Look how they massacred my boy!
I will admit to you: When Elliot shot Sean in the face, I screamed. I am a wimp! I did not expect Sean to get a bullet in the face, in a death so similar to that which befell his father, Finn! I did not anticipate that Elliot would let his few-weeks-long relationship with Shannon and Danny drive him into the clutches of the mysterious white people who seem to run the entirety of the U.K.’s (and maybe a chunk of the world’s?) shady financial dealings! I did not think Jevan would die in such a gruesome way, or that Nasir would die in such a gruesome way! Silly me. I thought that because Gangs of London has a second season on the way, we could expect most of these characters to survive. But director Corin Hardy and writer Claire Wilson sure did clear the board, didn’t they?
Yes, the cleaver scene, the attack on the travelers’ compound, and the siege (probably still my pick for the best episode of the season) were also egregious acts of violence. But crucifixions, cut-out tongues, and bullets to the face and stomach — all of the deaths in this finale were intimate and personal, loaded with the histories, anxieties, and frustrations of the entire first season of Gangs of London. I know I just said that I was surprised by all the killing in this final episode. If I step back, though, so many of these developments make sense. Of course Sean would die in the way Finn did; he’s spent the majority of his season chasing his father’s shadow. Of course Elliot would do whatever to protect Shannon and Danny; the deaths of his wife and son were what propelled him forward into chasing a big case. I don’t think nailing the Wallaces, in particular, ever mattered to Elliot. He just needed somewhere to put his energy after his world was destroyed by the loss of his family.
The same goes for Sean — did he really ever think he was going to run the Wallace organization? I have gone back and forth on this all season (which, yes, is I think a result of inconsistent writing). Sean may have been hot-tempered, and he may have been too worshipful of his father. But he also saw how close Finn and Alex Dumani were. He must have noticed the way Finn, Ed, and Alex all kept him at arm’s length. Build the Wallace skyscrapers, and stay out of the way. Never touch the money. Never meet with the partners alone. Finn set Sean up to fail, and although Sean’s heel turn in the penultimate episode was definitely rushed, parts of it felt right emotionally. If Sean couldn’t be the top guy, he would destroy everyone he could. And the way of this world — one in which the investors are the ultimate evil, the face of British old-money doing whatever they want to whomever they want — was that Irish immigrant and young tough Sean Wallace was always going to die. He is Sonny Corleone, and remember what happened to Sonny Corleone? Look how they massacred my boy.
The episode begins with a focus on Elliot, and with a childhood experience that shaped the man he would become. “Pawns can’t be kings,” his father says, but what they can be is “free.” But it’s not freedom that drives Elliot’s father to take that fall, is it? The man needs money, and financial survival is more important than maintaining his name or his reputation. Who cares when you need to put food on the table and a roof over your family’s head? Wouldn’t you do whatever you could to make those things possible?
So Elliot’s father took the fall in the boxing ring. And now in his adulthood, we open with Elliot seemingly being set up to take the fall for something, too. Why is he being questioned by Joseph (Cornell S. John), who is some kind of anti-terrorism official? Elliot had nothing to do with Sean blowing up the Wallace tower, so why is he even being accused of terrorism? What happened at the Hotel Reno, and why were cops shooting at Elliot? Who’s in the body bags? Does anyone know he’s being held? All of those questions are thrown out before we shift back in time by one day, and the episode continues forward by jumping back and forth between these time periods. Let’s go linearly to keep things straightforward.
The tower that Sean blew up is of course major news, dominating headlines and landing a major disaster in newly elected Mayor Nasir Afridi’s lap. “I will do everything in my power to protect this city from harm,” Nasir says, which, lol, good luck, buddy! Everyone mobilizes: Harks tells Vicky to cut Elliot loose and find another way to bring in the Wallaces without him. Marian thinks she can convince Ed to spare Sean, which of course doesn’t work. (The gall of Marian to say, “For Christ’s sake, Ed, we’re family” — woman, you were there when your son shot this father figure in the leg!) Alex then takes a shot at persuading Sean to meet up, lying and saying that the investors want to meet face to face. And Elliot is desperate to find Sean, too, although he doesn’t know that Sean’s hackers unlocked the dead Anthony’s phone and found out all about them both being undercover police.
Murders start happening very quickly then! Jevan — his Ross Gellar–like hair now so mussed! — is told by investor representatives Mr. Jacob (Tim McInnerny) and Ms. Kane (Amanda Drew) in their magical roaming limo that his “time has run out.” Getting thrown out of a window and impaled on a wrought-iron fence is a hell of a way to go. Lale, looking sort of like a Noomi Rapace impersonator in that blond wig, manages to cut out Nasir’s tongue during a meeting where she poses as a journalist, and leaves his body for father Asif to find. (More on that in my bullet points.) Shannon refuses to turn against her family and murders Vicky after basically admitting to murdering Danny’s abusive father, too. Ed shoots Marian before she shoots him. There are a lot of pieces in play here, and a lot of them fall.
