mention that in my last week (and it’s possible I didn’t, given how crazed I was to get the piece finished), I should’ve, because there’s no question that Magic City really does look about as good as a show can. Looks, as we all know, are a far cry from everything, but this was definitely better than last week's offering, that's for sure.

Things kick off with Ike sitting quietly outside of Mike Strauss’s place, where he’s just slipped an envelope full of guilt money into the mailbox. From the look on the face of his widow, Annie, when she opens the envelope, there’s no question that she’s figured out who’s responsible for the drop-off, a fact which becomes patently clear when she swings by the Miramar Playa later in the episode. We’ve seen a bit of this in each of the two preceding episodes, but it’s interesting to watch Ike deal with the knowledge that he’s walking a tightrope between being a legitimate businessman and doing what a businessman has to do to survive, even if it’s a little on the dodgy side.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that, while Ike isn’t afraid to skirt the law or play fast and loose with ethics, his dad instilled him with enough of a sense of morality that he’s never going to be the next Ben Diamond. We’ve seen it several times thus far, including his efforts to help Victor get his wife back in the country, but it’s never more prominent than in the scenes revolving around his concerns about the current state of Mike Strauss.

From his widow on down, there’s no one who believes that Mike still walks among the living, and it’s only when Annie confirms that she’s accepted the worst and believes that he didn’t have anything to do with it that you can see Ike start to relax a little bit. I can’t imagine it’s going to end up being a good thing in the long run to have Annie working in the hotel kitchen, but at the very least, when Ike bites into one of Annie’s fresh pastries, he looks more at ease than we’ve seen him thus far. Of course, that’s probably all going to change if the corpse that rose up from the bottom of the swamp (I’m only judging by the type of boat that was on the verge of discovering the body) turns out to be Mike’s, because even if it’s someone else, the fact that it’s been a point of focus means that it’s probably still going to prove to be a pain in the ass for Ike. Come to think of it, the suicide (?) of Sterling Voss is probably going to freak him out, too, because you know Klein’s going to claim that Ike or Ben or one of their associates had something to do with it.

Meanwhile, there’s trouble in paradise when it comes to Ike and Vera, at least temporarily. When we first meet Cliff, he’s just the guy directing the Miss 1959 pageant, but we soon discover that he’s also Vera’s ex, apparently. At the very least, they apparently shared some good times in Nevada once upon a time, and he’s keen to revisit them, although it seems at first as if he’s willing to take “no” for an answer since she’s married. Later, it becomes obvious that he’s not, keeping his cockiness front and center when he finally meets Ike. Ike, however, never stops giving Cliff the fish-eye, a tendency which is paralleled a few minutes later when Vera all but starts a cat fight with Ike’s former sister-in-law, Meg.

Meg seemed like an intriguing character in her introduction last week, but I mused whether or not she might have a romantic past with Ike sometime back in the day. At the very least, they haven’t seen each other since the funeral of Ike’s wife, but you can hear the electricity between them start to crackle almost immediately when they sit down for their luncheon, ostensibly to talk business. There’s clearly still some awkwardness between them about the fact that Ike apparently absconded with her family’s land and tore down the family home, but the flirtation is unquestionably mutual, especially when Meg teasingly said, “You coose the wrong Bannock girl.” Are her flirtations just because she’s intrigued by the possibilities in his business proposition? We’ll see. As for the night out shared by Vera and Cliff, I never really thought that she’d accept his offer outright, but the fact that she didn’t throw away her marriage in favor of a sure thing for her career really shows the depths of her love for Ike. Let’s just hope things stay that way.

Not much motion on the Danny/Mercedes relationship, save a little flirtation and her assurance that he is, in fact, now allowed to call her “Mercy.” In fact, the Stevie / Lily thing wasn’t as prominent, either, although they did once again work in a quick roll in the air between them. But we still got the initial scene between Lily and Ben, with the latter cutting her off at the knees for daring to show a little backbone: “When you worked as a mermaid up in Weeki Wachee, how long did you say you could hold your breath? Three and a half minutes…? Not long enough.” (Like we didn’t need more proof that Ben enjoys a good drowning, this certainly helps back up that theory.) Later, we got a repetitious moment with Ben calling Stevie to his poker game, ostensibly just to get information about the second-story man running rampant in the hotel. Given how unabashedly nervous Stevie was, I’m still not sure why Ben didn’t call him on it and ask why he was practically trembling with fear. One thing’s for sure, though: I don’t think for a second that he’s burned those cheesecake photos he took of Lily. They will almost certainly come back to bite him in the ass.

Oh, I haven’t talked about Alex Rocco yet this week. As Ike’s dad, Arthur, he might be contributing some of the more melodramatic plots to the show thus far, like having a spike in his blood pressure and being sent to the hospital, where he promptly offers the kind of from-the-heart monologue that’s generally reserved for Lifetime movies. But with all that said, Arthur was indirectly responsible for one of the biggest laughs of the episode for me, namely the announcement from his caretaker that she’s not actually a nurse. “Your father makes me wear the outfit.”

All told, this was a much better episode that last week, if only by benefit that it wasn’t so unabashedly repetitive in format. Hoping to see this move forward even further next time.

Stray observations:

When the final thread on the rope snapped, in my head I heard Bobby Hill’s voice saying, “And there it goes…” (Please tell me someone else remembers this episode of King of the Hill besides me.)

I put the question mark after my reference to Sterling Voss’s suicide because his mother didn’t exactly seem to be the perkiest thing on two legs. For all we know at the moment, she could’ve been sound asleep and someone from Ben’s camp could’ve snuck in on Voss and killed him in the bath. Hell, maybe she’s senile and thought her son’s soon-to-be killer was Grover Cleveland. The facts just aren’t all in on this one yet.

I loved the Senator, played by Brett Rice. His dialogue was spectacular. I’d watch a spin-off starring that character. In the meantime, despite his knee-slapper of a mine about how he can’t be bought but can be rented, I don’t get the impression that he’s going to be anything but trouble for Ike.

Glad to see the hotel’s in-house photographer make a return appearance, however brief.

Anyone know who that was playing Bobby Vinton? If his name was cited, I missed it.

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