Gangs of London Recap: Cement and Glass

Gangs of London

Episode 5
Season 1 Episode 5
Editor’s Rating 4 stars

Gangs of London

Episode 5
Season 1 Episode 5
Editor’s Rating 4 stars
Photo: HBO

At least once while watching each episode of Gangs of London, I murmur to myself, “Is Sean delusional?” It’s a valid question! Joe Cole’s performance is built in the spaces between the character’s myriad identities: his attempt to be hard, like his father Finn; his support for his falling-apart mother Marian and heroin-addicted brother Billy; his desire to gain the respect of Ed and Alex, especially since most everyone seems to think the latter should be running the Wallace crime organization following Finn’s death. All those demands make for a mercurial figure, one who is increasingly throwing logic and reasonability out the window, and that leads me to my recurring “Is Sean delusional?” question.

Shutting down the port and thinking all the crime families would abide by an order to stop doing business: delusional. Killing all those travelers and thinking it would just blow over: delusional. Truly believing that a family dinner would be enough to heal any rift between the Wallaces and the Dumanis: delusional. Hell, the Wallaces are themselves a horror show, and Sean’s leadership isn’t helping.

Director Corin Hardy shoots the concluding minutes of “Episode 4” with a roaming, nightmarish quality, as if we’re all caught in a haunted house together with the Wallaces and the Dumanis. Each room reveals another terror. Elliot’s bleeding body on the kitchen table. Billy shooting up heroin in the dining room. Sean’s refusal to hear Marian’s information about Finn’s affair with the Albanian woman Floriana, and the hundreds of millions that Finn spent in preparing to run away with her. Sean’s inability to see that Alex and Ed not arriving to this ostensibly healing event on time is a message in and of itself. Poor Danny Dumani. He’s started idolizing Elliot, and the man is bleeding out where the kid was just eating dinner. He adores the grandmotherlike Marian, and she couldn’t find anywhere safe to take him in her whole damn palatial house. Marian just had the gall to tell Jackie that Billy and Sean growing up like they did made them tough. How much more of a repudiation to that statement could this scene be?

When “Episode 4” begins, it’s with a happier Wallace/Dumani flashback: Finn, Ed, and Alex are just celebrating Alex’s financial wizardry. He’s just washed 10 billion dirty yen “into cement and glass,” one of the Wallace high-rises that Sean is building that are popping up all over the London skyline. When Finn invites Sean into his office for a tumbler of brown liquor, everyone else is already drunk. Finn is singing Alex’s praises, and sure, he extends some kindness to sons Sean and Billy. But there is a decidedly different tone to how Finn speaks of and to Alex versus how he speaks of and to Sean, and “You do your job well, son,” is not exactly the same as how Finn makes Alex seem like an unparalleled genius. Cole’s performance in this scene makes Sean feel so young — so desperate for approval and praise. “You keep bringing me the numbers, I’ll keep turning them into stone,” he offers with a sheepish smile, but notice that he doesn’t really have an answer to Finn’s “What are you going to do when I’m not here?” Sean doesn’t seem to have ever considered that option, and yet we know that Finn could also mean “not here” in terms of his eventual plan to disappear with Floriana.

To be fair, we don’t know the timeline of any of these scenes quite yet. Maybe this is far before Finn met Floriana, and maybe this is the first time that Alex truly proved his skill at washing a huge amount of money. But where Gangs of London is now, Finn’s advice of “always keep your family close, and everything will work out fine” doesn’t seem like quite enough anymore. With Finn gone, the city’s criminals are getting restless — they think they can hit the Wallaces while they’re weak, not knowing that Sean loathes the perception of weakness more than anything. The Wallace crime organization, thanks to Sean’s restructuring, feels increasingly unstable — there’s no way Asif is going to let Sean’s new partnership with Lale slide, right? And then there’s the growing sentiment from Finn’s primary investors, represented by Jevan, that Alex needs to make good on what he had started with Finn, which was to launder and clean money in new ways. Ed’s look of trepidation when Jevan reveals this to him is interesting indeed. Here is this man who was Finn’s No. 2 for the entirety of their come-up together, and who has no problem ordering assassinations and delivering threats. But there are levels of wealth above the Wallace family, and levels of power, too, and if those people come after Alex — well, Ed would do anything to protect his son, wouldn’t he?

Until we get there, though, Ed is doing whatever he can to protect the sonlike Sean. After a Wallace-protected jewelry store is hit by a group of thieves, Ed sees an opportunity to test his suspicions about “exactly who or what” Elliot is. I was wrong in my theory last week — Ed did not send Elliot to retrieve Lale’s sister and nieces from the assassin Cole. Elliot did that on his own, and his protection has raised eyebrows. So Ed tracks down Elliot’s father, threatens them both, and puts Elliot under the purview of the suspicious Mark. And when Mark learns that Elliot served in Afghanistan, he sees that as even further evidence that Elliot is actually a cop, since most former military men either say “fuck the system or go further in,” as Mark puts it. We’ve seen that Elliot has chosen the latter. But does getting mixed up with Shannon and caring for her son Danny — so clearly stand-ins for his dead wife Naomi and dead son Samuel, killed in a car accident — maybe make Elliot more willing to ditch his police mission and break bad?