That leaves us with the final showdowns between Sean and Elliot, and then Alex and Sean, and then Alex, Sean, and Elliot, and frankly, I don’t love how the episode handled these. Gangs of London has increasingly played around with its timeline in the back half of the season, and I can understand the narrative shock value of showing us Elliot in custody, getting waterboarded and tortured and being accused of some vague crime as a way to heighten the episode’s tension. But as soon as we saw Elliot get into that limo, there was an implication that something compromising was going to happen, right? I wasn’t sure if Elliot was going to be tasked with killing or capturing Sean, or even turning on Alex, but I think it was a narrative mistake to reveal that Elliot met with Mr. Jacob and Ms. Kane before what would turn out to be his final meeting with Sean.
Elliot and Sean’s argument about power and criminality — Elliot complaining that “different rules apply” for people like Sean; Sean mocking Elliot’s “righteous mission” to bring down the Wallaces — would have been more impactful, I think, if we didn’t know Elliot had already made some kind of deal with the investors. Why not let that scene entirely play out, then go back to the torture scene, then have the nurse whisper in Elliot’s ear, then have Elliot claim diplomatic Panamanian immunity and fend off Joseph, and then fill in the backstory with a final closing flashback? Of course, we would all wonder who had enough power to get Elliot out of the bind, and the answer probably would have been obvious. But at least that reveal would land after we see Elliot shoot Sean in the face, rather than tipping us toward some kind of expectation along those lines before the scene even occurs.
Still, Joe Cole, Paapa Essiedu, and Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù all put in good work in those minutes: Dìrísù’s resentment and bitterness, Essiedu’s desperation and doubt, and Cole’s sneering confidence and smug bombast. The strong grasp these actors have on these characters helps abate the damage of the preceding editing choices, and that John Wick–like escape scene through the SWAT-stormed nightclub was thrilling, too. And in the moment, Sean’s murder, which felt like a real “Wait, they’re really going to behead Ned Stark?” homage, was appropriately shocking. My man really thought he was going to get out alive, but I suppose it is the most gangster-genre truism that anyone in this world can die. Any king can fall. Any nobody can become somebody. “We’re nothing like our fathers, Alex,” Sean had said, but that’s not quite true, is it? Sean is dead, like Finn. Alex is attached at the hip to people more powerful and more tempestuous than he, as Ed was to Finn. The only pawn who became a king was Elliot, and who can say if that microchip is the leverage he thinks it is? Elliot might not have taken a fall in the ring, but he made a choice, and now he has to live with it until the end of his days. You don’t just get to leave a criminal enterprise, and that might eventually be a lesson Elliot learns the hard way — as Finn and Sean Wallace both did. Like father, like son.
As Long as You Comply
• So … where does season two of Gangs of London go? Is Elliot the new Ed, and Alex the new Finn? Does Shannon fully join the Dumani criminal enterprise now that she’s shown what she’s capable of? What is Marian’s role, if any; is Floriana really going to help her, or hurt her? Does Billy make good on his threat and come back to London to try to get revenge against Elliot for killing Sean? Or do we get a 20-year time jump and do something Boardwalk Empire style, with Finn’s other child going after the Dumanis and Elliot?
• Consider the dialogue exchange between Ed and Marian on that cemetery bench. Ed said, “Finn Wallace charmed us all to death,” and Marian replied, “And you chose him. You broke my heart.” Is this an “Ed and Marian had a relationship” suggestion? Wouldn’t it make sense that Ed would choose Finn over Marian in any other circumstance, since they were business partners and decades-long friends?
• The Sean and Lale sex scene wasn’t entirely necessary, but yes, I enjoyed it. Two hot people standing too close together always means they are going to kiss! It is an unbeaten pop-culture formula!
• Speaking of Lale: I can buy every single murder in this episode, but nothing about the Nasir scene passes the logic test. This man was just elected mayor of London! Some woman shows up as a journalist with an unscheduled meeting and no one asks for, like, a media credential? No one sits in on the interview? She was able to cut out his tongue while they sat on a balcony overlooking, and in the middle of, a celebratory party? He didn’t scream, or resist? I DO NOT UNDERSTAND.
• My final Lale point: Don’t keep her in Kurdistan! Bring Narges Rashidi back for season two!
• I definitely thought at the end of the previous episode that Sean had blown up Wallace headquarters and killed Alex. I suppose blowing up the tower that his father trusted him to build was also impactful, but the editing was a little misleading, no?
• I really love that Billy’s secret above-club art studio was full of paintings of himself.
• Why didn’t Elliot grab Anthony’s phone last episode? Cradling that man’s horribly tortured body was obviously highly traumatic, but the cell phone was sort of key!
• Olivier Richters, who played Elliot’s torturer Duncan, is 7’2”! What an absolutely gigantic man! He has a supporting role in Eli Roth’s upcoming adaptation of Borderlands, which makes sense.
• A good line: “These people will never see the inside of a prison, Elliot. They build them.” Eat your heart out, Adam McKay and Aaron Sorkin!
• Thank you for reading my recaps this season!