McMafia offers a riveting, chilling peek into the global crime biz: Schneller

Even when you don’t quite get what's happening in this AMC series, you feel the truth of it.

Merab Ninidze as Vadim Kalyagin and Kirill Pirogov as Ilya Federov in McMafia.

Nikola Predovic / AMC

Merab Ninidze as Vadim Kalyagin and Kirill Pirogov as Ilya Federov in McMafia.

The Show: McMafia, Season 1, Episode 4 (AMC)

The Moment: The vending machine

An English/Israeli crime syndicate wants to steal a shipment of heroin from a Russian syndicate. They hire a hacker in Mumbai to find the shipping container ID number.

First the hacker sends a “restaurant survey” to a crime boss’s phone. The boss clicks on it. Bingo, the hacker is in. He follows the boss’s emails to find the name of the ship and its destination. But he can’t get the container number without cracking into the shipyard’s system.

The crooks smack around a porter from the shipyard. He reveals that there’s a candy machine in the cafeteria. The crooks send a guy in disguised as a delivery man. He loads a new SIM card into the vending machine.

“I have to piggyback from the machine to the central keyboard,” the hacker tells the crooks. “It all depends on if someone’s had the sense to block the crossing points.”

PING. “Which they haven’t,” the hacker says. The system of the Mumbai Chrialaj Port Authority appears on his screen.

I had to watch this scene twice to have the slightest sense of what occurred, it all happens so swiftly and with so much specific lingo. But that’s what I love about this series — even when you don’t quite get it, you feel the truth of it.

McMafia is the nickname for how global and businesslike crime has become, and it’s also the name of the source book, deeply reported by Misha Glenny. Glenny spent weeks in the series’ writers’ room making sure that, though they were fictionalizing his characters, their crimes remained absolutely authentic. It’s riveting, chilling stuff.

Another pleasure: For the most part, Russians play Russians, Indians play Indians, Israelis play Israelis, etc. So we see a raft of sensational actors, most new to us, doing their thing in their own language. You won’t even notice the subtitles.

Johanna Schneller is a media connoisseur who zeroes in on pop-culture moments. She appears Tuesday and Thursday.

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