Gangs of London
So goes the Edwards family. So goes father Kinney, who tried so hard to ferry son Darren to safety after he unwittingly assassinated Finn Wallace; who barely survived the massacre that Sean, Ed, and their men inflicted upon his community of Welsh travelers; and who crawled, rode, and snuck his way into rural Welsh farmland to try and protect Darren one last time. It didn’t work. He died an agonizing, awful death, and he did so after watching his beloved Darren — the last of his family, the last of his name — also die an agonizing, awful death.
No moment of “Episode 5” was easy to watch, but holy crap, was this some episode of TV, delivering all the garishness and vulnerability we’ve come to expect from Gangs of London. In one moment, Kinney is pulling what I assume is a tapeworm out of an open, festering gunshot wound on his stomach, tossing it aside, and getting back up to continue his journey to reach Darren. In another scene, he’s flipping over a couch, retrieving a machine gun from a hidden cache, and opening fire on the endless stream of Danish assassins trying to enter the house where he, Darren, and their sparse remaining allies are holed up. Finally, out of ammo, desperate to get Darren to safety, he tells his son that Darren can murder him if he wants—as long as he escapes this hell first. So much anger, sacrifice, and despair; such grand, outsized reactions; so many bullets and so much blood. Gareth Evans, who directed and co-wrote the episode with Matt Flannery, aimed for the jugular with “Episode 5,” and he didn’t miss.
Every episode of Gangs of London serves as a reminder that the people in charge are not messing around: Money, vengeance, and power are corruptive, awful things, and those who hold them will do anything to hold onto them. Anything. “Episode 5” couldn’t make this more clear. Time-wise, the events of this episode take place between “Episode 2,” during which Kinney had met with Sean to ask for mercy for Darren, and Sean retaliated with that very public attack on the travelers, and “Episode 4,” during which Floriana was revealed to be alive and held hostage, the meeting between Sean and Luan ended in that sniper attack, and the waitress at Sean’s family dinner tried to kill him before being shot by Alex.
You have to do some backward mental gymnastics, but now we know that Floriana’s captor and the sniper trying to kill Sean in “Episode 4” were both Leif (Mads Koudal) and the waitress was his professional partner Tove (Laura Bach), who ended up with her brains splattered on the floor of the Wallaces’ fancy home. And now we know who Jevan, who seemingly appeared out of nowhere to represent the interests of investors aligned with Finn and now hopeful that Alex will take over, meant at the end of “Episode 5” when he tells Leif that he has another “son” he needs the Danish assassin to take care of. Jevan is trying to kill Sean and secure the throne for Alex to please his investor clients, and that leads me to wonder: Did he kill Finn, too? In what phenomenal ways is Alex laundering money for these people that they would go to such lengths to secure his place at the top spot? Does none of the ensuing chaos bother them — shouldn’t the destabilization of the Wallace crime enterprise be a problem for their long-term interests? And, I ask this sincerely: Is Ed going to let this happen?
We’ve never seen Ed afraid of anything, but I think Jevan unnerved him in “Episode 4” during that mansion party, when he basically forced Ed out of the house and separated him from Alex. Of course, a crime organization needs investors to function; they provide the cash that leads to Sean’s shiny high-rises dotting the London skyline, and probably help grease the pockets that give the Wallace organization access to the piers and ports and moles within the police department. But if Jevan (assuming that he organized the hit) was willing and able to take out Finn and then abduct and hold his girlfriend, and then willing and nearly able to take out Sean as his heir apparent, well — what would keep him from eventually killing Alex if he did something with which the investors did not agree? What could Ed do then, if anything?
That’s all speculative, of course. “Episode 5,” though, is pretty literal. It begins with a little bit of backstory: Darren and Ioan venture into a forest, find a tree marked for Darren, and then dig up a canister with a gun hidden inside. How unhappy are they, living among their Welsh traveler families? Unhappy enough that Darren takes this assassination job; “One shot, and it will pay for everything. We can get away from all of them. Just us,” he says to Ioan. We all know how that turned out. Now in the present day for this episode, which is the morning after Sean’s attack, Darren is hiding out in a farmhouse in Wales, being tended to by Kinney’s man Mel (Richard Harrington), and the woman whose house this is, bullet manufacturer Evie (Caroline Lee Johnson). In coming days, Evie’s husband Albert (Ioan Hefin) will take Darren further away on his boat, and all Darren needs to do is wait. Stay away from the windows, stop complaining about the fact that Evie doesn’t have Wi-Fi, don’t go out on any walks or up to the local pub — just wait.
