Arts

‘Gomorrah’ Review: The End of TV’s Sleekest Italian Import

This review contains spoilers for “Gomorrah” Seasons 1-4 and the film “The Immortal.”

There is a scene early in the fifth and final season of the Italian series “Gomorrah” in which Genny, the volcanic young don fighting to control the drug trade in Naples, confronts an aging gangster on a hillside near the city. The conversation doesn’t go well, and the old gentleman, whose nickname — everyone has a nickname — is the Gentleman, unzips his pants and in a very ungentlemanly way draws a line in the dirt, between rival clans and between the old guard and the new.

There’s shock value for the audience — he seemed like such a courtly fellow, and his suit was so nice — but Genny (Salvatore Esposito) doesn’t flinch, or say a word. He just keeps twirling the ring on his right hand and lets the barest trace of a smile pass over his face, the way he has in so many tense situations over the years. It’s the only appropriate response when you’re the hero of the coolest show on television.

The travails of the Weinstein Company made “Gomorrah,” which ended its hugely popular run on Italian TV in December, difficult to see in the United States for a time. Seasons 3 and 4 and the spinoff movie, “The Immortal,” finally appeared on HBO Max in 2021, and the 10 episodes of Season 5 premiere there on Thursday.

Watching that much of the show in a relative rush — tantamount to a yearlong binge — hasn’t been ideal. The show’s plotting, especially in the later seasons, has tended to be both melodramatic and mechanical. The ritualistic elements — stealing a drug shipment, fleeing a police raid, betrayal, assassination — began to repeat in lock step. The double crosses and morphing alliances were so hard to keep track of that the plot twists didn’t have the impact they should have, the sign of a soap opera that’s losing steam. The seemingly endless supply of new gangsters and drug gangs filled the story with anonymous, unengaging characters.

But plot was never the main point of “Gomorrah,” a show that packages dime-novel emotions with such high Italian style that you bask in it rather than watch it. The meticulously thought-out costuming, the array of statement-making haircuts, the choreography of cars and motorcycles, the lambent nighttime cinematography, the Brutalist architecture of the Naples housing projects, make “Gomorrah” the Ducati of gangster sagas. The landscapes and the characters’ lives may be bleakly naturalistic, but the show runs on sleek sensation and pulp romanticism — a palpable, pervading melancholia.

And even when the plot doesn’t hold you, the show, based on Roberto Saviano’s book of the same name, takes a deliberate, almost stately approach to its mayhem that can be very satisfying. It rarely deals in cliffhangers — episodes build to resolutions, often but not always violent, at which point the mesmerizing main theme by the band Mokadelic starts to play and characters walk or drive or scooter away, into the show’s eternal night.

The engine of the show’s story was, from the start, the Cain-and-Abel relationship of Genny, the spoiled, hothead son of a Camorra don, and his brother-in-arms Ciro (Marco D’Amore), an abandoned, fatalistic street kid possessed of stunning ruthlessness. “Gomorrah” is, in essence, the story of their bromance, one that has had to surmount more than the usual obstacles. Each has shot the other, for instance. Ciro also ambushed and killed Genny’s father, though, in fairness, Genny helped him do it. The swings have been extreme, but the two actors, especially the effortlessly menacing Esposito, hold things together through the most unlikely turns.

It would be hard to say anything coherent about the events of the final season without giving away some further, major story points, so if you’re not caught up, you can stop reading here.

To briefly recap: At the end of Season 3, in a logic-defying twist, Genny regretfully shot Ciro, whose body was thrown into the Bay of Naples. D’Amore, who is also a frequent director of the series, didn’t appear in Season 4, which focused on Genny and the taciturn Patrizia (Cristiana Dell’Anna), a compelling figure who was in turn ushered off the show. Then the 2019 film “The Immortal,” directed by D’Amore, revealed that Ciro had survived, and it ended with his and Genny’s reunion.

So the final season is their end game. Like star-crossed lovers, they fight for control of the same desperate Naples neighborhoods they’ve been mired in from the beginning — Genny’s Michael Corleone-like attempt to go straight in Season 4 didn’t pan out — and the show’s death-wish dynamics would seem to require that one or both of them die, though anything’s possible. (I’ve seen seven of the 10 episodes.)

Ciro says he’s fed up with the game, but Genny tells him, “I still believe in it.” He sounds like a fan of “Gomorrah,” settling in to see how things turn out.

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