Graceland: “Smoke Alarm”
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Graceland: “Smoke Alarm”

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Graceland

“Smoke Alarm”

Season 1, Episode 9

“In a place like Graceland, sometimes it’s good to keep secrets,” Paige tells Mike in the opening minutes of this episode. Like most other things in this episode, that advice will blow up in everyone’s face by episode’s end; Graceland has chosen a direction, and it’s full speed ahead (optional torpedo-damning).

Plotwise, things are converging. After Jangles alerts everyone that he’s in town by leaving a corner dealer’s sneakers dangling from a telephone pole with feet still in them, everyone on both sides mobilizes to intercept him. For Briggs, it means setting a trap for Jangles in a safe house; for Bello, it means arming his men to the teeth and sending them into the streets; for Charlie, it means investigating solo; and for Mike, it means finally calling someone out on their cover and getting caught in the middle of something awful.

Mike ending up in the crosshairs was inevitable; Bello’s out for blood, and confronting either Briggs or his handler Badillo was going to get messy. Still lingeringly loyal to Briggs (who Mike knows is hunting Jangles for personal satisfaction, but whose alter ego Odin still seemingly eludes him), Mike accepts his reasoning of, “Sometimes it’s all about using one monster as bait to get the others.” He leans on Badillo instead, who just hands Mike a bug for Briggs, which bothers Mike enough to storm home and discover his grandfather’s photo is also bugged! Worst present ever.

When Mike demands an explanation, Badillo casts off weeks of vague insinuations to drop the news that it’s personal, dammit! This is the second Delta Sigma Fed house Briggs has operated from; his first one burned down mysteriously right after The Jangles Incident. Badillo lost good agents in that fire! (Also presumably a pretty great house.) Mike, the straight-A kid who hates nothing more than the grown-ups keeping him in the dark, tags out of the entire op–the first definitive move he’s made against his own best interests. His cover must have been wearing thin from trying not to get shot protecting a drug lord. Not a good day for Mike, and he still has to confess who he really is to Paige; that goes about as well as can be expected.

Despite the unconscious stroke of luck for Briggs that Mike’s angry enough with Badillo, it’s not a very good week for Briggs, either. Charlie blows his safe house investigating her hunch, leaving him to leverage Johnny back to his side and try to circumvent Jangles from another angle. (It’s an effortless flip, and Briggs knows it; he might be a friend to Charlie, but Johnny’s sympathetic pretty much wherever he can be, and he’s too much invested in Graceland-as-family to hold out for long against any story that offers the chance to return harmony to the house.)

It’s another stroke of luck for Briggs that Bello positively lights up under pressure. The episode neatly underscores how Bello worked his way to the top through sheer ruthlessness; even under threat of torture by Jangles, he refuses to show fear or give up Odin. He might have been nudged into all this single-handedly by Mike, but his internal cowboy narrative demands he see it through, and he’s going to buy into his own story at all costs: When he challenges Mike, “Do you think the lives of my men mean nothing to me?”, he looks as earnest as a man who never burned out Eddie’s eye for a minor mistake.

And in a true cowboy move, it all ends in a shootout. When the dust settles, Bello’s alive but in custody, Mike’s wounded and totally vulnerable after having admitted the internal investigation to Paige, and Briggs lands a bullet in Jangles’ shoulder but loses the chance to pursue, leaving him more desperate than ever for closure at the barrel of a gun, which Badillo probably wishes he’d known before he puts on his Jangles costume and confronts drunk Briggs on a deserted beach at night.

It’s not a bad position for the show to be in. Slick, earnest, and occasionally sharp, Graceland has moved past the rockiest episodes of the first season, and though it's still more concerned with plot than nuance, some of its earlier narrative water-treading has caught momentum as arcs solidify and endgames present themselves. But in this flurry of activity and converging subplots, these last few episodes have a tendency to crowd setups with reveals, leeching some opportunities for tension from its twists. Charlie’s investigation this week crosses paths with Federale Raphael Cortez; the next time they meet, to join forces, the camera wastes no time panning to the bloodstain seeping through his jacket right about Briggs-shot-me height. (Poor Charlie cannot catch a break lately despite a rapid uptick in her ability to find hidden things in a room.) And arguably the episode’s most unexpected moment, a blank-eyed Badillo taking the investigation into his own hands, warily trying on the trappings of his unauthorized cover, plays out almost immediately, as he marches down to the beach to exchange some enigmatic hostilities and get shot (the third player this season to get his first big character beats in the same episode that offs him). At this point, having committed to its entanglements four episodes from the finale, maybe there’s just little room left to leave anyone in suspense for long.

Stray observations:

  • During the long wait for Jangles, Bello and Mike bicker about Butch and Sundance. As the sprinklers go on unscheduled and Bello’s men suddenly vanish, Mike gets up to investigate, pausing to remind Bello of the last line of the film: “’For a moment there, I thought we were in trouble.’ Think about THAT,” he says, shouldering a signpost aside on his way out.
  • Good news: Mike remembers to be nervous about all those guys he taught to handle weapons. Awkward news: They all died without firing a single round.
  • Jakes returns to the basement this episode, presumably flipping through huge files about parrot smugglers.
  • It’s never too late to pull out the manpain of a dead girlfriend, for those times when a heroin addiction, drug dealing, and possible murder isn’t enough.
  • Mike’s always been at his best when he drops human concern and goes full sociopath; his long game with Bello is top priority even when he’s trying not to barf up a lung, and he manages to get his rights read to him before passing out. See you in the prison mini-arc, Mike!