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McMafia recap – series one, episode eight

The Guardian logo The Guardian 11/02/2018 David Stubbs
© BBC/Cuba/Nick Wall

Coming into this final episode, it wasn’t easy to predict in what manner it would resolve matters. Was Alex hurtling towards personal tragedy? Would there be a violent crescendo, involving multiple, fearsome players including Kleiman and the Mexicans? Would Vadim, with nothing left to lose, unleash hell? In the event, it did not pan out as spectacularly as that. There was a strange inevitability about this last episode, its lessons twofold - that power is temporary and that those who seek it are weakened, rather than strengthened by family ties.

Indeed, family can be a downright liability as Alex finds when he arrives in Moscow. He’s immediately detained, on the orders of Ilya, and it’s not looking good for our boy as he sits in a latrine-like cell, warned by Ilya to tell him who he is in Moscow to visit. Alex tries to match menace with menace, warning Ilya that the people he is here to see will notice if he goes missing - but it’s clear that Vadim holds him responsible for his daughter’s death and when he’s taken out of airport custody, bundled into a paddywagon and spirited into the night, it seems his situation is grave indeed. 

© BBC/Cuba/Nick Wall

Alex manages to escape just as the airport officials are about to turn him over to Vadim and his henchmen and a subway chase ensues. Vadim misses the train his men are scouring the carriages for but like a highly sensitive feline mouser senses Alex has not boarded it either. A further chase follows, the tension diminished by our knowing it’s too early in the show for a fateful showdown and Alex escapes up a stairwell. On the streets, his phone confiscated, he borrows one from a Russian woman and finally calls Dimitri who brokenly tells him he ordered a hit on Vadim which ended up killing his daughter. He suppresses any urge to scream “You silly old, vodka-soused, philandering, clapped out fool, what did you think you were playing at?” This is Alex and Dimitri, not Steptoe and Son.

At the Embassy, however, when he tells Oleg he ordered the hit, and Oleg says he can no longer assist Alex, there is still just enough menace about Dimitri to make his threat to “destroy” Oleg if he doesn’t help, to hold sway. Oleg eventually tells Dimitri his friend is still prepared to meet Alex. Dimitri arranges for Alex to meet Joseph and he takes him to the apartment of Lyudmilla and her mother, where he has been staying. Joseph tells him his father asked him to drive him to the Ukranian border. “Not yet,” says Alex.

© BBC/Cuba/Nick Wall

Ilya’s exasperation with Vadim grows when, having delivered Alex, he failed to pick him up. Now he is refusing his calls, only for Vadim to storm into his office and threaten Irina. But the odds are increasingly stacked against him. The wind has changed. In London, Rebecca is released from hospital. Katya and Femi meet her, as does Antonio, bearing flowers. Later, alone with Rebecca, Katya makes the case for her brother, whose only wish is to protect his family. Rebecca isn’t buying it.

Alex finally meets Oleg’s Russian contact, one Grigory Mishin (Danila Kozlovsky). Alex lays out his proposition - to go into business with the Mexicans. Grigory has him meet the mysterious committee who will make a decision based on numbers and his presentation. In a glassy meeting room, we cut between Vadim at Natasha’s funeral and silent footage of Alex making his case to a table of grey suits, an anonymous collective on whom all hinges. We learn that Alex has convinced them, after which things move quickly. First, Vadim’s bodyguard is killed in a ride-by shooting. Then Ilya is bundled into a van. Finally, an attempt is made on Vadim’s life as he leaves the funeral. He is shot in the belly but manages to drive away.

© BBC/Cuba/Nick Wall

Ilya, who is under pressure to give Vadim up, receives a call from Vadim, who tells him the safe house he is staying at. Ilya knows what he has to do - as does Alex, who meets Ilya at the safe house apartment block. “You don’t have the guts,” says Ilya, one last play for his old friend. Alex enters the apartment. Vadim accepts him calmly, and Ilya’s betryal philosophically.Alex, after a long hesitation, pulls the trigger and another part of him that was soft inside hardens. He has the guts.

Our last glimpses of Alex’s parents are of Dimitri pouring vodka on Boris’s grave and Oksana bonding with Rebecca over her lost child; “you are like a daughter to me.” There’s a tender moment, too, between a departing Joseph and Lyudmilla, the one green shoot of romance to spring from this saga of withered and doomed relationships. Back in Moscow, Alex meets the Cartel leader Alegre with Antonio to discuss terms on behalf of the “people” he now represents. Antonio protests that they’re “unacceptable” but Alex gently suggests Antonio be dismissed from the room. “I work on your behalf, I don’t work for you,” Alex tells Alegre, respectfully. They agree terms.

© BBC/Cuba/Nick Wall

Prior to this, Alex visits the tiny apartment he grew up in, shown round by its present occupiers. It’s highly significant - this is the place that made him - his constructed “Englishness” was a falsehood. He’s a Moscow man now. When asked by the flat owner he replies, with definite inverted commas. “I’m a banker.” He knows who is and what he is. The final frame, as he leaves the conference room, flanked by Joseph and henchmen, a call comes through from Rebecca. He ignores it. Fade to cold, hard white.

© BBC/Cuba/Nick Wall

Additional notes

  • Although there are strong hints of Blair about Alex’s euphemistic patter, in his chiselled fraudulence he also reminds at times of Robert Shaw’s villain Grant in From Russia With Love.
  • Very satisfying when Alex blanks Antonio at the end. He was a creep who was sniffing round his fiancee, but also it’s a telling gesture, telling him just who is pulling the strings now.
  • There’s a recurring football motif tonight. First when Alex strikes up conversation with a young lad about Barcelona and Real Madrid and later in the cordial conversation between Vadim and Alex prior to Vadim’s execution. Vadim is unsurprised when Alex tells him he doesn’t support any particular team. Alex would probably work for Manchester City but not support them.
  • After the harrowing second episode, I was expecting this series to convey more of a sense of the victims of international crime, remind us more of its terrible human consequences. Instead, it focused on family and power play - very compellingly but it feels a little wrong not to show how the evil these people do is not just to each other.

Is this the first and last series? There is the potential for another - new rivals, the return of old faces like Kleiman, unfinished family business - but as with Godfather II, you feel it’s best they finished it here. The story, a not unfamiliar one, of a once reluctant crime boss turning to formidable stone, is wrapped up nicely in these eight episodes. The tale is done.

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