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Series / Mayor of Kingstown

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Mayor of Kingstown is a crime thriller series that premiered on Paramount+ in 2021. It stars Jeremy Renner, Dianne Wiest, Taylor Handley, Hugh Dillon — who also co-created the series with Taylor Sheridan — and Aidan Gillen.

Kingstown, Michigan is a small town that relies almost entirely on America's prison industry for income both legitimate and illicit. At the center of all this is the McLusky family, whose members — particularly brothers Mike and Mitch — use favors and intimidation to maintain a semblance of order.

In February 2022, the show was renewed for another season.

This series provides examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: Mike, played by Jeremy Renner aka Hawkeye, obtains a bow to protect himself from bears.
  • The Alleged Boss: Captain Moore seems to think he's running a clean operation. His subordinates are actually cutting deals with inmates and skimming off their own cut.
  • Asshole Victim: The guards at the male prison are, by-and-large, assholes who delight in exercising every little bit of power they have over the inmates. It's hard to feel sorry for any of them (perhaps with the exception of Captain Moore) when the inmates get their revenge.
  • Aww Look They Really Do Love Each Other: Mariam is very disapproving of her sons' work but that is out of pure concern. She runs to hug both Michael and Kyle after Kyle manages to come out safely from a prison riot.
  • The Bad Guys Are Cops: The Kingstown police are more interested in dealing out their own violent and warped form of justice rather than acting as a law-enforcement agency. If the citizenry have any problems, they're better off going to the McLuskies.
  • Batman Gambit: Milo has a secret scheme that he needs Mike's help to execute. Since Mike is too smart to get involved in something like that, Milo has to manipulate him into doing it anyway. He uses his knowledge of Mike's character to put Mike in a position where he will go along with Milo's plan rather than allow innocent people get hurt.
  • Bears Are Bad News: Mike is at his cabin in the woods when he spots a young bear searching for food. A local warns him that this can be very dangerous if not handled properly. Mike ends up feeding the bear but also buys a hunting bow to protect himself.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Mike repeatedly warns people that he is just an intermediary who facilities the trading of favours. If you want a big favour, he can find someone who will provide it but sooner or later that person will come back and ask a big favour of their own.
  • Being Evil Sucks: The McLuskies are playing all sides in the town and fixers with great influence but their mother, rightfully, points out that this hasn't made them rich or safe.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Within the crapsack setting Mike is one of the nicer people. He is respectful and will try to negotiate a peaceful resolution to any conflict. However, you really do not want to get on his bad side. If you cross the line he will pistol whip you till your face is a bloody mess. If you really step over the line, he will execute you and your accomplices without a second thought.
  • Corrupt Cop:
    • The McLuskies have an entire shift of prison guards in their pocket to make sure messages and contraband can flow freely to and from inmates and their gangs outside.
    • The Kingstown Police Department works with the McLuskies to sweep certain crimes under the rug while lethally dealing with those who upset the balance within the town.
    • Mike also says that there is plenty of corruption within the FBI and that he's committed numerous crimes in front of agents without fear of arrest.
  • Cowboy Cop: Kingstown PD SWAT officers, led by Robert Sawyer, behave as though they're fighting an insurgency rather than enforcing the law. They charge in carrying equipment not meant for cops (including fragmentation grenades and light machine guns) and leave death and destruction in their wake.
  • Crapsack World: Kingstown would be entirely destitute if it wasn't for the fact that America's prison industry is thriving. In fact, it's home to seven different prisons. And because there are so many people incarcerated in the town, numerous violent criminal organizations have set up shop in the town to maintain contact with their members inside. Meanwhile, the prison guards and police department are largely corrupt and more concerned with meting out violent "justice" rather than enforcing the law. The McLuskies are barely maintaining an uneasy peace by trading favors and making deals with all parties involved.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: While the show doesn't go into much detail, dialogue shows that Mike used to run with the Neo-Nazis and rose up to become a shot caller in prison before he cut ties and joined the family business.
  • Decoy Protagonist / Dead Star Walking: Kyle Chandler's involvement was heavily promoted, but Mitch is killed halfway through the first episode.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Everyone in Kingstown is ready to murder Kenny in "Simply Murder" due to the death of a five year old boy and his mother. Kenny is racked with guilt and it was an accident but the police go out of their way to arrange his death at the hands of his fellow inmates. Mike is the only one who hesitates to be involved in the contract and even he is only vaguely bothered by it.
  • The Dreaded: Milo Sunter, an incarcerated crime boss who doesn't stick to the rules the other factions in Kingstown play by.
