One thing I failed to mention about last week’s episode was how grateful I was that, when Michael Chiklis’ Vincent Savino had his first disagreement with the new overseer of his count room, Mia, he didn’t say something like, “Why don’t youse go buy yourself a pretty dress and let the big boys handle this,” or some other piece of gross, juvenile sexism. It’s been a disappointment of Vegas so far that it doesn’t seem to relish the hedonistic, high-cholesterol accouterments of its setting, the way Mad Men does, and the way that the swaggering, broad-shouldered ’80s show Crime Story did. (Its heart may be a little too close to the spartan, Marlboro Man style of Dennis Quaid’s Jack Lamb. The hero doesn’t have to corruptible, but the show would have more juice and tension if the it could allow for the suspicion that being corrupted might not be half bad.) But, unlike Mad Men, especially in that show’s early years, it hasn’t been making explicit points about how dumb and morally unenlightened the characters are, just because they have the misfortune to be living in 1960, when everyone was racist and sexist and let their kids play in plastic garment bags.
Some of that sneaks into the opening of tonight’s episode, but in a Bizarro World sort of way; the show doesn’t pick on its characters for not knowing better than to smoke and say “Negro,” but it does establish that one among them is so progressive-minded as to qualify as an emissary from our time, so we’ll know he’s worth caring about. The scene is a press conference featuring a group of young men collectively known as All The Guys Who Were On The U. S. Boxing Team For The 1960 Olympics Who Weren’t Muhammad Ali. A dopey reporter asks one of the boxers, Tommy, if he didn’t feel his gonads turn red, white, and blue when he knocked out a Russian opponent. Appalled by this jingoistic bullshit, Tommy says, “Do you really think it feels different to punch a Russian or an Italian?” Then Tommy, who is white, starts to go off on the evils of segregation and how he’d really like to punch “the creep” who refused to serve breakfast to his black teammate, Ray. Ray, who is Tommy’s best friend, gestures to him, indicating that he should just play along because it’s not worth making waves, and Tommy smiles and says, “Knocking out the Russian made me proud to be an American.” All that’s missing is Tommy stepping away from the table and having a conversation about how different things used to be with a holographic Dean Stockwell.
If it sounds as if Tommy might just be too good for this world, the world agrees, and before long, he’s this week’s murder victim. In the course of the investigation, Jack discovers that Tommy also had enlightened views on women and wife-beaters, and that he was an early casualty in the infestation of the sporting world by bad, bad drugs taken to combat physical pain and suffering inflicted in the gladiatorial arena. As in last week’s episode, solving the case gives Jack the opportunity to temper legal justice with his own sense of mercy, and to do what he can to fulfill the wishes of a murder victim he deems honorable and well-meaning. If this is part of the show’s formula, I’m dying to see how they plan on making good on it, week after week. But the real news is that Dennis Quaid is trying to learn to smile again. It’s a little like watching Fred Astaire dance in his 70s, and the most successful attempt is a sarcastic variation on his classic hell-raiser’s grin that is more likely to haunt your dreams than warm your heart, but hey—baby steps!
It’s at the casino that things are hopping. Tonight’s episode introduces us to Angelo, the Big Bad of the Chicago mob, played by the granite cliff face that walks like a man, Jonathan Banks. Angelo is a crotchety, grumbling old-school dude—i.e., a Jonathan Banks character—who responds to Vincent’s perfectly sensible suggestion that the casino should expand to include restaurant service by lecturing him against trying to solve problems that don’t exist. The real problem that does exist is Mia’s dad, Johnny Rizzo, a degenerate gambler who has been banned from all gaming floors in Nevada, because he whups on the dealers when he loses. Vincent tries to meet the psychopath halfway by setting up a private casino in a penthouse for him, and Johnny ends up whupping on the dealer for letting him win. Clearly a hard man to please, and he isn’t above proposing to his daughter that she institute “a double skim” to line their family nest. He backs off that plan, but only because he’s already on thin ice, having incurred Angelo’s displeasure. At the moment, the power structure seems to be that Johnny and Vincent are natural enemies, but Angelo stands between them, and he has Vincent’s back. So the show’s best potential generator of suspense might be the question, “How many more grumbles does Jonathan Banks have in him?”
- This week’s pearl of cowboy wisdom from Sheriff Jack Lamb: “Elephants. You know how you eat ’em? One bite at a time.”