Charlie and Keith meet up under less-than-ideal circumstances, while Sam fights for her life. Nicky and Sol have one last missive for the city of New York — and the fat cat who set them up. And William has one more act left in his life as an amateur detective — and a family to reunite.
This week’s episode, entitled “The Demon Brother,” is full of engaging, but deeply ridiculous, stuff.
City on Fire recap: ‘The Demon Brother’
Season 1, episode 7: Samantha (played by Chase Sui Wonders) is still in her coma, reliving an endless concert in her head. Her dad (Michael Tow) hasn’t left her side since she was shot in the head in Central Park. And now he’s being told by the hospital that she hasn’t improved, and he should consider alternatives to letting her lie in a coma for the rest of her life but he won’t give up hope.
Neither will Charlie (Wyatt Oleff), one of Sam’s best friends (and one of the few who wasn’t involved in her attempted murder, either directly or indirectly). He finally gets up the courage to go see her in the hospital. Because he was in the area when Sam was shot, he’s been a prime suspect in her shooting, and hasn’t wanted to show his face in public.
Charlie called the police on Samantha’s old cohort — Nicky (Max Milner), D.T. (Dylan T Jackson), Sewer (Alexandra Doke) and Sol (Alexander Pineiro) — after learning that they weren’t friendly anti-gentrification activists but rather arsonists and murderers. Nicky showed Charlie the bomb they plan to use to blow up the offices of their one-time benefactor, Amory Gould (John Cameron Mitchell), the man who seems the likeliest culprit for Sam’s shooting, whether he pulled the trigger or not.
This guy’s got to go …
If they manage to bring Amory down, that’d be great news for his family. His nephew William (Nico Tortorella) has been trying to get back at him for ruining their family, for paying a guy to sexually assault William’s sister Regan (Jemima Kirke), which resulted in her getting pregnant. She gave the kid up for adoption, and now William has information on the kid because he broke into Amory’s old files at the family’s Hamptons estate.
Regan doesn’t want to know anything about the kid she gave up — that was a lifetime ago — but William leaves the information in her bedside table drawer anyway. William gets along with Regan’s children, which is a pleasant surprise.
Less of a pleasant surprise: Their dad has gone missing. Bill Sr. (Geoff Pierson) is suffering from a number of cognitive disorders and doesn’t know where he is some of the time. They don’t know where he went this time. Regan, William and William’s boyfriend, Mercer (Xavier Clyde), find Bill on a street corner. Then all four of them go to Detective Parsa (Omid Abtahi), the lead on Sam’s case, with the evidence they took from Amory’s filing cabinet.
A fight at the hospital
Charlie falls asleep in Sam’s hospital room in time for another of Sam’s old lovers, Regan’s husband Keith (Ashley Zukerman), to stop by. Charlie and Keith immediately start accusing each other of being the ones responsible for Sam’s current state. Charlie’s nervous that the police didn’t catch Nicky and his crew. So he tries to run away to warn someone, but Keith stops him, knowing that Charlie’s still wanted by the police.
Charlie and Keith fight, and security hands them over to the cops. Detective McFadden (Kathleen Munroe), the secondary detective on the case of Sam’s attempted murder, can’t believe her eyes when the patrolmen bring them in. She calls Charlie’s mom (Shawnee Smith), who hasn’t seen her boy in weeks.
Amory’s plot — exposed!
All of these people in the police station finally tease out Amory’s plot. He wanted to acquire a huge chunk of Bronx real estate, but it was too expensive. So he paid Nicky to torch the lots so Amory could petition the city for the right to expropriate the land. Keith wanders in as William, Regan and Bill Sr. give up all the evidence of the crime to Parsa. He then has to explain that he’d been working for Amory to pay Nicky. He did this because Nicky was deeply in debt, and a general failure, and Amory knew it.
Parsa puts out an arrest warrant for Gould, then issues a bomb threat for his office, stuffing Charlie in the back of a squad car and heading to the building. Parsa instructs him to tell him everything he knows about Nicky on the way.
Once there, Charlie sees Sewer run back into the building. He goes after her, against Parsa’s wishes. And when he tracks her down, he discovers she went into the building to die. Charlie begs her to come to her senses and help him diffuse the bomb. She tries to talk him out of it, which doesn’t work, but she does tell him where the bomb is — on a window-washing platform hanging off the 39th floor. Charlie has to jump out there to get to it.
Meanwhile, the family corners Amory in their apartment but he has his bodyguard stab William. And away he slips into the city, just as the 2003 blackout starts.
City on Fire cuts some corners
It’s kind of satisfying to see the evidence laid out so comprehensively ahead of the climax, but it is also very tidy that suddenly all the major players are at the police station doing the right thing. This is more of a literary conceit than a successful televisual one. Again, I get that there are only so many minutes in an eight-hour miniseries, but this could have been dragged out a little more and spun a little more plausibly.
Take, for instance, the last bit with Sewer running back into Amory’s office to diffuse the bomb. They run up 39 flights of stairs in a few minutes. I know they’re young but come on …
Nevertheless, this was an engaging hour and I’m excited to see what happens next. But man, City on Fire has some very silly stuff up its sleeve. I like Charlie trying to talk to Sewer about their crimes, but I also hesitate to believe she suddenly realized — after helping build this comically huge (ludicrously capacious you might even say) bomb — that the explosive was meant to hurt people. Instead of all of those other bombs that just magically make people more liberal. Eh. Whatever.
We’ve got one more hour of City on Fire next week. Let’s see how this puppy closes out.
Watch City on Fire on Apple TV+
New episodes of City on Fire arrive Fridays on Apple TV+.
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Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper and But God Made Him A Poet: Watching John Ford in the 21st Century, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.