While Elliot has to deal with Mark, Ed comes clean to Alex about those photos Luan shared: They’re of an entire family Finn ordered to be killed in Albania, including a 12-year-old boy. If Luan did this, Luan claims, Finn would wash a half-billion pounds for him — and neither Ed nor Alex knew anything about it. Luan expects the two of them and Sean to follow through on the deal (more later on that concluding sniper attack during their meeting), but as we know, this isn’t the only secret Finn was keeping. “Quiet, in her 20s, Eastern European,” and highly pregnant Floriana was a pretty big one. But it doesn’t sound like Serwa is tracking Floriana for Marian, does it? Whoever she’s investigating, “he’s been a very busy boy.” Is Marian investigating Sean, her own son? Or has she maybe picked up on Alex’s aspirations regarding the business?

But hey! Floriana is alive! The reveal that Floriana was kidnapped and is being held hostage by people smart enough not to give her utensils to use as weapons is as major as that sniper attack on the Luan/Sean meeting, which spills into the aforementioned “Jackie performing a bullet extraction on Elliot before the plates are even cleared” scene. Did Luan plan the sniper attack? At first, I thought so: Notice that Luan set the meeting location in that misty alley, and Luan only brought a few men, while Sean brought so much muscle. What did Luan know that Sean didn’t? Plus, it’s pretty clear that the sniper is going after Sean and all of his men. I don’t think anyone from Luan’s cohort dies, whereas Mark’s head explodes all over Sean’s face. In fact, it seems like everyone Wallace-related dies in that scene except for Elliot, who saves Sean’s life and takes a bullet for him, and thief Tony (David Avery), who saw Mark handcuffing Elliot and follows them to the Luan/Sean meeting. What’s Tony’s deal?

On the flip side, though, what benefit does it serve Luan to kill Sean? He’s still owed money by the Wallace organization. He still needs them to be able to wash Mosi’s money. No, I tend to think someone else tracked that meeting, and someone else opened fire on Sean, and someone else infiltrated the catering staff and tried to kill him once he got back home. Maybe someone related to the 20 travelers he killed? Maybe someone sent by Asif? Maybe the people holding Floriana? Whoever it is, they have rattled Sean deeply; consider how childish he sounds when he asks, “Who’s doing this to us, Ed?” The Wallaces and Dumanis assessing themselves in the broken mirror is a little on the nose as a closing shot, but these final few minutes go for impact: Elliot’s bloody-hand smear on Jackie’s dress over her bump; the rapid zoom-in to a pair of pliers being plunged into the bullet hole in Elliot’s torso. The Wallaces are under attack, and “Episode 4” brings the threat home.

As Long As You Comply

• Alex saves Sean’s life at the end of this episode by shooting the server before she can shoot Sean, and I would think something like that puts a man in your debt, no?

• This week’s moment of Sean delusion: “Dad would have loved this!” about the dinner party. Actually? I do not think he would!

• No fight scenes this week, but Raheem (Shaq B. Grant) et al.’s attack on the jewelry store was executed very well, in particular the billowing smoke obscuring our vision before the scene jumped outside to the thief waiting outside on their bike, and then came back in to more smashed windows and grabbed gems. The same goes for the thieves-torture scene — I watched through my fingers once Mark forced Elliot to wield that hammer.

• The song playing while the Wallaces and Dumanis were celebrating, in Sean’s memory: “The Tramp Song,” by British group Conspirators — the lead singer of which just happens to be episode director Corin Hardy.

• Is Sean really a “fucking psychopath,” as Raheem and his uncle Barkley (John Agard) discuss? And if so … what would they call Finn, who had an entire Albanian family killed?

• Billy Wallace is this series’s Theon Greyjoy. If you know what I mean, you know what I mean.

• Could Lale end up being a true ally to Sean? I think he’s sincere with her about wanting to build a new cadre of allies for himself that is outside not just Asif, but “the entire old order,” and I think Lale can be honest with him since he knows all her cards at this point. But does Lale owe Sean her loyalty? I think the only way he can secure it is by promising her Asif, and now that Asif knows the two of them are in some sort of alliance, he’s not going to take it lying down. What is his mayoral-candidate son going to do about it?

• Speaking of Nasir: LOL at his speech decrying the Wallace high-rises. Was any of that genuine, or does he know that he can rail against these topics to gain popular traction, and then not have to deliver on any kind of reform because his father is in business with the Wallaces? I’m curious — as I am about Sean’s maybe-amused, maybe-embracing-the-challenge smile while watching Nasir’s press conference.

• “You’re a Wallace. A Wallace! Everything hangs upon our name, you understand?” sounds like something Logan Roy would say.

• Sean watching Jackie work at the hospital was some very cute brother/Uncle Seanie pride. Again, Cole looks so young in scenes like this, which hammers home the transformative quality of his anger.

• I can appreciate that Luan’s wife is working some real Lady Macbeth energy, but Mosi doesn’t exactly seem like the kind of guy you screw over.

• Are the same people who are holding Floriana threatening Vicky? Also: You’re a police officer investigating some of the most dangerous criminals in London and you don’t have better home security?!

• Where is Floriana being held that has both a sizable aquarium and an ancient-seeming basement?

Gangs of London Recap: Cement and Glass