As a holiday surprise for any viewers loyal enough to be watching tonight, Vegas serves up an episode that, while not much better than most of the ones that had preceded it, is at least busy. Lots of stuff happens, and, gratifyingly, much of it even comes together to form a semblance of a plot. It's seasonal, too: In the opening scenes, Elvis Presley can be heard singing “Blue Christmas” on the soundtrack, while Sheriff Ralph is stomping around behaving—not Grinch-like, exactly, but sort of politely indifferent to the holiday, as if he doesn’t want to be a bastard and ruin everyone’s holiday but does want to communicate to the camera that he is still too burdened by the weight of the world, and too grief-stricken over his wife’s death, to take part in the festivities himself. To the chagrin of his son, he even refuses to host an office Christmas party, because old Ralph has some silly notion that it wouldn’t be right to have everyone getting drunk in the police station.
Meanwhile, his brother is making time with Mafia princess Mia Rizzo; they dance together to Hank Locklin’s “Please Help Me, I’m Falling,” two souls swept away together into Honky Tonk Heaven. The music choices may be obvious, but they still make for better listening than the dialogue. Concerned that Del Merrick, the builder he has under contract, has been ripping him off, Vincent arranges for a late-night meeting by starlight and tells him, “We don’t mind your padding your bottom line, because you’re the only builder in the city who can handle jobs our size. But pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered. You know what I’m saying?”
“Actually,” says the builder, “no, I don’t.” It’s a line that I’ve been waiting for someone on Vegas to say to one of the leads for quite some time, and though I was betting it would be directed at Ralph, I’ll take what I can get. Unfortunately, Del’s candor about his inability to speak fluent cryptic proves ill-advised. The next day, his right-hand man—played by D. B. Sweeney, an actor who has been looking crestfallen for so long in so many different roles that I find it hard to watch him without wanting to buy him a puppy—has to endure the mood-spoiling sight of Del’s body spilling out of a cement mixer on site.
ADA Carrie-Ann Moss takes one look at the fast-hardening corpse and judges it to be a mob hit. Ralph isn’t so sure. For one thing, the dead man had received a threatening letter from someone named Watanabe, a name that does not strongly suggest Sicilian roots. Ralph and Jack track down Watanabe and are treated to an epic monologue about how this joker blamed Del for the death of his daughter because Del had a government contract to build the Japanese-American internment camp where the girl died of pneumonia. Having sent Del that letter warning him that he intended to take his life, Watanabe tracked the builder down and slashed his torso, but then he had second thoughts and drove him to the hospital. There, as Del recovered from his wound, the two men bonded and forgave each other, and themselves. We hope you’ve enjoyed this special spoken-word holiday edition of Insight. Now back to Vegas, already in progress.
Looking more deeply into the case, Ralph and Jack learn that Del was having an affair with the wife of one of his gangster associates, and that he was also involved with a woman who had an arrest record and a history of drug abuse. It turns out that she is now a preacher, and has her own little church in the desert, doing her Aimee Semple McPherson act; she undulates at the pulpit in front of a congregation singing, “Can’t nobody do me like Jesus,” while the film crew tries not to giggle. She, too, has a sad story to tell, in the form of her own one-woman Off Broadway show. Daddy was a jazz musician, and a junkie. “Mama used to put a little dope in my baby bottle. Keep me quiet. Did everything I could to get by. One night, I let a man pay me. It wasn’t the first time, mind you, but the fellow knocked me around pretty good. And as I lay there on the ground, I prayed to God to let me live, which was strange, actually, given how many times I’d prayed to Him to let me die.”
At moments like this, you have to wonder how much CBS is paying Dennis Quaid, and if his salary was negotiated before it was made clear that instead of memorizing and delivering lines of his own, he’d be spending half of each episode Listening Intently. Sister Aimee explains that Del, having undergone a spiritual awakening, had decided to help her build a church and then get out of the dirty construction racket. As a young man, he’d moved to Nevada for his health; “Back then, the desert saved Del’s life. Now, it was his turn to save the desert.” Del is shaping up as one of the most complex characters in the history of this show. It’s too bad he didn’t get more than a couple of minutes of screen time before tumbling out of a cement mixer.
In the end, Ralph and Jack deduce that the murderer must have been either D. B. Sweeney or Del’s widow (Melinda Page Hamilton), and since time is running out, the writers simplify things by revealing that it was both of them, working in cahoots. Meanwhile, at the casino, Vincent discovers that mobbed-up diva Diane Desmond is working with the Feds and tells her to vacate the premises, adding for good measure that she will never again know the burly, baldhead potency of his kisses. Unable to face a future in which Michael Chiklis is forever out of reach, she exits the show with a needle sticking out of her arm. Vincent is also luring Ralph’s son into his sticky web, offering him a penthouse room for the night as a reward for having gone undercover at the casino to catch a thief, because the real reason that the character of Dixon hasn’t really clicked with viewers yet is that he hasn’t been wearing a shiny blue vest. “You must’ve been top of your class at the police academy, huh?” Vincent asks. “No,” says Dixon, “I started work at the ranch the day after I graduated high school.” Dude, it’s called small talk. Vincent would have explained that to him, but you can only have so many miracles in one episode.
- Dixon uses the room at the hotel to throw that Christmas party, where he tries to kiss Miss Sanchez. She leans in as if to accept, then bops him one. “Why are you so bossy!?” he bleats. “Because you love it,” she replies, adding, “Now go get me some ice.” “Yes, ma’am,” Dixon says, with a big, horny grin. Unless these two are soon going to be playing scenes involving melting candle wax and loops of fishing wire around the delicate parts of Dixon’s anatomy, I’m not sure that the writers are aware of just how weird this flirtation is starting to sound.
- Quaid and Carrie-Ann Moss have a scene together in his office where they exchange presents, and then she leans in as if to kiss him on the mouth, and he gracefully deflects it. Is there supposed to be something going on between these two? I sure as hell hope not. If there’s one thing this show doesn’t need, it’s one more romance between two people who have zero chemistry between them.
- Confronting the mobster whom the builder cuckolded, Ralph says, "Merrick sleeps with your wife. Merrick ends up dead. Should I book the courthouse?" That might be the best line Quaid has had on this series to date. And since there's a lot to be said for quitting while you're ahead...
- When Todd reviewed the pilot of this series a few months ago, and when I began reviewing it immediately thereafter, we both wrote that the show was far from great, but that given the potential of the setting and the quality of the talent involved, it was worth being patient and giving it a while to find its way, on the chance that it would turn into something special. Well, we the viewers did our part, but Vegas hasn’t held up its end of the bargain, so this will be the last regular review of this frustratingly, stubbornly mediocre series.
- Merry Christmas. Turn off the set and go caroling or something.