“The Mayor of Kingstown” introduces a dour, cynical world, but keeps audiences invested with a couple of surprising developments out of the gate.
This recap of Mayor of Kingstown season 1, episode 1, “The Mayor of Kingstown”, contains spoilers. You can check out our spoiler-free season review by clicking these words.
Mike McLusky is stuck in Kingstown, but as he explains towards the end of the premiere episode, he probably wouldn’t know how to leave even if he wanted to. On some level, he does want to – paying little kids to swat a tennis ball over a prison fence to deliver a message to one of the inmates isn’t exactly a sustainable career. But the McLusky family business is being fixers for those among the prison population who need to get messages out, and those on the outside who need to get messages in, and he gets to work alongside his brother, Mitch, the so-called Mayor of Kingstown, since he really runs the place, whether the real mayor likes it or not. Mike doesn’t have the cleanest past, so a decent job alongside his beloved brother isn’t a bad thing.
Mayor of Kingstown season 1, episode 1 recap
“The Mayor of Kingstown” is good as establishing all this in the first couple of scenes. That ball thing is smart. An argument in the McLusky’s sign-free office about trying to prevent the mistreatment of a prisoner who assaulted a guard is pretty telling. It’s obvious what the McLuskys do, even if nobody seems to want to say it out loud. When Mitch is given an assignment by Vera, the wife of an incarcerated yet obviously influential inmate named Milo, we know what’s up. The assignment is following a map to a cache of $200,000 buried in the woods.
Everyone seems to know what Mitch and Mike are up. Their mother, Mariam, teaches history in the prisons, telling young minority women about their own backgrounds, but when one of the inmates suggests she puts in a good word with her sons, she viciously lashes out. Mariam the teacher is kindly and empathetic. Mariam the mother is a firecracker. She doesn’t approve of the family business, obviously. But it doesn’t seem to be a secret what the family business is, or even that she’s part of the family.
Others are more approving. When a prison guard’s nephew elicits the anger of another inmate, the guard goes to Mike. Mike, in turn, goes to Bunny, a local gang leader. Before long, the favors add up, and both a guard and prisoner find themselves brutally beaten – the prisoner, one of Bunny’s guys, particularly badly, such is the way of prison guards when one of their own is attacked. (This is later explained, rather shruggingly, as justification for the severity of the prisoner’s injuries, and it’s accepted without question.)
There’s a third McLusky brother, Kyle, who helps Mike retrieve Milo’s money from the woods, much to the annoyance of his wife and Mariam. Mike lets his guard down with Kyle in a way he doesn’t with Mitch, or at least not that we see. His dream is really to escape, to join a cooking school, but nobody seems to escape Kingstown, where there are seven prisons in a ten-mile radius. Kyle, with his happy-ish family life and regular career, probably seems like someone Mike can have this conversation with. But he’s still helping him retrieve dirty money from a stash in the woods. There’s only so clean anyone in Kingstown seems to get.
Taylor Sheridan is very good at this sort of thing. He’s less good when it comes to using violence against women to advance the plot. Enter, Vera. At the strip club where she works, she’s approached by a man who clocked her in the mayor’s office. He pays for three dances, takes one, and hurriedly leaves. Later, he turns up at Vera’s home looking for the other two. When she pulls a gun on him, he beats her unconscious, rapes her, strangles her, and discovers the map to Milo’s money. To get that, he heads straight to Mitch’s office, where Kyle and Mike have just deposited it in his safe. Mitch is happy to hand it over, but what happens between the robber and Milo won’t be any of his business. This turns out to be true, but not for the reasons he expects, since the robber coldly shoots him in the back of the head to keep his role in the matter a secret.
This represents a major turning point in Mayor of Kingstown. Mitch’s murder isn’t much of a mystery – the cops track his killer down almost immediately and engineer a scenario in which he has to be shot rather than being taken alive. But it means that Mike is suddenly the mayor, even if he doesn’t want to be. Even if he isn’t suited to the task. Mitch, we can tell, was more calculating and diplomatic. Mike still has the instincts of a felon, a willingness – an eagerness, even – to glass people who annoy him. But he seems willing to take on the responsibility all the same.