The stage was set for an explosive McMafia finale – but it never quite detonated

After such a promising penultimate episode, McMafia’s ending was just a bit "meh"

McMafia (BBC, EH)

So, that’s it. McMafia is over. It’s been a slow-burning drama, shedding two million viewers since its debut, but as it neared its conclusion the pace and suspense had picked up, culminating in an excellent penultimate episode.

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The murder of Vadim’s daughter Natasha had set the scene for an explosive series finale – but the final hour of drama never really detonated. It was just a bit… “meh”.

Episode eight began with Alex flying to Russia despite his father’s warnings that “In Moscow, they kill you!” Once there, he was kidnapped by Vadim and his men who did, indeed, try to kill him. But Alex escaped and cut a deal with the Russian government that effectively made him all-powerful, before shooting dead his enemy thanks to a tip-off from Ilya.

The two had been close for years. Ilya worked in government and we learned had turned down promotions so that he could stay in his department and protect Vadim. But with enemies closing in on his friend, Ilya chose to protect his family and betrayed him to Alex – a move Vadim accepted and forgave in his last moments. The realisation that he had been abandoned by his oldest associate offered a moment of bleak pathos in the series’ dying moments.

McMafia (BBC, EH)
Kirill Pirogov as Ilya Fedorov in McMafia (BBC)

Meanwhile Lyudmilla got her own happy-ish ending. Thanks to Alex, she was safely delivered home to care for her sick mother, embarking on a sort-of romance with Joseph and escaping the clutches of Semiyon Kleiman.

Kleiman, meanwhile, remained an enigma, with the Israeli businessman absent from the final episode. It seemed strange that he should disappear from the drama after betraying Alex to Vadim – Kleiman surely deserved more of a send off (or punishment) given that he was such a major player throughout the rest of the series.

But, Kleiman’s fate aside, the flaw at the heart of McMafia was the unfathomable Alex Godman. The English-gentleman-turned-merciless-Mafioso was impossible to understand or empathise with – especially in the finale.

McMafia (BBC, EH)
James Norton as Alex Godman in McMafia (BBC)

What was his motive? It’s a question the series grappled long and hard with. Not only did Alex put his family in grave danger so he could enter the criminal underworld, but by the end it looked as if he was going to abandon them completely. What was the rationale behind fighting for your loved ones, only to forsake them?

And if the vendetta against Vadim really was about avenging Boris’s death, and therefore honouring his relatives, could Alex not see that his involvement would eventually tear their lives apart? Are we led to believe that a man capable of outsmarting Vadim was so naive?

This was no simple case of revenge – if it was, Alex would have walked away upon Vadim’s death – but if that wasn’t motivating him by the end, we’re left to believe it was a hunger for power, a conclusion that the drama was clearly trying to illustrate as a ruthless Alex outmanoeuvred both Vadim and Antonio.

But was a character often so meek and aloof really hungry enough for criminal domination? It just didn’t feel believable.

The weakness of Alex’s character was enough to make me root for Vadim. When Alex finally killed him in the safe house, I found myself wishing it was the other way round. It became so much easier to sympathise with the Russian, a character who showed real grief at the loss of his daughter and succeeded in having actual facial expressions – something Alex largely failed to muster.

Besides, when did Alex suddenly transform into such a ruthless, evil force? The attempt to assassinate Vadim as he left Natasha’s funeral was the lowest of blows.

McMafia (BBC, EH)
Merab Ninidze as Vadim Kalyagin in McMafia (BBC)

The episode drew to a close with a high and mighty Alex emerging as a top mafia man, tossing Antonio to the curb and appearing to cut poor Rebecca – and, ultimately, his family – out of his life forever. That steely look on his face as he and Joseph marched towards their future showed a man with a taste for the criminal underworld.

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Still, it never quite clicked. McMafia has been an intelligent and original drama with some truly thrilling moments, but if there is a second series, let’s hope it gets its head around its flawed central character.