REVIEW: ‘McMillions’ Episode 3

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McMillions Episode 3

McMillions, the six-part HBO documentary, continues with its third episode aptly titled, “Episode 3.” Previously, the documentary series revealed more about Jerome Jacobson’s involvement in the scam as well as introducing us to Jerry Columbo. Columbo had ties to organized crime and had a history of being involved in scams. In an effort to learn more information about these two men as well as figure out how far the fraud reaches, the FBI put together another undercover operation. With the help of McDonald’s, and disguised as a TV crew, the FBI spoke to the winners under the guise the interview was for a reunion they were all scheduled to be a part of.  Now with evidence on film and the wiretaps, the FBI begins to unravel more about the scam.

“Episode 3” continues to showcase the undercover FBI investigation, this time focusing on Gloria Brown, another one million dollar winner they believe was connected or related to Columbo. The more Brown lied, the more evidence the team had against her and the operation as a whole. Because the FBI was using a real camera, the documentary is able to show the actual interviews from the undercover operation intercut with various agents commentary. Once again, Agent Doug Mathews is a stand-out. As the lead on the undercover investigation, Mathews has the most knowledge of the event. Previous episodes focused too much on his commentary, leaving in things that were not necessary or jokes that fell flat. However, in “Episode 3,” Mathews isn’t played for laughs and instead has engaging information about the case. And while he still has a lot of humor in his delivery, it never comes off as obnoxious.

In addition to featuring interviews with the winners, McMillions also features interviews with Frank Columbo, the brother of Jerry Columbo. Frank details how the elusive Uncle Jerry made money off the scam. Jerry Columbo was in charge of picking the winners and would take a portion of the money after Jerome Jacobson had the winner purchase the ticket. However, the winners were all Italians from the east coast which made the trail easy to follow. In hopes of making the winners less conspicuous, Jerry Columbo’s wife, Robin Columbo, recommended he give the winnings to other people, including Gloria Brown.

McMillions Episode 3

Brown’s testimony of the events and how she came to know Columbo was fascinating. Brown, at the time, thought the offer from Columbo was a blessing. Brown was a single mother struggling to make ends meet and provide a good life for her son. Her story puts into perspective the situations many of the winners were and furthermore, how it would be to say no to the offer Columbo gave her. Brown’s insight also paints a clearer picture of the type of man Columbo was. Despite being friends with Robin, Brown was never allowed to be alone with Columbo’s wife, especially after he decided to pick her as the million-dollar winner.

It is easy to think the McMillions scam was a harmless crime that McDonald’s barely felt the brunt of but the truth of the matter is that nothing involving organized crime is harmless. After realizing she knew too much and in fear of her own life, Robin felt forced to go through with the deal.

“Episode 3” elevates the stakes of the case by bringing to light the emotional impact of the scam from the perspective of those involved in the illegal activity. The only issue I had with the episode was the at times the pacing was slow but even that is a nitpick. So far, McMillions is an excellent documentary series that illustrates the story of the scam in an engaging and emotional way.

McMillions Episode 3
9/10

TL;DR

“Episode 3” elevates the stakes of the case by bringing to light the emotional impact of the scam from the perspective of those involved in the illegal activity. The only issue I had with the episode was the at times it had slow pacing but even that is a nitpick.