In my pre-air review of the first few episodes of City On A Hill, I noted the show’s regrettable reliance on cliche while also expressing some optimism that the series might find its footing as it went along. Indeed, the first season finale titled “Mayor Curley And The Last Hurrah” finds City On A Hill a much more confident and assured show than when it began. That’s not to say all the problems have been solved, but it does make the prospect of a second season (already ordered by Showtime) a more tantalizing one than it might otherwise have been.
The hour begins with the Ryan brothers in custody following the botched armored car robbery in Fall River. Given Jackie’s last-minute intervention in the BPD’s operation, the case against them is now a federal one, depriving Ward of his big win. Jackie’s the hero again in the public eye, but he’s none too welcome at Hank Signa’s funeral, given that he’s largely responsible for the Ryan bust erupting into chaos. In an attempt to get back into Ward’s good graces, Jackie arranges to have the case kicked over to Suffolk County. Ward’s fortunes appear to rise again when Jimmy, a rat for all seasons, agrees to turn against his brother on both the Fall River job and the dead guards from the Revere Beach robbery in exchange for blanket immunity.
The trial doesn’t turn into quite the victory party Ward had hoped for, however. Upon learning of his brother’s betrayal, Frankie arranges for his lawyer to set a trap for Jimmy. The name Kelly Kinicki, which has been floating around like a bad omen all season, comes back into play in a big way. Frankie figures Jimmy will lie on the stand about his involvement in Kinicki’s death, thus invalidating his agreement and his entire testimony. Instead, Jimmy confesses to the murder on the witness stand, revealing to all of Boston that Ward gave a killer full immunity just to put away some armored car thieves. That turn of events slows the momentum of Ward’s political ambitions to a crawl, and worse yet, Jimmy refuses to give Ward anything he can use against Jackie.
Jackie’s good fortune continues on the home front, at least to a certain degree. After a heart-to-heart with Jenny on a rainy Boston Common during which Jackie admits he’ll never be the man she married again, husband and wife find common ground in kicking Jenny’s hateful mother out of her own house. Jackie takes particular glee in this act, right down to offering his mother-in-law a street corner and his services as a pimp. All credit to the writing team and Kevin Bacon for doing nothing to soften the character of Jackie Rohr as the season went along. He’s still a gleefully unrepentant sleaze, and maybe even dirtier than we suspected given his cold-blooded dispatch of Rory Culkin’s Clay Roach. (By the way, whatever happened to Roach’s neighbor who spent most of his time peering out his peephole? There’s a shoe that never dropped.)
While “The Last Hurrah” is a generally taut and satisfying wrap-up to the season’s major storylines, some of the show’s initial flaws remain. Most of them are encapsulated by Jill Hennessy’s Jenny Rohr, whose every appearance had me bracing myself for an unbearable scene. It’s not through any fault of Hennessy, who wrings as much empathy as possible from the part; rather, it’s almost as if the writing staff has an ongoing bet over who can heap the most abuse on the character in the shortest time. For a long stretch of the season, virtually every Jenny scene revolved around a colleague or family member treating her like shit, often for no discernible reason. Female characters in general fared poorly throughout the season, although Sarah Shahi deserves kudos for elevating Rachel Benham from the big-haired My Cousin Vinnie caricature she appeared to be in the early episodes.
Now that a second season is official, this finale leaves us wondering where the show goes from here given that the Ryan crew is, well, retired. Presumably it will follow the model of The Wire to some extent, introducing a new criminal element and opening up the city a bit. Can City On A Hill move beyond Charlestown armored car thieves and find some fresher ground to explore? The show still has some kinks to work out, but the strong finish to the season suggests there’s good reason to stick around.
- The Last Hurrah is a real bar in Boston’s famous Parker House hotel. It is also, as Jackie and Ward discuss, the name of a novel by Edwin O’Connor about machine politics in a northeastern city. Although the city goes unnamed in the book, it’s no secret that the main character is based on Boston’s four-term mayor James Curley, who spent part of his tenure in that office behind bars.
- Ever since he flat-lined in the back of an ambulance, I’ve been half-expecting Kevin Chapman’s Minogue to return, having had a close brush with death. (On TV, as I’m sure we’re all aware, the flat-line is often followed by a couple minutes worth of chest-pounding, after which the victim gasps back to life.) That’s mostly because Chapman has remained in the opening credits week after week, but evidently he just has a very good agent.
- Jackie’s good luck streak holds to the end, with a car bomb fizzling out rather than blowing him to Kingdom Come. I had no idea whether Bacon had signed on for more than one season, but it looks like he’s in it for the long haul.