WARNING: spoilers below
Alex Godman (James Norton) is en route to Moscow to make deals that will finally neutralise his nemesis Vadim Kalyagin. What he does not know is that his father Dimitri had arranged a hit on Vadim that went disastrously awry. The assassin’s bullets failed to find their target and killed Kalyagin’s daughter. With his phone on flight mode, Alex is unwittingly marching into the bear’s den.
In its final episode, McMafia ultimately delivered some thrills. From the moment he arrives in Moscow Alex is fighting for his life, using (to borrow a phrase from another thriller) his particular set of skills to survive. But was this too little, too late?
Director James Watkins staged a pivotal chase scene in which Alex is pursued by Vadim and his goons with bitter realism, a little more action ‘sugar’ could reasonably have been expected. Anton Chekhov famously set a rule that a gun introduced in act one of a play has to be fired by the end of act three. So Watkins introducing Alex’s Krav Maga classes in episode 1 only to never have him use these skills in any significant way was baffling.
Alex has been an inscrutable character. Initially the ethical banker, avoiding any dealings or investments in Russia to dodge the taint of corruption. After his dodgy uncle’s murder and a plot to undermine his business, out of ethical waters seemed to be a necessity. In the latter half of the series his descent has accelerated, and frankly, he has never seemed all that conflicted.
McMafia was at its best in this episode. The Godfather-like sequence of Alex dealmaking in an antiseptic office, as his new Russian allies liquidate his competition, was nicely done. His Mexican partners only asked that Alex arrange a meeting. He went much further: “The business I am talking about is worth 300 billion dollars a year. If you’d invested in my fund at launch you’d have doubled your money. An investment with my associates would have given you a 5000% return over the same period.” The business is of course heroin, but where Vadim imported the drug into Russia and his profits came with costs, Alex offers more profits and reduced cost. Russian ports will simply be used as an entry point for the Mexican cartel to flood the European market.
Frustratingly, series one has left many plot threads either hanging or underdeveloped – especially the way cuddly snake-in-the-grass Semiyon Kleiman faded away. When an actor of the calibre of David Strathairn is cast, one would expect something more from this character, especially after Alex’s double cross in episode 5. No doubt this is intended to be picked up again in a second series but the odds on a return seem rather slim.
In the end, while Alex may have claimed that Vadim’s ‘mafia methods’ were outdated, promising a more ethical way of conducting business, his story is that of a gangster. He began the series as a decent person, but in the course of gaining immense power, he has consumed his own soul.
Did you tune in for McMafia episode 8? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below – and read an extract from McMafia here!