  • Equal-Opportunity Evil: The McLusky family welcomes business from all demographics as long as they're able to pay.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • Kingstown is full of violent, corrupt, and self-serving people but everyone believes harming children is a step too far. Subverted in that their Vigilante Man revenge for the action is considered to be Disproportionate Retribution and evil.
    • Mike finds the business of murdering Kenny over the death of a boy and his girlfriend in an accident to be disgusting, especially since its the cops arranging it.
    • Mike becomes disgusted at the racism — both casual and violent — that Bunny's nephew faces as a hockey player and says that he'll provide protection free of charge.
    • The Crips are violent drug dealers engaged in a deadly gang war, but they are horrified at what Milo and the Neo-Nazis have done to Iris.
  • Evil Pays Better: Subverted as the McLuskies trade primarily in favors rather than cash. They are middle men rather than crime bosses.
  • Evil Power Vacuum: When the guards crack down on the black prison gang and move its leaders to solitary, the other gangs see this as an opportunity to try to seize power in the prison.
    • By Season 2 with the sheer death toll inflicted on the rioting prisoners including the entire leadership, the gangs outside of prison start descending into a bloody free-for-all.
  • Evil Versus Evil: The police vs. the gangs vs. the prisons vs. the McLuskies. No one likes each other and all of them are varying shades of evil. Mike is the nicest one of the lot and even he's just A Lighter Shade of Black.
  • The Fixer: The McLuskies' facilitate deals throughout Kingstown and try to keep tensions from boiling over into open warfare.
  • Go-Karting with Bowser: Mike and Bunny can go from pulling guns on one another to talking about their lives over a few beers.
  • The Guards Must Be Crazy: Invoked. For the right favor Mike can arrange that for a small window of time the prison guards completely ignore criminal activity occurring right in front of their eyes.
  • Hollywood Cop Uniform: Captain Walter's uniform is all over the place, featuring captain's bars, corporal's stripes, a colonel's eagle, and chief's stars.
  • Honey Trap: After Sam the guard is transferred to a women's prison, one of the female inmates seduces him, lures him to a camera blindspot, has sex with him and then stabs him to death. Adding insult to injury is that she makes it look like he raped her, so his family won't be able to collect on his life insurance or pension.note 
  • The Horseshoe Effect: Mike lampshades the fact that Ed, a prison guard, is sounding just like a prison gang leader. Rather than talking about maintaining law and order inside the prison, Ed is talking about power and respect from the inmates.
  • I Have No Son!: Miriam is disgusted by the work Mike and Mitch do and reacts angrily when one of her students brings them up in hopes of obtaining a favor.
  • The Informant: Mike becomes a paid informant to the feds, but makes clear that he'll only do it on his own terms. He's also registered as an informant with the Kingstown police, as they need a way to justify why he crops up at so many crime scenes. In a subversion, he does not really hide the fact that he is a police informant from the crime bosses he works with. They work with him specifically because he is able to trade information back and forth between the cops and the criminals.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Mike keeps the world at arm's length through sarcasm and cynicism. However, he has a heroic side — that he doesn't particularly like — that compels him to throw himself into danger to protect others even if he's at a severe disadvantage.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: After making life miserable for the inmates he oversees, Ed Simmons gets his comeuppance when when the inmates riot and brutalize him and P-Dog makes a point of putting a bullet in his head.
  • A Lighter Shade of Black: Mike is the nicest man in Kingston but still goes along with arranging a contract murder on a man wracked with guilt for his role in the (accidental) death of a child. He's also heavily involved in Kingstown's other illegal businesses.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: The warden and guard captain are baffled that a single bad incident between a guard and prisoner has turned the prison into a massive powder keg where rival gangs are cooperating against the guards. They are not aware of the side deals the guards and the prisoners have been making and the current bad blood is actually the result of the prisoners thinking that the guards reneged on a major deal. Ed could fill them in but that would mean him confessing to being an accomplice in murder.
  • Na´ve Newcomer: A new prison guard ignores warnings about doing favors for inmates and ends up being blackmailed. Fortunately for him, his uncle is a senior guard so Mike is contacted to negotiate the return of the blackmail material and to make sure that the prison gangs stay away from the rookie. The guard is then put on tower duty so he has little interaction with the prisoners.
  • Necessarily Evil: Mitch and Mike justify their work by believing they're looking out for Kingstown's best interests and that the town would descend into chaos and violence if they weren't around to maintain balance. Miriam says that their father said the same thing to himself when he set up the operation they continue.
  • Only Sane Man:
    • Mike is presented as this. He operates in a town full of desperate, angry and very violent people and a big part of his job is ensuring that the situation does not erupt into insanity and chaos. He makes sure that the criminal and law enforcement factions do not cross certain lines and do something really stupid.
