In its ongoing quest to marry the gritty undercover drama it wants to be with the sunbathed action comedy somebody promised USA, Graceland this week featured a heroin overdose, a fake porn, and an undercover FBI agent knocking the snot out of the world’s worst Buy More employee.
It's not all as awkward as it sounds, but the show's still having trouble maintaining balance: in the previouslies, we get a lot of time to remember that last week, Mike watched Eddie fall from grace, ending in a standoff suicide that lays bare the stakes and will haunt him forever – or until 8:13 the next morning in this week's cold open, when Johnny gets him up to go play beach football with Paige, who has a new bikini. Remember summer fun, everybody? Graceland wants you to.
Similarly, Charlie, the A-plot this week, goes undercover with Briggs under identities so old they actually have aliases, and their pasts come back to haunt them: Charlie’s ex-informant Whistler reappears and endangers their cover, and Charlie and Briggs have to deal with the relationship that was operating under these IDs last time, for measures of “dealing with” that mean making out briefly and then calling it off. Then they rent a porn so Johnny, listening in, thinks he lost the will-they-won’t-they bet to Paige, because shenanigans! Then Whistler overdoses during the deal, and a furious Charlie shoots up to prove to Quinn she’s not a cop.
Oddly enough, this episode suggests that it’s not Mike or Briggs but Charlie who has the most complicated relationship to the undercover life; she’s handling (ex-)informants and undercover identities, sometimes both at the same time, sorting out some lingering feelings for Briggs, and is apparently one unexpected circumstance from tanking her own career. It’s a little surprising, given her low-key contributions so far, all indicating she’s circumspect and on an even keel. It's even more surprising given that Briggs is 90% of the house mythos but has yet to deal with anything so complex. (The hints Mike’s IA contact drops about Briggs skimming heroin is hopefully groundwork for a full subplot soon, because even making the most of every two-second pause, Daniel Sunjata has been treading water waiting for the investigation reveals to start having a bearing on the plot.)
And while Charlie’s smash-cut shootup is a solid cliffhanger (assuming it has a longer tail than the last one), Whistler’s overdose marks the second episode in a row where a the death of a briefly introduced character is framed as emotionally devastating for the agents. There’s something to be said for a USA show actually eager to dispense of its supporting cast, but that’s a pretty close succession. Hopefully Charlie’s tipping point is the beginning of a more substantial arc for her.
On the other hand, after last week’s suicide, after which Mike couldn’t even face his non-character girlfriend, this week was beach football and zero ambivalence about taking Brigg’s suggestion and volunteering as Bello’s bodyguard.
Mike might have wanted to think over advice coming from Briggs, whose motives could perhaps be considered suspect to the agent investigating him in close quarters (his attempt to champion Briggs to his handler deflated rapidly amid the specter of disappearing heroin). But Mike throws himself into the idea and gets the job by tackling a racist electronics-store employee to the ground, which seems like the sort of attention a crime boss might be trying to avoid in a store full of cameras, but the show’s given Bello a fondness for Westerns, which apparently explains everything. And while the cowboy as an icon for the lawless is nowhere near new, Gbenga Akinnagbe uses it to bring a winning enthusiasm to someone trying to hone a pack of hired killers. Bello’s possibly the show’s most interesting character (excepting Sudden Charlie, depending where she goes); a brief scene of Mike watching Bello at home, transfixed and mouthing along with the dialogue in The Gunfighter, is one of the most intense moments of the episode.
It’s also an extremely illustrative couple of two-shots, since in that moment–Bello unguarded and Mike on the make–it’s just two sociopaths hanging out, watching a movie and seething with ulterior motives. Mike finds comfort in undercover work because it’s easier to pretend an inner life than to actually have one, and Bello abhors a vacuum; with this shot, the seed’s planted for Mike to get more seduced by his cover than the man he’s investigating ever did. If they can figure out how else to integrate their mandatory beach football scenes, this is an angle that’s worth exploring.
- Well, Mike has sure taught that gang to shoot the crap out of people. Wonder if that will ever come back to haunt him.
- Paige and Johnny’s D-plot got a little meta this week under the scrutiny of Mike’s “You guys are adorable with this constant irrelevant advice.” That said, Manny Montana is doing some yeoman’s work as the anchor of pretty much every happy-funtimes scene so far.
- Hats off to the day players who got to be Porn Couple in Elevator. One stop closer to a SAG card, you guys.
- For the best undercover guy in the business, Briggs is not great at using the right cover names within earshot of their targets. No wonder they switched to real names only.