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McMafia recap – series one, episode two

McMafia … are Alex’s plans going up in smoke?
McMafia … are Alex’s plans going up in smoke? Photograph: Nick Wall/BBC/Cuba

‘In Russia they kill you because when you start on that path you become an enemy for life. Two years pass. Four. Ten. Sooner or later your enemies come for you’ – Dimitri Godman

Tonight, we see the cruelty underlying what is euphemistically known in the underworld as the “entertainments” industry. Travel hopping once more, we visit Cairo, but what follows there will not be scenic. A young woman, Lyudmilla, a beauty therapist, has arrived to work in the city. She is met by two affable young men who say they have been sent to take her to her hotel. We can see where this is going before Lyudmilla does. It’s only when she is in the back of the cab, afforded a brief glimpse of the pyramids, that she realises the car is heading away from the town centre. She is dropped off at some squalid industrial unit. “These men will take you now,” says the driver and to her horror she is bundled into the back of a windowless van by armed men, traffickers, along with other terrified female victims of a similar age.

The convoy makes various stop offs; in a stony gully in the Sinai desert and then at an encampment, where one of the Bedouin traffickers emerges from a tent following a rape. The victim, seething, tearful, attempts a dash for freedom only to be caught, shot in both knees and left behind as the convey vrooms off. They reach the Egypt-Israel border for yet another transfer. Finally, Lyudmilla is presented to Kaiman, who treats her with the sort of ostensible kindliness with which Jonathan Pryce excelled as High Sparrow in Game of Thrones.

Does bereavement nourish or harden the heart?

McMafia takes on sex trafficking.
McMafia takes on sex trafficking. Photograph: Nikola Predovic/BBC/Cuba

Back in the UK, Dimitri is driving the family out to Boris’s house, to deal with estate agents. Alex gently suggests to his father that someone else drive, looking on as the old man swigs from a plastic water bottle clearly brimful with vodka. But Dimitri has enough of his wits about him to swerve off the motorway abruptly, having had his eye on a car he believes is tailing them. At the house, Alex disappears to the basement and finds a cache of surveillance photographs of Vadim.

Vadim himself is in conference with Ilya. He believes that Boris had neither the brains or money to organise a hit on him. Ilya notes that some of Vadim’s Russian rivals are feeling emboldened by the attack; one, Gromov, even named his dog after him. Later, Vadim will visit Gromov and take the dog from him as a “gift”. Then a montage, as we see Vadim at the grave of a departed loved one as Alex makes a pilgrimage to Boris’s fresh grave. Does bereavement nourish or harden the heart?

To Mumbai, where Kaiman is negotiating with Dilly Mahmood, a young would-be rival of Mr Chopra, AKA the city god. He offers him $500,000 a month to outbid Chopra in bribing local officials. Mahmood demurs and leaves the table but Kaiman realises this is mere haggling: “This is the land of the ‘no’.” Sure enough, Mahmood finds a pretext to return and accepts an improved offer.

Alex Godman … does he know he’s dancing with the devil?
Alex Godman … does he know he’s dancing with the devil? Photograph: Nick Wall/BBC/Cuba

Back in London, one of Alex’s co-workers at Godman’s is looking over Kaiman’s file with some concern about potential conflicts of interest. Alex suggests Kaiman isn’t too problematic and casually mentions an investment idea of his that isn’t suitable for the main fund. Out of sight of pesky ethical queries, he sets up a payment of €600,000 to Parminder Advisory Services, dispatched with a discreet mouse-click to the Cayman Islands. This is at once dispersed by Dilly and his street cohorts around Mumbai, less discreetly, in brown paper envelopes. Later, premises are found for Mahmood affording him a bird’s eye view of Chopra’s day-to-day dealings.

Kaiman continues to work on Alex, persuading him on familial grounds; the best way to get to his uncle’s killer is to destroy Vadim. He asks him to pose as his lawyer in Prague, where he is to meet a Mr Reznik, who operates a business running counterfeit goods in a former tractor factory. Reznik, however, is a crashing boor, an offence to Kaiman’s professorial sensibilities, first demanding €5m to show Kaiman is “serious”, then falling out with him in a restaurant: “Get this old Jew out of my sight.” He’s also reluctant to take on the Russians in Prague.

Fortunately, his frustrated deputy, ex-policeman Karel Benes (Karel Roden), sees what his boss does not and, at the airport, Alex sees that Benes sees it. He tells Benes they can do business with him. This is Reznick’s death warrant; his own henchmen drag across his apartment floor late at night and throw him to his doom. As Reznik falls involuntarily, we cut to London, where Dimitri has hurled himself off a roof of his own free will. It has been coming.

The vodka and homesickness that were physically ruining him have been compounded by his brother’s death, a reminder of his impotence. We now know that it was Vadim who ran him out of Russia (along with Kaiman) – the lives of his family were only spared at the suggestion of Ilya. But now his behaviour is alienating his wife. After one heartbreaking call to Alex, and sensing that his continued existence is endangering his family, he jemmies his way on to the rooftop once more. He falls – but survives. He’s even able to hold a conversation with Alex. What’s wrong, he asks his son? “Nothing,” lies Alex.

Dimitri Godman … lost and alone.
Dimitri Godman … lost and alone. Photograph: Nick Wall/BBC/Cuba

Additional notes

  • Vadim now has a dog called Vadim. An intimidating gesture is an intimidating gesture but surely the confusion, along with the hound’s habit of biting, must make the game not worth the candle?
  • There’s a lovely bit of sound mixing as the whimpers of trafficked women merge with the chortles around the table at Rebecca’s dinner party.
  • The loud music of which Dimitri’s fellow residents are complaining includes Status Quo’s Whatever You Want. Sympathetic as Dimitri is in this episode, you have to be with his neighbours on this one.
  • First Vadim’s survival, then Dimitri’s; the message appears to be that Russians are made of durable stuff. Boris seems almost soft to have succumbed to a mere gashed throat.
  • Sydney Bloom, “ethical banker”, turns out to have made his money just as ruthlessly as anyone. Rebecca’s “caring capitalism” speech from episode one sounds even more hollow.
  • What’s the deal with Masha, Alex’s ex, back on the scene? Is Alex fully conscious of the extent to which he is dancing with the devil? Are Chopra’s days as god of Mumbai numbered? And will Dimitri succeed in his quest to top himself?
This article titled "McMafia recap – series one, episode two" was written by David Stubbs, for on Tuesday 2 January 2018 10.00pm

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