Last week, I chimed in on how disappointing the premiere of ‘Mob City’ turned out to be. As it turns out, viewers were equally unimpressed, as the pilot and second episode (which aired back-to-back) were only able to pull in about 2.3 million viewers. Those are disappointing numbers, even for cable TV, and the drop-off is sure to be larger when this week’s ratings are revealed. Television shows usually only get one chance to impress. Yet with almost assuredly a smaller audience for Episodes 3 and 4, ‘Mob City’ actually gets better this week. The question now, however: Is anyone still watching?
Series show-runner Frank Darabont directs Episode 3, entitled ‘Red Light’, and I don’t think there’s any argument that it’s the best of the four installments that have aired so far. It begins with a flashback involving Bugsy (Edward Burns), Sid (Robert Knepper) and the two fellas who were killed in the restaurant by Sid at the end of the previous episode. They’re staking out Abe Greenberg, and Bugsy gets so annoyed with his two henchmen in the back seat of their car that he decides to show them what a real man is by doing the hit on Greenberg himself. Little does he know, however, that Jasmine and Hecky (Alexa Davalos and Simon Pegg) are hiding in a nearby car, with Jasmine taking pictures of the assassination. Now we know exactly what was on those photographs that Hecky used to extort money from Sid in the first episode.
Police chief Parker (Neal McDonough) and his detectives are investigating the murder at the restaurant. They round up the usual suspects, hoping that someone will spill the beans about who whacked the two henchmen. Sid eventually walks right in, offering himself for questioning. The cops have both the busboy (played by Gordon Clapp from ‘NYPD Blue’) – who actually let Sid into the restaurant but is covering for him – and a female patron of the restaurant ready to ID him in a lineup. While the busboy refuses to ID anyone, the woman does – although she mistakenly fingers one of the detectives instead of Sid.
Joe Teague (Jon Bernthal) – who becomes more of a supporting character in this week’s episodes, to the benefit of the series – pays his ex-wife Jasmine a visit at her apartment to see if he can get a little more information about what she’s involved in. While there, Mickey Cohen shows up for his own round of questioning, forcing Joe to hide in the closet. Mickey wants to know who took those incriminating photos of Bugsy. He believes they had to have been taken by a professional, or at least that a professional showed Hecky how to take them. Jasmine plays innocent, but when Mickey asks to use the bathroom, he flips the wrong switch and turns on a red light, revealing that Jasmine has been using the bathroom as a darkroom to develop photos. When he comes back out to talk to Jasmine some more, Sid arrives at the apartment and tells Mickey that they’ve found the busboy and are about to take him out. Teague overhears this and races to save him.
In the best sequence we’ve seen so far on ‘Mob City’, Teague has to save the busboy from being killed at an amusement park. The last ten minutes of Episode 3 have Teague, the busboy and three Mob henchmen chasing each other on a merry-go-round, as Teague has to eliminate the bad guys one-by-one. It’s a scene worthy of any theatrical film, and it’s a shame something this good couldn’t have been incorporated into the pilot where a larger audience could have seen it. After all the shooting has stopped, the three henchmen are dead, and the busboy is (safely?) under police protection.
Episode 4 (entitled ‘His Banana Majesty’) begins with Chief Parker and his boys in blue arresting Bugsy at the airport for the murder of Abe Greenberg. Parker receives a surprise, however, when he learns that Bugsy has managed to get his arraignment hearing moved up to the next day, and Parker has barely 24 hours to gather all the evidence he needs to make the charges stick. He informs his detectives that they need to track down Sid, as he’s the only man who will be able to finger Bugsy for the murder.
With Bugsy behind bars, a rival mob run by gangster Jack Dragna decides that it’s a great time to make a move against Siegel. He starts taking over gambling operations around town, starting with an African American-run operation headed up by club-owner Bunny (Ernie Hudson, who makes an all-too-brief cameo at episode’s end).
This entry also spends a great deal of time on Jasmine’s problems. She’s being stalked by an old associate of Hecky’s who demands that she pay him his share of the blackmail deal that resulted in Hecky’s death. Jasmine finally gets some money after a generous offer from Bugsy’s lawyer Ned Stax (Milo Ventimiglia), but when she tries to pay the guy off, he reveals that he has discovered that Hecky got paid much more than he was originally told. Now he wants the full $50,000 from Jasmine.
Mickey Cohen finally puts a stop to the Dragna gang by visiting their headquarters and making… ahem… a rather creative use of the ol’ “banana in the tailpipe” trick. Last week, I mentioned that there was little on ‘Mob City’ that couldn’t be aired on network TV, but I’m guessing this little bit would not have made it past the network censors. Still, it’s nice to see that Mickey has a dark side as well. Up until now, his most notable trait has been his OCD over keeping his hands clean.
Episode 4 wraps up with Teague returning home to find Sid waiting for him with a sawed-off shotgun. After disarming Teague, Sid knocks him out and this week’s presentation comes to a close.
Isn’t it frustrating how many shows get better after their first few episodes and, of course, after most of the audience has tuned out? ‘Mob City’ is measurably a much better series this week. Yet it’s almost assured at this point that it won’t come back next year. What did everyone else think? Do you agree that the show was much improved this week over last?