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Mob City Season 1, Episode 2 & 3 Review

Mob City Season 1, Episode 2 & 3 Review

Red Lights‘Reason To Kill A Man‘ and ‘Red Light’

After a gorgeously visualised premiere episode, there was no doubt in my mind that Mob City was going to be an effortlessly cool programme. Built upon Frank Darabont’s clear adoration of the neo-noir style, it never strays far from its roots. Blinking neon signs and low-key lighting cloak everything in a smoky, shadowy haze, whilst the conflicted anti-hero battles demons, both on the streets and close to his heart. You could say it’s all too familiar, with comparisons to the likes of Boardwalk Empire clawing at Darabont’s window, but with a script that uses historical references as a backdrop to complement the main attraction of the stand-out ensemble cast, it’s nothing short of addictive viewing.

The main concern following the first episode was the question of whether Mob City had a soul amidst the seductive struggle for LA. Was there an emotional heart at the stories’ core? After two more episodes it’s still a difficult question to answer. It’s easy to get swept up in the smoke, whiskey and guns that accompany every scene without giving a second thought as to whether there’s substance if you take away the style. Is this Mob City’s secret weapon? To blind us with alluring visuals so we forget about the story? I don’t think it is. And whilst the heart of the series still hasn’t revealed itself, episodes two and three deliver snazzy camera work and plenty of entertainment – leaving very little to complain about.

Episode two, aptly titled Reason To Kill A Man, acts as our proper introduction to femme fatale Jasmine Fontaine – the sharp and aloof girlfriend, or should we say ex-girlfriend, of Simon Pegg’s newly deceased stand-up comedian, Hecky Nash. Ignoring the almost too cliché character name, Jasmine Fontaine is a striking sight to behold, conjuring visions of a less glamorous Ava Gardner or Gene Tierney. Bone structure and perfectly quaffed hair aside, Fontaine is central to the police investigation into Hecky’s death, and even more central to the overall plot than any one of the characters realises at this stage.

After questioning her and coming no closer to finding out what Hecky’s deal with the mob was, the police trail Fontaine and give Joe Teague first duty. Teague watches Fontaine’s movements but fails to report on her suspicious activities. After an old-fashioned, sleuth-like episode, which was a nice homage to connect-the-dots detective dramas, we once again end up in ‘Bunny’s Jungle’ bar, with Joe and mob lawyer Ned Stax. Joe pulls a picture out of his wallet, to Ned’s dismay at him having kept it since their time in the marines. Ned convinces Joe to burn the photo of his ex wife and as the flames lick the paper, we see the faces of Joe and Jasmine – a twist you knew was coming after Joe murdered Hecky in the previous episode. There are many reasons to kill a man, but Teague’s really was for love.

With the secret of Joe and Jasmine’s past relationship still unbeknown to everyone except Ned, episode three provides a more gangster-focused story, with Robert Knepper stealing the spotlight as Sid Rothman. Red Light begins with a flashback to the night Jasmine and Hecky took incriminating photographs of mob-boss Bugsy Siegel committing murder. Back in the present, the police have caught wind of the photographs’ existence, as have the mob, and a hasty search for the elusive images and their photographer begins. Despite Jasmine’s job as a photographer at Mickey Cohen’s ‘The Clover Club’, it doesn’t seem to cross their minds that she could be the culprit. “These were special pictures, not like the type of stuff you take at the club…you’ve got a flash, all you do is press a button. These were taken on a dark street, at night and they still came out. This type of thing would take actual skill”, says Cohen as he quizzes Jasmine. She barely flinches at the put-down, knowing it’s better for these men to think she’s unskilled than to implicate herself. It’s an amusing scene, the first one to really show off Jeremy Luke’s full potential, but is this dismissal of Jasmine merely a sign of the times or a trick to throw us of course? Could Mickey be on to Jasmine after he noticed the red light in her bathroom?

With Jeremy Luke marginally stepping up his game, he is still overshadowed by the presence of Robert Knepper’s Sid, who becomes the prime suspect for a violent double homicide that occurred in episode two. The scene where Sid strolls into the police station for voluntary questioning, and is met by a wall of stunned silence from the force, is priceless. Knepper is a master of his craft and he lights up the screen with his creepy, over-confident manner. When questioned by Joe Teague, Sid has an arsenal of pre-rehearsed answers, going into a spiel about comedians and taunting Joe with the air of someone who knows he’ll never get caught. As much as we hope that good will prevail and the baddies will get their comeuppance, there’s something about Sid that makes you hope he remains at large.

The final scene in Red Light is an ultra stylish cat-and-mouse shoot out between Teague and some of Siegel’s heavies, which takes place on a fairground carousel. Amid wondering how these characters don’t get sick with dizziness, you watch in awe while the camera weaves in and out of the carousel horses as the ride spins round. It would be gimmicky if it weren’t so cool.

Whilst some characters shine, others don’t do justice to the story. Ed Burns’ rat-like Siegel feels too modern for the series and his delivery as the big boss man is unconvincing, leaving his scenes feeling hollow. Not every filmic trick works to the advantage of the series either – the blood splattering on the camera screen in Red Light comes across as a cheap trick, ok if you’re Tarantino but not in keeping with the slick film noir undertone that keeps the series afloat.

With three episodes down and another three to go, Mob City has found its feet but it still needs to find its heart. There’s a complexity buried under the surface, we’re just going to have to act like the mob – get our hands dirty and dig a little deeper – to find it.

★★★★

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