The phrase “dead man walking” would’ve been apropos for aspects of Magic City’s second season finale, given the directions in which the various characters’ storylines were moving, but as shitty as it is that Starz decided to kick the series to the curb, the biggest slap in the face to Ike Evans, Ben Diamond, and the gang is that the network decided to announce the decision just in time for audiences to absorb the information about the cancellation, realize there’s no possible way the show’s producers could have been prepared for the series to end, and go, “Well, fuck, why should I even bother tuning in, then?”
Because it’s a pretty great season finale, that’s why. Not a great series finale, mind you, because there are way too many unwrapped storylines left hovering at the conclusion, but this is two years running that Magic City kicked into overdrive at the halfway point of its season and roared all the way through to the end. It’s just a goddamned shame that, at least as of this writing, it really is the end.
When we first see Ike Evans, he’s staring skyward at City Hall, knowing he could well be sealing his fate by stepping through its doors, but thanks to the evidence Lily’s provided him, he knows his options are limited: It’s this or a prolonged battle with Jack Klein with little chance for a happy ending. Steeling himself, he walks in, strolls past Danny, and enters Klein’s office to hand him “the key to the governor’s office” in the form of a ledger containing every bit of financial documentation on Ben Diamond’s criminal empire. As plot devices go, it’s admittedly convenient that such a ledger should exist, but given Ben’s obsessions in general, it’s easy enough to accept that he’d keep track of every last penny he’s earned, illegal or otherwise. Unfortunately, Klein’s playing hardball with his whole I-don’t-make-deals mindset, refusing Ike’s request to trade the dismissal of his efforts to destroy Ike in favor of taking down Ben, but the two do come dangerously close to sharing a moment when Ike stops on his way out of Klein’s office to remind the D.A. that he, too, has a daughter and shares Klein’s fury about what happened to her on the premises of the Miramar Playa. It’s not enough to change Klein’s mind – that would be too easy – but it’s enough to at least spur a nod of acknowledgement. Hey, it’s a start.
Ben and Victor finally have it out when Pierce reveals Victor’s entire dedication to El Tiberon’s cause is based on a lie, that Maria’s body was found tangled in a fishing net. It’s clear that, whatever Victor’s plan of action, it ain’t what you’d call a good sign that he’s leaving a note for “my beloved Mercy” before embarking upon it. As it unfolds, however, things go even worse than imagined.
Indeed, the encounter between Victor and El Tiberon results in one of the most shocking moments in the history of Magic City, a true “holy shit” moment, when the latter finally gets tired of the former’s frantic demands for truth and just decides to blow a hole in him. Seeing Victor saved from a watery grave by one of El Tiberon’s supporters was momentarily surprising, yet given what they’d just heard, I’ll buy it. Are we to take it that Victor is still alive at episode’s end? I’m not wishing the guy ill, but, y’know, he’s left his note for Mercy, he’s gotten back at El Tiberon…If that’s how he went out, at least he went out a winner and was reunited with his beloved Maria.
As Lily lounges poolside, Ben approaches her and asks her outright about the duration of her relationship with Nicky Grillo, and whether it’s because she can’t think of another answer or because she knows it doesn’t matter what she says anymore, she admits they spent three months together. Turns out Ben doesn’t give a shit (or so he claims), although he admits it makes him a little queasy. What’s of more interest to him is how long she’s known Sy Berman, a question which earns him a poor excuse for a lie in return, even if Lily claims otherwise.
The scene where Ike discovers that Nicky Grillo’s barrel has washed up on the beach is short but strong, leading straight into his meeting with the Secret Six to discuss how to best take advantage of this revelation and turn the tide of the gambling bill in their favor. The decision to let Meg take the credibility bullet for the group by writing a front page editorial – with Ike’s help – about the tie between the bill and the Mob is yet another way in which Ike is in Meg’s debt. It is far from the only one. Sy, meanwhile, is decidedly unenthused about Nicky’s unanticipated demise, dropping an unfortunate F-bomb in front of his rabbi, then later asking of Ben, “Are you trying extra hard to make sure you get yourself killed?” Ben gives the question his best I’m-quite-sure-I-don’t-know-what-you’re-talking-about look on the rare occasion when he can spare Sy a moment of eye contact. Although he assures Sy the gambling bill is a lock, it’s clear that he’s far less confident than he once was, and his composure is waning with each passing moment.
