The author (guess which one he is) with Vitali (second from the right) and his crew after a skeet-shooting session.
Spets was a short-lived but wildly popular TV show about the Russian Mafia’s brutal activities during the late 90s and early 00s. The series is based on the life of Vitali Dyomochka, a convicted murderer and crime boss from the Vladivostok region who also serves as the director, writer, producer, and star.
Somehow—through means I will not speak of here—I arranged a meeting with Vitali and traveled to Russia last year for a rendezvous. It was my first time in the country, and upon my arrival I quickly realized how fascinating Spets was compared with the backwater semicontinent that is Russia. Thankfully I wasn’t there to sightsee; I flew halfway across the world to speak with one of the most intimidating (and entertaining) career criminals of our times.
I was permitted to enter Vitali’s hidden office only after being vetted and frisked by three different associates. Vitali then proceeded to call me a faggot, took my passport, disappeared, reappeared, and threatened my life before asking whether I could help him land a publishing deal in the States.
Somehow, after all of that, we ended up shaking hands and becoming buds. When I returned home I rewatched some episodes of Spets to see whether I’d gleaned any insight into the show after meeting its creator. Because you’ll never, ever be able to find a DVD of the show outside a Russian snuff-film bazaar, I will graciously recap some of my favorite moments from this wonderful program so that you too may know its true brilliance.
In the beginning of the first episode, Vitali (who is wearing an equestrian helmet for whatever reason) and his crew orchestrate a car crash. It’s part of a blackmail scheme the Russians call Podstava, which was frequently executed by Vitali’s crew in their heyday and also happens to be the name of Vitali’s real-life gang. Based on the way Vitali’s henchmen drove us around Moscow, it’s also probably something they still do when they’re feeling frisky. The action starts when Vitali’s men box in a Japanese sports car, forcing its driver to rear-end Vitali’s SUV. Then the driver hops out like he’s a tough guy, peeks his head through Vitali’s open window, notices the obscene number of guns inside, and cordially hands over his cash and forms of identification. He’s then told to return with more valuables if he wants his car back. Not the most sophisticated of crimes, but it’s very effective.
Here Vitali’s henchman partakes in one of the gang’s few recreational pastimes that doesn’t involve maiming or murder: getting a blowjob in a bathhouse. In the US this type of behavior is usually the province of homosexuals and the “straight” men they secretly fellate, but in Moscow gangsters own this scene. His crew had arranged one of these steamy suck-off sessions for us, but Vitali ultimately decided he wanted to ride horses instead. Maybe next time.
This is from the second episode, when things really start to heat up. Vitali is in bed with his girlfriend, Ira, when her husband comes home unexpectedly. Discreet gentlemen that he is, Vitali jumps out of the bedroom window and lands on a parked car. Two men in the car are having a heated discussion until the roof almost caves in on them. They get out and chase him. This is a stupid idea because Vitali is built like a Kenyan distance runner. The pursuers are quickly intercepted by an SUV full of Vitali’s men that was waiting around the corner.
It goes without saying that Russia’s most dashing criminal mastermind is a DIY type of guy. Hiding bodies in concrete isn’t something you can learn in shop class. Here Vitali is working on a mysterious home craft project involving some tiles and metal piping. He cuts the pipe into strips and files the ends into sharp points. Next he drills holes in the tiles and slides the piping through them, pointy side up. Chances are he plans to use these contraptions to poke some holes in a few tires (or eyeballs). The best part is that he’s having a phone conversation the entire time, which means he must be using the quietest drill in the world.
Just about everyone associated with Vitali spends time pumping iron—even his enemies. While he didn’t offer me any personal training tips during my visit, he did comment on my “pitiful physique.” The beefcake pictured here is part of a larger contingent of doltish criminals who are confused by Vitali’s lack of retaliation following a recent confrontation. Some of them think he’s past his prime, while others warn that they’re playing right into his hands. Somehow this guy manages to conduct his entire workout with his ridiculous bat tattoo in the camera’s frame. Maybe it has some hidden wise-guy meaning I don’t know about.
