In a thrilling new season of FX's Snowfall, empires rise and fall.

In 1986, the fifth season of FX's Snowfall premieres at the University of Maryland. A group of young men are partying in their dorm room, and one of them in particular is consuming as much coke as he can. 

You already know what's about to happen if you're a sports enthusiast or have watched some historical documentaries. Len Bias, the Boston Celtics' second-round pick in the 1986 NBA draft, is about to die of a heart attack, ending his bright NBA career before it even began.

It's a good way to start the season since it situates Franklin (Damson Idris) and his CIA-backed empire in a larger cultural context. Gone are the days when Franklin was just trying to stay on top of things, navigating the market for this new narcotic largely within his own neighborhood. He's made it, he's at the top, and cocaine is about as common as an illicit substance gets. The problem is that this signals a shift in the game. Bias' death brings attention to the dangers of cocaine use, and with the drug becoming more popular than ever, Franklin's group is no longer the only ones capable of bringing it in. Because the market is saturated, earnings aren't available.

As much of the focus of the first four episodes is Franklin trying to negotiate a new normal, the fifth season pivots neatly around these sources of tension. Since we last saw him, he's been flying high (literally). He owns a private plane, lives in a mansion near the beach, and runs a real estate development firm with his pregnant girlfriend. Jumping forward and giving Franklin everything he's ever wanted right away is a clever way to get this season's action started. We've seen enough of his empire-building in previous seasons to know that we don't need to spend any more time on the details.

At this stage, it's more interesting to watch how Franklin handles the pressures of overseeing his empire; early on, one character comments, "heavy is the head that wears the crown." 

Franklin and his team are under a great deal of pressure. Teddy (Carter Hudson) weasels his way back into the operation in the first few episodes, skirting around the truth about Franklin's father's death and attempts to build a rift between Franklin, Louie (Angela Lewis), and Jerome (Amin Joseph). Then there's Skully (De'Aundre Bonds), who survived the hospital gunfight and is still running things like a lunatic; his close ties to Louie and Jerome cause friction between them and Franklin, who isn't happy with how they're conducting their business.

Franklin is also attempting to establish a clean, lawful business. He wants to concentrate on real estate development in order to provide a stable environment for his girlfriend and pregnant child. He's ready to get out of the cocaine business's drama and unpredictability in order to protect his family and his future. And, hey, haven't we already heard that? Sure, the drug dealer who wants to be clean but keeps getting lured back into the life is a well-worn stereotype within the genre. It's something we've seen a hundred times before. However, clich├ęs exist for a reason, and Snowfall uses them to increase the tension throughout Season 5.

All of this is to imply that, at the very least, this season has the potential to be the show's best yet. It's always been good, but the fourth season showed signs of strain as it attempted to wring more suspense from a few stale themes that had begun to lose their luster. With season five, the program appears to be maturing, resetting some relationships, and presenting these characters with some difficult moral decisions as the season progresses. This time, snowfall seems different, as it swings gears and focuses on how to hold on to power while the environment changes.


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