This week’s forecast: Cloudy with a chance of bigotry.
Maaaan, but GANGSTA can be mighty bleak sometimes. I’m not complaining, mind you, as it does “pensive and faintly tragic” exceptionally well, but there were moments that were so quietly, matter-of-factly sad that the sky wasn’t the only thing that felt like crying. This really isn’t a show interested in making you want to go out and raise some hell in Ergastulum in the way that, say, Black Lagoon or Baccano did; it knows its world is deeply broken, and it makes that emphatically clear to its audience.
Plot-wise this was more about setting up the pieces for the oncoming gang war, and as such spent more time in the past developing its characters’ histories than it did forwarding the current story lines. Still, we did pick up a few nuggets worth mentioning, so let’s hit up our weekly Bullet Point Rundown.
- The Corsica family (led by boss Uranos) is after Monroe’s head, not specifically because of Monroe himself but because of his connection with the Cristiano family, who deal primarily in drugs. This is just speculation, but given the Corsica family’s previously established hatred toward Twilights, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re trying to halt or mess with the flow of Celebrer into the city.
- Monroe apparently fought for the Three Laws and the Twilights’ current limited freedoms, and Worick feels indebted to him because of at least that if not more.
- A Mysterious Umbrella Carrier (definitely with the Corsica family) meets with one of Monroe’s men, shares intel, and reveals that the Corsica are connected to the bodies (all of which were Tags, says Worick) found in the warehouse. Also, they’ve got a crooked cop on their side, so watch your back, Chad.
- We’ve also got two people (probably with Corsica) murdering folks in alleys and leaving the message “The wages of sin is death” in human blood. I’m sure Nic and Worick won’t have to face them at any point, no not at all.
In other words, a war is brewing between Monroe and Corsica, and the Handymen are looking to be right in the thick of it. Monroe and Worick are fighting as much for the Twilights’ right to life and limited liberty as they are for balance within the city. Nic is willing to go along with it, but thinks the whole endeavor is pointless and the Twilights are doomed.
Meanwhile via flashbacks we have Worick and Nic growing closer as they bond over their shared abuses and the fact that neither is wanted by society. There’s the sense that these two came together largely out of necessity, not due to any shared interests but because each is the first person to have treated the other like a human being instead of a “Twilight” or “monster” or “Arcangelo” or “bastard.” That they bond over language is simultaneously sweet and (like everything else this week) The Saddest, because it really is two isolated kids trying to find a way to communicate with the one person who seems as lonely as they do.
It also obliquely tells us that Nic’s current… “owners,” I guess?… never bothered to teach him how to write or use sign language, denying him the ability to express himself and further solidifying his position as a dependent, obedient tool rather than a person. Really, it’s a minor miracle that so much empathy, loyalty, and compassion has managed to survive in both of these kids, and they (and the series) cling to those sparks of humanity in a way that keeps everything from devolving into total gloom and doom.
While there were some great character beats and interactions between our whole team this week, this felt more like the episode that builds and expands on themes, drawing connections between seemingly different individuals to form a coherent overarching narrative. Unlike most underworld crime dramas, which endorse and revel in hyper-masculine bravado and violence, GANGSTA is quietly crafting an argument against that mentality by focusing on the people most hurt by aggressive systems and showing how anyone who doesn’t fit into a particular mainstream ideal is attacked and robbed of agency, treated as sub-human.
The big reveal this week (and the one that really starts tying all these character threads together) is that Alex was being drugged by her former pimp, Barry, to keep her submissive to him, and the withdrawal process is what’s been causing her recent bout of paranoia and hallucinations. In the show’s most unsettling scene to date she mistakes Worick for Barry and attempts to have sex with him to keep him from hurting her.
It’s the first time we’ve been explicitly told that he abused her not just physically but also sexually, and drives home exactly how much Alex has silently been trying to work through. The moment is visceral and painful, all the more so because of how quickly Worick and Alex try to move on from it, suggesting that Alex’s story is an all-too-common one in Ergastulum. GANGSTA focuses mostly on Alex and doesn’t attempt to trivialize or romanticize her trauma, and the scene is all the more powerful for it.
Outside of expanding on Alex’s current story and strengthening her ties with Worick, this reveal also serves to draw some significant parallels between Alex and Nic, whose dependency on a different drug also keeps him obedient to the (Normal, native, male) figures in charge of this world.
I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Nic is both a disabled person and a foreigner (Asian in a European city), nor that Alex is a woman of color. More and more, GANGSTA is becoming a story about oppressed individuals being “kept in line” by the ruling class, what that does to a person psychologically, and how each finds a support system and a way to survive despite that environment.
Worick is a curious middle-ground element in the story. At first glance he’s a member of the ruling power structure (Normal, native, male), and as such the city’s other authority figures continuously charge him with “taking care” of Nic and Alex, demonstrated this week by both his father’s paranoia that he was training Nic and Dr. Theo’s insistence that Worick is “keeping” Alex and should “teach her some manners.” The language of this series is rife with dehumanizing terms, something Worick himself struggles with when he first sits down with Nic and has to fight the urge to see him as “not quite human.”
But Worick is also living with his own scars both visible and hidden: His missing eye, yes, but also his illegitimate birth, which robs him of much of his social privilege, putting him in a position only moderately better than Nic’s when the two first meet. His own status as an outcast makes it easier for him to sympathize with those more openly oppressed, as he does with both Nic and Alex this week, giving them a very literal shoulder to lean on when needed.
It also puts him in an awkward position where he wants to be treated as his partners’ equals but also knows it’s vital to their survival that they take advantage of what little power his position gives him. It’s a tough line to toe, and it’s no wonder he sometimes reluctantly or even inadvertently falls into the trap of treating Nic like an inferior.
This is a lot to chew on going forward, and it’s fascinating to parse through the social politics and character interactions each week. My interest and concern now is how the series chooses to handle Nic, Alex, and their demons both personal and social. I’m glad they have Worick around to help them, and I think his own moral dilemma makes for some great storytelling as well, but too much of him stepping in to talk everyone down and we run the risk of a “white savior” story, and no one wants that. At the end of the day, the focus needs to be on Nic and Alex’s individual decisions and strengths, as they deal with past traumas and struggle to give meaning to their current lives.