    • When a group of law enforcement officials becomes obsessed with having a child killer murdered in prison, Mike tries to be the voice of reason and explains to them that what they are asking is unnecessary and could have grave consequences for everyone involved. The child killer is guaranteed to be arrested, convicted and sent to death row. The cops are asking Mike to solicit a murder on their behalf which is not only extremely illegal but will require him to promise big favours to some very dangerous people.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: The police believe in this philosophy and enact it on any criminals who violate their code, deservedly or not.
  • Police Brutality: The police are not constrained by any rules or humane treatment of prisoners. They have many deals with the local criminals and enact a brutal Pay Evil unto Evil philosophy that rarely approaches justice. This is also applied by the prison guards.
  • Poor Communication Kills:
    • Mike hates it when his clients lie to him. If he inserts himself into a situation based on incomplete and/or false information it can get him and other people hurt and/or killed. One client lies about his imprisoned teenager brother not being part of a gang. Mike easily spots the lie and yells at the client for being Lethally Stupid.
    • When the cops request that Kenny be killed in prison they ask Mike to arrange it. He contacts the gang shot callers on the outside who contact their people inside the prison. It's a huge conspiracy where the people ordering the murder never directly interact with the people committing it. While this insulates the two groups, it also means that they never had a chance to properly negotiate the terms. Soon, it becomes clear that the inmates were expecting way more than the cops and guards were offering. The guards consider the prisoners' demands to be grossly unreasonable and push back with violence to re-establish their dominance. This quickly raises tensions in the prison to deathly levels. It culminates with a prison takeover which results in a huge death toll among the guards and prisoners.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: This is the basis of Mike's business. The people he works with could accomplish their goals with violence but it is easier on everyone if Mike can negotiate a mutually-beneficial arrangement instead. This works so well that the smart criminals are willing to take a major financial loss rather than losing access to Mike's network.
  • Prison Riot: After enduring the guards' abuse for too long, the inmates of the Kingstown Men's Prison take over the facility and wreak what is later described as the largest and deadliest prison riot in American history.
  • Resignations Not Accepted: Mike has wanted to leave Kingstown for years and has even found a training program for camp cooks that could let him find work far away from the troubles of his hometown. But his record and his perceived obligations to the family business mean he's stuck where he is, so he makes do by living in a cabin remote enough that most people can't go through the bother of coming to him.
  • Rule of Symbolism: A Kingstown PD operation to show gangs who really runs the town is juxtaposed against shots of dogs being neutered.
  • Smug Snake: The Kingstown D.A. goes back on the deal the A.D.A. and Mike made with the gang leaders to restore order. After the gangs deliver on their end, the D.A. thinks that he can keep them in prison despite pressure from Mike, the prison corporation that's paying for his re-election campaign and the threat of Milo Janus' escape going public. After running out of patience, Bunny has him killed to "clear the path" for Mike to get the A.D.A. to sign off and get them out.
  • Suicide by Cop: Ernest Van Ackle, who's been completely chewed up by family and work, finally snaps during Season 1's climactic prison riot and attacks a squad of National Guardsmen, who promptly gun him down.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • Alberto decides to rape and kill the girlfriend of a powerful criminal and then kill Kingstown's influential power broker to obtain a quick payday without considering the violent repercussions.
    • Sam is a prison guard with a knack for making life worse for himself. At the start of the series, he opens himself up to blackmail from powerful inmates prompting his uncle to approach the McLuskies for help. But before the McLuskies can defuse the situation, Sam decides to take matters into his own hands and sets in motion a series of escalations that threaten to start a race war. Sam ends up getting transferred to the women's prison for his own safety but, despite many warnings, allows himself to be seduced by an inmate, who knifes him to death.
  • Tranquil Fury: Mike only raises his voice in annoyance and frustration. When he gets angry, he becomes very calm quiet, such as when he works his way through a Neo-Nazi hangout and slaughters everyone inside methodically.
  • Truth in Television:
    • The open air, tent city prison seen in season two is not unusual in the American prison system, though it is normally used to alleviate overcrowding rather than as a temporary measure.
    • The Aryan Brotherhood's use of drones to smuggle drugs into the prison is based on several incidents in American prisons.
  • White Sheep: Kyle is the only McLusky sibling who's managed to keep himself reasonably clean. Mike is encouraging him to take a job with the Michigan State Police so he can stay away from the corrupting influences of Kingstown.
  • Wretched Hive: Kingstown is a city that has seven prisons, twenty thousand prisoners, and an economy primarily built around said correctional facilities. The police and prisons are incredibly corrupt and have attracted large numbers of criminals to operate in the city in order to deal with their incarcerated associates. It is, otherwise, a depressed economy in a bleak hopeless city.