Even for a series not afraid to shake things up, season four of Gomorrah breaks new ground. Once-central characters are off the board, new alliances have been formed while the old ones lie in ruins, and chosen son Gennaro “Genny” Savastano (Salvatore Esposito) is now under siege in his family’s once impenetrable stronghold of Naples. The empire that was his birthright now seems forever out of his grasp. But when you’re in the world of organised crime this deeply, can you ever really escape your past?
One of the reasons why Gomorrah is so compelling is that it knows exactly what we love about mafia stories and isn’t afraid to push that love to the limits. We’re used to seeing characters turn to the dark side, but Genny’s decline is one for the ages. Over three seasons he’s gone from a spoilt brat socialite to a ruthless manipulator, from being too scared to kill a stranger to someone who could put a bullet into those closest to him and not blink an eye. Now in the fourth season he takes his biggest step yet into pure evil: he becomes a property developer.
It sounds like a cheap joke (okay, it is a cheap joke), but it’s still true. Where once it used to be personal, now he’s destroying lives over dirt just so he can make even more money. As for the loving family he grew up with that would protect and pamper him, that’s all in the past – or in more than one case, the ground.
We love mafia stories because they’re about the basics: love, money, power, respect. And family, always family. Since The Godfather, family and organised crime have been one and the same. Mafia stories are family dramas on a massive scale, where dinner table arguments don’t lead to slamming doors but coffin lids slamming shut. Simmering resentments have real consequences; side with the wrong family member and being left off the Christmas card list is the least of your worries.
In Gomorrah, Genny’s bond with his brutal but indulgent (perhaps too indulgent) father Don Pietro (Fortunato Cerlino), head of the Savastano clan, is one of the central relationships in the series; it’s not until Genny draws close to up-and-coming mobster Ciro (Marco D'Amore) that he starts to truly forge a real life for himself. In season four it looks like he might finally be able to strike out on his own and take care of his family as a legitimate businessman, but old habits – and ways of getting what he wants – die hard.
Other recent organised crime series have been even more blunt about the connection between crime and family. Spanish drama Gigantes is built around the Guerrero family: the three warring sons of an increasingly frail Madrid crime boss. Here the link between family and crime – and how the needs of crime can mess up a family – is put into stark focus. Early episodes are constantly leaping forward in time to show both the roots of the family drama and how the simmering resentments between brothers (spurred on by their father’s rough parenting), eventually burst into flames fuelled by their decades-long dominance of the drug trade.
Even when a seemingly well-adjusted family is involved in organised crime, it doesn’t take long for it to all fall apart. ZeroZeroZero follows one (massive) shipment of cocaine from Mexico to Europe, but family is never far from sight. The buyer is the aging boss of an Italian crime family who’s already killed his son; his grandson is torn between the old ways and new money, but betraying his grandfather won’t be as easy as it seems. Back in Mexico, the up-and-coming narco who’s becoming a power player is trying to build a family with the woman he loves, only he’s the one who made her a widow. And the respectable New Orleans transport family who are shipping the drugs across the globe are slowly falling apart as the violence they’ve tried to keep at bay remorselessly draws them in.
For Genny, family has become his whole world. The latest season of Gomorrah sees him torn between the promises he made to his new family and the burdens left on him by the old. Will he be able to give his son a new life away from the deadly world of organised crime? That was his father’s dream too – and look how well that worked out.
Gomorrah seasons 1 - 4 are now streaming at SBS On Demand. Start from the beginning:
Jump to season 4:
Follow the author here: @morrbeat