Justice is swift in the Russian underworld, as this poor bastard learns when a hit man hired to frame Vitali carries out an abrupt execution. Initially the killer is waiting for the mark—a brother of a rival gang leader—outside a café. The gunman starts to drift off but wakes up in a hurry when he sees his target being driven past him by a woman. He takes off after them, yelling, “Wait!” The driver politely pulls over and her passenger is promptly shot in the face. I don’t have a good anecdote to go along with this one, but I’m pretty sure this scenario is on par with flicking a booger onto the pavement as far as Vitali’s day-to-day activities go.
In episode 5, Vitali and one of his cronies find themselves in a real pickle. They’re driving around in a fancy red sports car when a swarm of masked gunmen ambush them and open fire. The car swerves off the road and over what must be Russia’s tiniest bridge, knocking the driver out. Conveniently, he’s driving some weird Russian version of a Firebird with a T-top and Vitali manages to escape through the roof moments before the vehicle bursts into flames. I’d call bullshit, but after spending some time with Vitali I wouldn’t be surprised if every car in his fleet is equipped with at least two exits that are not doors. The man has impeccable foresight.
The force of the exploding car knocks Vitali to his knees. When he gets back on his feet he sorrowfully looks over his shoulder and whispers a plea of forgiveness to the dead driver. During my visit, all of his guys appeared to be super-loyal, so this doesn’t seem too far-fetched or corny. Still, this scene is really fucking intense.
Following the highway mishap, Vitali assembles his entire brigade to storm a beach club and kick the shit out of everyone in sight. Most of the victims are members of a rival gang, but a few are innocent bystanders. Horrible beach attire is the one thing they all have in common, and after getting to know Vitali I wouldn’t put it past him to dish out an energetic pummeling for poor fashion sense. He has standards.
This scene reveals that, underneath it all, Vitali is a big softy. He and Ira are driving somewhere to celebrate their anniversary when the conversation turns to children. She asks him if he wants any kids of his own. He tells her he’d rather raise a son than a daughter, because young boys are much easier to groom into killing machines. Then he reveals that it doesn’t matter either way because he’s infertile. Unfortunately I didn’t have a chance to ask him about shooting blanks or how to raise a stone-cold murderer. And by “didn’t have a chance” I mean Vitali’s presence turned me into a quivering ball of afterbirth.
As we learned earlier in the season, Ira is married. Her husband eventually discovers that she is fooling around with a Mob boss and politely asks Vitali to stop putting his penis into her. Vitali backs off for a bit and assesses his next move. The next scene depicts Vitali’s tearful reunion with Ira inside a car (what is it with them and cars?). Then the husband storms out of nowhere in a jealous rage. He breaks a window and threatens Vitali. Clearly, he’s never been married to a woman who cheats on him with one of the most dangerous men in Russia. Vitali retaliates by turning the enraged husband into Russki roadkill before zooming off. I managed to work up the courage to ask Vitali if this scene was based on actual events, and he stared through me like I was already a ghost.
By this point in the show, three of Vitali’s best men have been thrown in jail for unscrupulous activities. The big V is a stand-up guy, so he decides to save some money for their bail by giving up his apartment and moving into his car with his gal. She waves a weird Russian apple around and expresses her impatience with their living situation, but Vitali doesn’t seem to be phased. His steadfast commitment to his men and a smooth jawline trump her bitchfest. Only real men can properly shave in these conditions, and I can attest that he keeps his face completely free of stubble.
Later in the episode, a mega-bummed Vitali pulls out of a gas station and plows into a passing car for no apparent reason. Understandably, the driver is pissed. He gets out and screams at Vitali, tossing around Russian curse words that are phonetic travesties. As we learned earlier, this kind of behavior is big no-no. If Vitali decides he wants to damage your property or fuck your girlfriend, just stand there and take it like a man. You’ll be better off. My theory is that he destroys stuff out of boredom, which means he must have been pretty entertained when he asked me to go fishing with him instead of knocking my teeth out with a five iron.
The finale takes place at a drag race (what?) between Vitali’s crew and a rival gang. Vitali unexpectedly jumps behind the wheel, which is the secret signal for his guys to unload a military-grade arsenal from their trunks.
Vitali runs another driver off the road, and his men shoot the life out of everybody who isn’t on their side. As the cops approach, Vitali’s crew escapes against a backdrop of flaming cars. I have no idea how Vitali got away with all of this shit, but meeting him was a true inspiration and I hope to one day end my biopic in the same fashion.