Danny offers a callback to Klein’s speech about knowing where the Devil lives, preying on his knowledge of which of the two fishes most deserves to fry. The next thing you know, Klein calls and offers his word that Ike’s got his deal, dismissing the thank-you Ike offers, instead snapping, “Thank your son.” Emboldened by the presumption that things are copacetic between him and Danny, Ike decides to try and mend fences with Stevie as well, giving him advance notice Ben’s going down and this is his chance to run for the hills, but Stevie’s not having any of it, calling his exile from the Miramar Playa “the best thing that’s ever happened to me.” It’s inarguably heavy-handed to close the father/son encounter by having one of Stevie’s girls muse on the resemblance between him and Stevie, but there’s clearly a genetic predisposition toward hardheadedness in the Evans family.
Soon after, Klein reveals the existence of Ben’s book to his team, only to watch Doug nervously mutter with mock excitement, “This is fucking amazing,” and slip out of the room, ostensibly to get some files, but everyone – including Klein – knows he’s making a mad dash to a phone to warn Ben. He never gets a chance to dish, however, instead making an escape with the authorities hot on his heels…and he’s far from the only one who’s got someone after him. It’s right around this time that Meg’s editorial starts making the rounds, and watching the dominos fall is a beautiful thing, from Sloat’s horrified expression to the beautiful shot of Ben dropping the paper into the pool just before getting word that Sy’s on the phone. (“Of course he is….”) Sen. Sloat may be able to put his blowhard tendencies to good use on the senate floor, but even he can’t outrun this story.
Ike reveals to Sy he’s had a part in his life since long before they started working together as adults, but Sy’s not exactly a sentimental guy, and he sees through the reason why Ike’s started telling the story. Ike wants his hotel and thinks his efforts in Havana are worth it. Sy seems to agree at first, offering him the legal documentation to confirm the hotel is his, but then he drops the bomb that A) he still owes him “10 million, give or take, plus a little bit for my trouble,” and B) he’ll continue to owe him 40 percent of his take in perpetuity. “You will have to fucking kill me,” Ike assures him. “I will kill you,” confirms Sy. “But not before I kill ever member of your Life Magazine family right in front of your eyes. Really. I do that kind of thing. Where do you think Ben learned it?” Ike plays the only card in his deck – Ben’s ledger – and it goes over like gangbusters, with Sy grabbing him by the collar and demanding to know who gave it to him. Threats are made. Both parties come across as pretty vicious. In the end, though, the fact that Ike’s immediately off to find the money to pay off Sy reveals who’s the bigger threat.
The romantic triangle between Ike, Vera, and Meg is one which keeps you guessing throughout, with Vera perpetually convinced something’s going on between Ike and Meg, and reasonably so when you consider the sexual tension between them, yet Ike never fails to remain a proper gentleman in her company. Vera tells Ike he doesn’t know women, that Meg’s going to demand a trade of sorts. He reminds her he’d much rather owe Meg than the mob, but she clearly sees Meg as at least as formidable a foe, at least as far as their marriage is concerned, and it seems she is right to do so. Meg agrees to Ike’s terms and then some, but in doing so, she finally makes her feelings toward him unquestionable. When she tells him she’ll be a good partner and he says, “I know you,” she immediately lays a passionate kiss on him and says, “No, Ike, you really don’t know me at all.” The words left unspoken: “But you will.” Still, it seems notable that, when she says, “Good night, partner,” he says, “Good night, Meg.” This hardly seems coincidental. He’s clearly taking Vera’s words to heart.
