Godfather of Harlem season 1 premiere recap, explained: By Whatever Means Necessary

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 27: Forest Whitaker attends the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative (WPDI) "Place for Peace" at Gotham Hall on September 27, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 27: Forest Whitaker attends the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative (WPDI) "Place for Peace" at Gotham Hall on September 27, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative) /

With new gangster epic Godfather of Harlem beginning, Show Snob is here to explain and recap all the action and intrigue from the season premiere.

Epix‘s Godfather of Harlem starts with Ellsworth Raymond “Bumpy” Johnson’s release from the notorious Alcatraz prison back to the streets of Harlem, New York City. He is welcomed by his wife in a fancy car of the 1960s era depicted. They travel to their new, modern apartment complex where a party including friends and family awaits them.

An associate of Bumpy, Guap, informs him that the ‘Italians’ – La Cosa Nostra, or American mafia – are causing “problems”. Another mate tells the former he has guns for sale. A nun tells Bumpy his daughter is doing well at school, but he loses himself in the party so leaves for the rooftop.

Above the soirée his daughter looks for him, finding him in the stairwell. Before they can leave for ice cream, more acquaintances tell Bumpy that there’s an issue on 46th street. At a bar he ‘runs’, they discover a man shot; there was a robbery and the barman was injured attempting to stop the assailants.

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They learn the shooting and raid was undertaken by Vincent “The Chin” Gigante’s mafia crew – he became a boss of the ‘Five Families Commission’ under the name ‘Genovese family’. Some very dangerous people and now rivals of Bumpy’s. The young man is sent to be given medical care and Bumpy gives the woman worker money – depicting the Godfather of Harlem’s mixed persona.

Next, Bumpy is told by his right-hand man, Pettigrew, that the Italian gangster who caused the mayhem is named “Zambrano”, and is “running Harlem” for the Genoveses. Apparently, the crew hadn’t done a thing to invite the only recently occurring hostility, it’s a message from the Italians.

Bumpy instructs his men to bribe more police, find information and take him to Pleasant Avenue: the social club and six-block radius area that still serve as headquarters for the Genovese crime family. Although, Bumpy’s two affiliates are worried that the location is threatening, especially to black folk – Bumpy is unmoved at the notion as he is a crime lord, too. Now the men discuss civil rights as Malcolm X is interviewed on the radio; Bumpy knew him from back in the day.

In East Harlem at Genovese HQ, Bumpy tells his guys to park around the corner from a butchers/cafe; they arm themselves with pistols and shotguns. The two gang members point weapons at young gangsters standing outside the establishment while Bumpy pursues Zambrano inside.

Zambrano is cutting an animal carcass to retrieve 96% pure, smuggled drugs. Bumpy interrupts the men by pointing a sawed-off shotgun at Zambrano’s head; Chin intervenes, saying Bumpy is a legend. Though Bumpy is surprised Chin has taken over since Vito Genovese and shoots a carcass when they disagree over who actually runs Harlem. Extraordinarily detailed introduction credits for Godfather of Harlem break the scene.

At Lennox Terrace where Bumpy’s flat is located, his wife, Mayme, questions his current involvement in criminality. She wants to be reassured he is not institutionalized; he admits the hurt prison inflicts along with the worry and stress. Mayme has Bumpy promise to stay crime-free.

In the subsequent scene, Bumpy plays chess with the “prime minister of the underworld”, Frank Costello. Costello informs his friend that Chin put a contract (money for killing a target) on him. At the Genovese social club, Costello tells Chin that he does not have permission from the mafia ‘commission’ (their governing body) to murder Bumpy. And that Chin is lucky to have control of Harlem.

Whilst Bumpy’s men fret over the mob, Malcolm X or “Detroit Red” greets him in a diner. Thanking him for telling him not to hustle and be straight, Malcolm takes Bumpy to the projects to see the devastation of hard drugs on the neighborhood. Although it’s the Genovese’s turf; so Malcolm offers soldiers for Bumpy’s guns to reclaim it.

Malcolm’s men (Nation of Islam thugs) and Bumpy’s goons then go about clearing the area of dealers not on their side. Meanwhile, in Godfather of Harlem, as Malcolm preaches on a street corner, Chin’s crew arrive at the dealing spot armed to the teeth, yet Bumpy’s gang is ready and waiting with snipers. Bumpy punches a made guy (a mafia member considered untouchable) and is consequently warned to take it no further – Chin and his guys leave.

A friend of Bumpy’s wife asks him to help her son, Teddy, with his addiction to white women! At a show, Mary, a singer who likes Bumpy, lets him know that the man in question is addicted to heroin and the woman in question is Stella Gigante – Chin’s daughter. They seem in love as, simultaneously, Chin racially complains to a priest about the relationship. Vowing to kill the man if his prayers aren’t answered.

The in-the-know shoeshiner, Cecil, notifies Bumpy that Zambrano is having an affair with his own black maid. Then Adam Clayton Powell Jr., Harlem politician for the House of Representatives, stops by to ask for Bumpy’s help – who refuses. Afterward Malcolm and Powell argue over religion; additionally, Malcolm advises Bumpy not to integrate with others not of his kind.

As he eats ice cream with his family, Bumpy sees a man looking shifty; as he investigates they have a shootout. Using humor to deflect the incident from his family’s attention is a maneuver of the gangster. Guapo, an Hispanic friend of Bumpy, tortures the Cuban hitman to discover the people who paid him and are behind the hit. He won’t be a turncoat until they have a man rape him; telling them Zambrano gave him the contract.

At a mental asylum, Bumpy says he’s splitting from the Italians to placate Malcolm. Powell is also appeased by his acquaintance with a promise of political help, through a quid pro quo proposition. In return for the favor, Bumpy wants to ‘speak’ to Powell’s followers.

The musician, Teddy, and his girlfriend, Stella, are located by the Nation’s guys at a hotel. She thinks her father will attack Bumpy for finding them but he apprises her of the threat of her dad’s racism. Taking the large package of heroin they have, Bumpy says he’s saving them.

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At Powell’s church, he gives a brief sermon then invites Malcolm to the pulpit. Simultaneously Bumpy creeps into Zambrano’s room and cuts his throat using Flossy as a honey trap. After this, Bumpy pours a kilo of heroin on to Zambrano. Chin agrees to work with the former, telling Costello he is giving Bumpy his old turf in Harlem too.

The two crews meet clandestinely, where Bumpy returns Chin’s addict daughter. While Chin thanks him, he is still insulting; evidently he read Bumpy’s ploy and lied to Costello. We learn that the beggar from earlier in the episode is another daughter of Bumpy’s. That concludes the season premiere of Godfather of Harlem.