Thursday, July 25, 2013

'Graceland' Review - 1.07 Goodbye High

        On the newest episode of USA's Graceland, Charlie decides to tell the house about her bust; Briggs must come clean; and Mike believes his investigation is ending.

        We are now over halfway through Graceland's debut season. After a strong start, the series had left me less than enthusiastic as it continued on. The series always had the serial story of Mike's undercover work with Bello stringing along in each episode. But more often than not, it featured moments that worked well paired with episodic stories that just didn't fully take. The characters were also in the edges of darkness without the show actually pushing them fully into it. The basic setup of this show would give itself to become a good ensemble piece. But through many episodes, it felt like the same characters operate in the same ways while ignoring other characters almost completely or placing individual characters in situations that felt off. The camaraderie amongst the core cast was still very strong but the actually narrative engine driving the series needed to be cranked up.
        This episode was a concise turning point for the arc of the season. The opening and closing moments of the hour were use to add dimensions to the Briggs character who surprisingly was flat in the episodes since the pilot. The end of the pilot teased this great story and confrontation of Briggs' past and Mike's investigation of him. And then, that story was put on the back-burner to allow the show to build up its supporting characters to make the key moments in this episode land as well as they did. This was the precise time this episode needed to happen. The fact that the show realized this gives me hope that the final handful of episodes for the season will live up to all the series potential.
        There, however, is one big downside of the episode ending twist of Briggs being Odin, the big drug supplier. The show will have to do a fantastic job to explain how five FBI agents have been living with him in the same house and yet did not notice the side business that he was running. The way that people talk about Odin means that is some pretty big stuff. So how does he run this business without others become suspicious of how he sends his days? The FBI has kinda started catching on and thusly sent Mike in to investigate. However, the show is very frequent to point out how naive and green Mike is in comparison to everyone else at Graceland. In Briggs' opening story, he makes a point to say how he was young and stupid - heavily mimicking Mike's current standing in the ways of undercover work. Then later, Charlie calls him a sponge - just trying to absorb all the information that is coming at him. And then, there is Abby and his conflict of whether or not he should continue this little relationship. He is being pulled in many different directions which has been wearing down on his judgment in the areas he is suppose to be the sharpest in - his investigation at Graceland. The combination of these things will likely be used as justification for how Mike was easily susceptible to Briggs' lies and manipulations. But I hope it won't be that simple.
        And yet, now that this secret is out in the open to the audience, it also opens up the show to be more intense in its narrative. The show needs to explain how these new developments are actually factual without backtracking - like it did previously with so many of its prior episode ending cliffhangers. The show also needs to take more risks. It has done a decent job slow-building up the dynamics of all the main characters but now it needs to back those characters up against the wall in meaningful ways.

Some more thoughts:
  • Charlie is by far my favorite character on the show simply because she is the most developed. We don't know much about her past. However, her little serial arc with her C.I. and her desperation over taking heroine have been the most rewarding storylines in the season so far. I expect that to change now with the Briggs' twist unveiled but I hope that doesn't diminish her importance to this story. 
  • The show also finally remembered that it has Brandon Jay McLaren in its main cast. He has been missing for weeks now when the show was actually developing into its own groove. Same as Briggs, backstory was added to his character that made him full as a character. He still feels off in terms of the ensemble work - as does Serinda Swan's Paige. But in his few scenes here, I see how he could work in the fuller context of the series.
  • Creator Jeff Eastin took to Twitter immediately after the episode to say that the show is taking next week off to let that final twist fully sink in. I think the delay was more of a production necessity, but I don't really know.