The Danny/Mercy relationship comes to an abrupt conclusion with one passionate kiss from Antonio, although Danny’s so caught up in being smitten with Judi Silver that the only way he might’ve jumped in to save the relationship is if he’d known she was pregnant…though, of course, that’s not an issue anymore, unfortunately. Watching Vera’s face fall when she gets the call from Antonio is sad, though not as sad as seeing her waiting outside Stevie’s place at the end of the episode. Given my frustration with the creepiness of the whole stepmother/stepson flirtation, this is one storyline where I don’t know that I’d even want to find out how it was supposed to play out. It’d probably upset me too much.
There’s something less than surprising about seeing one of James Caan’s characters finding himself on the receiving end of a hail of bullets, but at least we didn’t see Sy get stuck at a tollbooth on his way out of Miami. In the end, it was only slightly less surprising that he survived the post-temple ambush, crawled into his car, uttered a final few obscenities (“Benny, you son of a bitch, you’re fucking dead”), turned the ignition, and went up in flames, but it was still a hell of a lot of fun to watch unfold.
The remainder of Magic City’s final episode was predominantly a family affair, highlighted by Ike and his boys. Lily and Stevie decided that if tonight’s the night Ben’s going to take them down, then it’s not going to be without a fight. Stevie and Lily perform for Ben as per usual, with Stevie looking over and making eye contact, but while there’s a disconcerting proud-father look in Ben’s eyes at first, it changes briefly to an “oh-shit” look when Stevie pulls out his gun and shoots up the two-way mirror, sending Ben crashing into the room. Although Ben believes he’s so close to death he tells Stevie, “I forgive you,” making the moment feel more than a little bit patricidal– oopsie!– no more bullets. Lily tells Stevie to make a run for it, holding fast herself, but it looks like Ben’s dead. As we later discover, however, he isn’t. (So where’s Lily? Somewhere off-camera when Vera shows up at Stevie’s place? Guess we’ll never know.)
Danny, meanwhile, loses his shit – and reasonably so – when he discovers Doug’s given the cops the slip, immediately joining a group of officers on their way to Madame Renee’s place. Although we get one last glimpse at how gorgeous Sherilyn Fenn still looks in red, the major lasting image from the scene comes when Doug makes his way upstairs and stabs Judi Silver to death. As a result, Ike returns home from his meeting with Meg to find Danny preparing to skip town, explaining to his father, “I’m afraid I’ll become like you.” Ike tries to defend himself by listing off everything in the “pro” column, but Danny battles back without hesitation, citing his son running a whorehouse first and foremost, and says, “I’m getting as far away from you as I can,” even daring to bring Lauren’s name in the discussion. It goes poorly. In the end, Ike tries to explain that what he does, he does for love. Danny’s response: “Don’t love me.” With that, he hands Ike back the blackjack Judi Silver had kept, tells his dad, “I’m saving myself from you,” and drives away. Ouch.
In the end, Magic City closes its curtain with the revelation that both its hero and villain are still among the living. Ben might be just barely hanging onto life, but he’s still smiling, and that’s never a good thing. Ike, meanwhile, is last seen standing on the beach, drawing his dreams in the sand, possibly finally aware of how easily they can be washed away. As noted, it’s not the best series ending in the world, but it wraps things up with as nice a bow as could’ve been managed, given the lack of knowledge about imminent cancellation at the time the season finale was produced. It’s just a shame to consider how things could’ve gone if Starz would’ve just given the series one more season to play out.
- We never got to say goodbye to Lauren Evans, sadly, but thank God we at least got one more appearance by Arthur Evans. Always a pleasure, Rocco…
- “I’ll tell my father you said ‘hi.’” “I was gonna do that myself.” A chilling exchange between and Ike and Sy.
- Okay, so what’s the significance of Oct. 21, 1958? That’s the page from Ben’s ledger that Ike presented to Sy. It can’t just be some random date. I won’t accept that.
- It’s not completely impossible that creator Mitch Glazer could yet pull a rabbit out of his hat and convince some other network or outlet to present the world with a third season of Magic City. If he doesn’t, though, the guy and his crew really gave us some amazingly beautiful television. No matter what you thought of the show itself, you can’t say it wasn’t gorgeous. If this is it, it’ll truly be missed.