The battle for Harlem begins in earnest in “Masters of War”, as Chin’s deepest secret is revealed.
This recap of Godfather of Harlem Season 1, Episode 7, “Masters of War”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
With Bumpy’s (Forest Whitaker) debt finally repaid, Godfather of Harlem Episode 7 opens with him and Joe Bonanno (Chazz Palminteri) spitballing ways of continuing their arrangement without Chin (Vincent D’Onofrio) getting wise to it. It’s risky. Chin is unstable — even without him shuffling around the streets in a bathrobe in “Masters of War”, still trying to keep the Feds off his back — and is sick and tired of being disrespected everywhere he turns. What’s chilling about this opening conversation is that, despite everything we know about Chin, he still seems less sinister than Bonanno, who explains to Bumpy how much he wants “his people” to suffer for his son’s death, in much more impolite terms than I just used.
Bumpy is sick and tired too — last week he was forced to kill a friend to pay off people who hate him, just to keep the peace between the Families. But what, he reasons, if there was no peace? If Bonanno and Chin go to war, Bonanno won’t bother to pay his tax and will happily sell straight to Bumpy. With Stella (Lucy Fry) on-side, he has what he needs to antagonize the Italians and to get to the bottom of what happened to Joe’s son, Lorenzo. “This is our War of Independence,” he explains, “only they’re gonna do all the fighting.”
The stirring of the pot begins with Teddy Greene (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), now under Bumpy’s protection and being shuffled around music labels. It only worsens when Bumpy’s men dig further into Lorenzo’s disappearance and learn it was paid for by an Italian — Chin Gigante. Stella later corroborates the story despite Lorenzo’s body having been dug up and moved from Fidler’s basement. It’s enough to encourage full-scale war. Bumpy can get all the heroin he wants — and perhaps a bit more besides that he might not want quite as much, though we’ll get to that shortly.
“Masters of War” juggles several competing subplots, some more relevant than others. Everything involving Adam Clayton Powell (Giancarlo Esposito) feels notably surplus to requirements in Godfather of Harlem Episode 7. He’s still battling Esther James’s lawsuit and is torn over his involvement in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the civil rights rally where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his iconic “I Have A Dream” speech. MLK is referenced specifically here, in flippant terms: “We’re hoping he comes up with a half-decent speech.” It’s another instance of the show’s depiction of history being tongue-in-cheek, informed by what we know happened, rather than attempting to really capture the fiery unpredictability of the moment. It’s a minor quibble, but it stood out to me.
More interesting, if a little out of nowhere, is a sudden team-up between Mayme (Ilfenesh Hadera) and Elise (Antoinette Crowe-Legacy) to determine the whereabouts of a missing Margaret (Demi Singleton). Now that Elise is a Sister in the Nation of Islam, a devout Muslim clean for over three months, Mayme begins to look at her differently, apologizing for funding her habit the last time they met. “Allah teaches us we must forgive,” says Elise, “I’m still learning how.” A bit of shade, there. But the point Elise is making is a clear one. Bumpy’s business — the same business that furnishes their luxury penthouse — has a human cost. At one point in “Masters of War”, Mayme throws her husband’s name around, but you can tell it leaves something of a sour taste in her mouth.
Ernie (Rafi Gavron) gets some needed development in Godfather of Harlem Episode 7, too, breaking down in confession over his internal struggle; his genuine love for Stella against his loyalty to Chin. It’s one of several decent confessional scenes this week — in another, Chin is ejected for being proud of the sins he has both committed already and continues to commit, an expulsion than persuades him to reconsider his pursuit of Teddy Greene. Teddy and Ernie also encounter each other; the former holds the latter at gunpoint and tells him that Stella hates him, but Ernie’s retort stings more. He claims she’s only seeing Teddy because she hates her father. As far as love triangles go, this isn’t totally awful, but I’d like to see more of what’s apparently so compelling about Stella. She’s pretty, sure, but why is she worth all this to virtually every man who encounters her? That includes, apparently, Lorenzo Bonanno, which is why she’s compelled to reveal what happened to him to his father.
In its closing scene, Godfather of Harlem Season 1, Episode 7 manages to surprise twice in quick succession. First, Bumpy, having found Margaret, runs into Mayme and Elise — he had no idea she had become a Muslim or was working for the Nation of Islam. She refers to him as “daddy” in front of Margaret, which tips the precocious young girl off to their relationship. But when Margaret asks Elise if she’s her sister, she says she is — it’s a touching moment of selflessness that confirms Elise is committed to the path she claims to be on. But this sweet moment is immediately punctuated by an act of violence, as Bumpy is shot by an unknown gunman.
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