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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Richie Finestra’s more interesting when he doesn’t fight on Vinyl

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When Zak beats the shit out of Richie in an elevator at the end of ”Rock And Roll Queen,” he may as well be a stand-in for the audience. For almost an entire season, we’ve watched Richie lie, cheat, steal, and kill in a way that, in TV Land, hasn’t made him a unique asshole as much as just a plain old asshole. Is there anyone watching at this point who doesn’t want to throw a few good punches at him?

This delayed catharsis doesn’t completely make up for eight episodes of a generically unlikable protagonist, but it does serve as an inciting event that could at least make the protagonist more interesting. Not only does the beating cause Richie to apologize to Zak—it inspires him to confess his role in Buck Rogers’ murder to Devon. In the final moments of the episode, it even moves him—after also listening to Nasty Bits’ sneered recording of Lester’s “Woman Like You”—to take a plea bargain offered by the detectives. He’s going to make a move against Corrado Galasso, not just because he wants to protect his own neck, but because, as the jerry-rigged blues number reveals to him, American Century is something that’s worth saving.


On the other hand, one could easily read Richie’s actions as giving up. If that’s the case, then at least it’s a departure from what we’ve seen from him in the past. There’s something thrilling about watching a guy who’s done nothing but spar with everyone around him finally stop fighting. There’s something thrilling about seeing him step forward from the toxic cloud of coke and brick dust to just be honest with his soon-to-be-ex-wife. In the age of the Dark Male Antihero, telling the truth can be just as exciting as any drug montage or murder sequence. And to Devon’s (and Olivia Wilde’s) credit, she responds to Richie’s confession not just with sympathy, but a hint of disbelief and disgust. “Are you fucking kidding me?” she asks non-verbally upon hearing that, on top of all of his other faults, the person she once loved has taken another man’s life. It doesn’t look like she’ll be taking Richie back, and that’s a good thing. Because at the end of the day, was it really Buck’s murder that sent Richie into his worst downward spiral yet, as he says? Or was that blackness always in him? Wasn’t this all bound to happen anyway when considering who he is and what drives him?

Elsewhere, various supporting players take a similar—albeit less weary—initiative within the music world, continuing last week’s pattern of focusing on the wheeling and dealing of the record industry. Zak continues to push his Bowie knockoff, Xavier; Clark solicits a crowd response for the label’s soon-to-be-dropped disco act, Indigo (fictional, I believe); Maury Gold offers up a lame oldies compilation album as a potential moneymaker; and Jamie gets both professionally and personally closer than ever to Nasty Bits. Her threesome with Kip and Alex could have been exploitative and gross, but it’s presented here as a moment of power for her after getting booted out of her aunt’s house. Even if Andrea’s aggressive and ugly warning about female ACR employees getting involved with musicians proves to be true (Cece’s also been knocked up by Hannibal), Jamie still takes a huge amount of agency in the situation. And why shouldn’t she indulge in some hedonism if she wants to?


That’s not to say any of this will end well, if only for a key musical misstep on Richie’s part. Although he noncommittally urges American Century to look into a young Patti Smith after hearing her cover of “Hey Joe,” he dismisses Julie’s suggestion of checking out some nobody named Bruce Springsteen. To be fair, Julie’s track record isn’t all that great when it comes to signing talent, and even he admits to probably being wrong about The Boss because of his failed judgement calls in the past. But since the show already introduced Springsteen in a blink-and-you-miss-it cameo at Max’s Kansas City, and since he becomes a focal point of a conversation shortly before Richie has to come clean, I can’t help but wonder if Vinyl is being set up as nothing short of a Greek tragedy. If Richie’s able to hang on to some of the self-awareness, remorse, and resignation he displayed in this episode, maybe the fall will be worth watching.

Stray observations

  • Of course, Springsteen and Smith would go on to collaborate on “Because The Night” in 1978. It first appeared on her album Easter, then Springsteen’s Live/1975–85, with a studio version of his own popping up on The Promise in 2010. But in a weird way, I’ll always associate it with 10,000 Maniacs’ cover, which is the first rendition I heard.
  • I’m sure many of you have already heard, but Terence Winter won’t be coming back for the second season. That could be good or bad, depending on which plot elements and character developments were his this year. I’m itching to know what the exact creative differences were.
  • A lot of you predicted Richie turning against Galasso in the comments section. You were right!
  • Some pretty explicit full-frontal male nudity this week. It’s always nice to see HBO being a little more equal-opportunity with that sort of thing. They’ve still got a long way to go though.
  • I know I said I’d try and get these reviews up earlier, but I’m also covering Fear The Walking Dead for another site, so Sundays are still busy for me. 3 a.m. will have to suffice for now.
  • The “Mostly Rock ‘N Roll” section feels a little light this week, which leads me to believe I missed more songs than usual. Please feel free to fill in the gaps!
  • Not a ton of quotes jumped out at me this week. Any suggestions?

“It’s Mostly Rock ‘N Roll (But I Like It)“

  • When Richie enters ACR for the first time, that’s Tower of Power’s “What Is Hip?”
  • “Jewel Eyed Judy” by Fleetwood Mac (1.0) scores Nasty Bits’ photo shoot.
  • It looks like Indigo is actually Glee’s Alex Newell with help from DJ Cassidy and iconic disco guitarist Nile Rodgers.
  • Right before Richie talks to Richie, we get the episode’s sole musical fever dream: Eddie Cochran performing “C’mon Everybody.”
  • When Lester sees Maury Gold in the office, that’s “Shootout At The Fantasy Factory” by Traffic.
  • When Richie exits Ingrid’s apartment, we hear Simon & Garfunkel’s “Blues Run The Game.”
  • The title song comes from Mott the Hoople and plays during the threesome.
  • When Clark enters the club, it’s to the sound of Manu Dibango’s “Soul Makoosa.”
  • Zak remembers what really happened in Vegas to the aptly titled “The Windmills Of Your Mind” by Dusty Springfield.
  • The other version of “Hey Joe” playing when Richie confesses everything to Devon is by Lee Moses (h/t to Weird Magnetic Ray for pointing that out in the comments section).
  • That sounds like a cover of Lorraine Ellison’s “Stay With Me”over the end credits, but I’m not sure who’s singing it. Eddie Vedder, maybe? Or is it a different song altogether?
  • This week’s Vinyl EP includes the Indigo song (dubbed “Kill The Lights”), “What Is Hip?”, Elvis Costello’s “Point Of No Return,” “Can’t Kick The Habit,” and Charlie Wilson’s “Love, I Want You Back.” I admittedly can’t remember where those last three appeared in the episode, so let me know if you caught them, and where.