Meanwhile, back at the compound, Kinney is wounded in the woods, having dragged himself up into the trees before the kerosene tanks went and the place basically burned to the ground. He watches as Leif and Tove, two mercenaries in all black, get out and start surveying the place with their basset hound. They exhibit military precision, and their guns are mighty big, and they find Kinney’s cell phone with text messages from Darren on it. Once Kinney realizes that the Danes know where Darren is, it’s basically a race to Wales, and he’s a man possessed. He stuffs dirt and leaves into his torso wound (please, I cannot think about the worm again, do not make me); he steals a car and rifle by sneaking into a farmer’s barn and holding a knife to his throat; he uses a staple gun to close up his bullet holes (please, I cannot think about the squelching again, do not make me). And despite all that effort, he essentially leads the Danes straight to Darren — that vertigo-inducing overhead shot beginning at Frank’s bar and following Kinney along that mile-long route to Evie’s was beautifully done by Edwards, and a declarative shift. The siege was about to begin, and that shot prepared us for it.
Well, let me amend that: Could anything really prepare us for what was about to go down outside, inside, on top of, and underneath that house? The hoarse, shattered way Evie repeats “Finn. Finn?”, and the obliteration of her children’s bodies (“Mom, please” will haunt me for a while) once the Danes crest over that ridge. The ladder the mercenaries throw up against the house, and the meticulous way they remove the stone roof tiles, one by one, to insert their bombs. EVANS’S CAMERA DROPPING FROM THE ROOF TO THE ATTIC, following the rappelling Danes as they explode their way into the house and begin exchanging fire with Mel and one of Evie’s soon-to-be-killed sons, Musa (Jordan Peters). Mel, coughing up blood, pitching himself out a window to drop a backpack with a grenade in it onto the mercenaries below, and then the slow-motion disintegration of the Danes’ bodies—first a hand, then an arm, then a torso, then a head exploding into blood. It was gnarly, and it was relentless, and when Evie said to Darren, “Be worth it, boy,” I really thought they were somehow, in some way, going to make it out.
But then I remembered something Jamie Hector’s Marlo Stanfield said during the fourth season of The Wire: “You want it to be one way, but it’s the other way.” Kinney wants his son to live, wants it so badly that he would allow all these other people to die, and then sacrifice himself. Darren just wants to mourn Ioan, forget all this, and settle down somewhere with a family of his own. Neither of them gets what they want, and Kinney’s delusional encouragement of Darren as they both lie there on that dock, bleeding and broken, left a bitter taste: “Come on, boy. Stay strong.” You want it to be one way, but it’s the other way. What other ways does Jevan have in store?
As Long as You Comply
• Before I watched this season, people kept telling me to “just wait” for the siege episode, and well damn, they were not wrong.
• The siege was full of visually enthralling stuff — again, that camera dropping from one floor to the next! — but I think my favorite moment of the episode might have been in Frank’s pub bathroom, with Tove’s lover in one stall and Kinney in the other, both of them intently listening at the wall to see if the other moved. A quietly effective moment, with each of them ready to strike if the opportunity arose.
• I know that Darren and Ioan are described in all the press materials for Gangs of London as “friends,” but yeah, I picked up on something more there.
• Evie’s advice of “Read a book, play the piano … do something other than fucking mope” could apply to a lot of situations, actually, not just, “Yeah, your dad ordered the murder and dismemberment of your best friend/maybe lover, get over it.”
• I will now only say the Danish word “flanke” instead of the English “flank”; that little e on the end just makes it sound better. Adds a sophisticated vibe to the danger at hand!
• Speaking of: All those Danish assassins hanging around in faux-hiking gear in Frank’s pub felt like the worst beginning ever to an REI Adventures outing.
• Darren begging Evie to let him stay, and then begging Kinney to take Evie with them as they fled: that poor kid.