Graceland / Screen

Graceland revives Drunk Dale and tosses Better Mike in “Tinker Bell”

“Tinker Bell” works better than last week’s episode, but it’s still a flawed hour. It’s boring, as the bus/drugs story demands to be, but the episode at least gets back into the grit of the house and the relationships formed between the agents. Following his failed attempt at reconciling with Cassie, Dale gets drunk, waking the whole house in the early hours of the morning with his banging on his bedroom door, which is now Better Mike’s door. And to make things worse, Dale headbutts Johnny when he asks why Dale isn’t with his son, cuing Johnny dropping him like a hot potato and making his preference for Better Mike known. And even though this episode may have been all about Dale being kind of awful, he’s still nothing compared to Mike.

While Dale’s turned everyone off with his drunken attacks on them (it’s been at least twice now) and his general disdain for the house and its residents, Mike is turning everyone off with his attempts at being authoritative, dragging D.C’s “results oriented” mindset into the house even at the expense of the people in it. When he ignores Paige and Briggs advice not to attempt to buy more than usual from a skittish dealer, Paige gets a pencil through her hand for it. And his crappy attempts at motivating Johnny (by reminding him how little worth he holds on the house, how he’s not Briggs and isn’t an undercover operative Mike has confidence in, etc) only serve to widen the gap between them. It’s the same with Charlie, who grows more and more tired of Mike’s moral superiority with each passing day. It’s only Paige who continues to put up with him, which makes sense since they’re having sex, but this annoying Mike still saps their flirting of any charm, and it’s hard to see why Paige still has any interest in him if it was last season Mike she found so attractive.

Dale’s still drunk, even while working, making Mike’s decision to keep him around instead of Better Mike appear especially ridiculous. I don’t buy that he did so out of any loyalty to Dale, who he didn’t care for all that much, especially when Mike’s being so awful to everyone else in the house anyway. It doesn’t make sense that Dale would be immune to his behavior, and it’s more likely that Mike just wanted Better Mike gone. Perhaps because he has been designated as “better” or perhaps because Better Mike likes to flirt with Paige. Whatever the reason, despite Mike’s decision to keep Dale around there are at least two people who aren’t that happy about it.

There’s Paige who takes rightful issue with Dale’s drinking on the job, and Johnny who’s sick of being Dale’s punching bag when things get tough for him. He leans heavily on Better Mike, whose departure takes a toll, especially when Better Mike refuses to say goodbye to avoid tripping up Johnny before his operation with Carlito (Erik Valdez). Even though Better Mike leaving was always inevitable, it’s sad that Johnny’s left in the lurch afterward. Questioning his worth in the house and trying to move outside of his position as designated backup, Johnny takes the lead with Carlito (with Better Mike the only person encouraging him) and sells him an antique pistol. Since Johnny’s been just as neglected on the show as he is in the house, it’s nice to see him taking the lead, working his way out of trouble before landing in it again as Carlito challenges him to a duel, only stopped by the intervention of Carlito’s sister, Lucia (Jamie Gray Hyder). Then it goes badly anyway, as Carlito responds to the laughter of his lieutenant by shooting him in the throat.

Putting a face to the people the Graceland agents are trying to take down helps a lot, in a way that the bus storyline hasn’t been faring. So far we just have…buses, while Carlito and Lucia (who is so over her brother,  by the way) add some energy. Even though Graceland‘s been heavy handed with its villains in the past, trying to imbue them with some character in the form of quirky hobbies (like Bello’s Western fixation and Carlito’s interest in Mexican antiques), they work better just as villains, stirred by their own criminal and enterprising motivations. The whole idea of them being unpredictable in their range and their power is what makes them fun to watch, and hopefully Carlito will ascend to the same interesting heights Bello did last season, at least until his father turns up.

The bus storyline, though still boring, at least pays dividends this week as a drunken Dale and irritated Paige find a woman milling around the station with a Tinker Bell backpack and peg her as one of the mules for the drugs. After speaking with one of the women, Paige doesn’t help her as promised, instead sending her onto the next bus which will take her to the recipient of the drug-filled bags she swallowed.Then, just in case we didn’t grasp the moral implications of such an act, Paige can’t find that girl later but finds her backpack, and the phone she gave her, in the trash. I’m sure this will spark an argument between her and Mike about her following along looking for results (which they got) at the expense of a girl’s life.

For all their faults most of these things fare better than Brigg’s and Charlie’s happenings this episode. For some reason Graceland doesn’t expect us to remember what Charlie did last season, constantly having her recapping her suspicion of Briggs. It’s not a bad explanation for her behavior, unable to trust herself or her abilities after going so far off-base last season, but the show’s not doing a good job of building the tension here. Charlie has to find out that she was right about Briggs at some point, and it looks like the show’s going to wait until closer to the season’s end to go there, but in the meantime all they have for Charlie is her holing up in her room, emerging only to put out fires between other housemates and cry on Briggs shoulder while he comforts her for rightfully believing him to be guilty last season.

And Briggs’ solution to Charlie’s problem is to bring her back on Kelly Badillo, who they hope they can help. After last season Briggs is doing his penance for what he did, which no one in the house knows about except for Dale which at least brings up a semi-interesting exchange between the two. As Briggs advises Dale to quit drinking, he tells Briggs to worry about fixing himself instead of taking on a project. It’s not bad advice since Briggs is arguably the most screwed up person in the house, still living in his own lies while simultaneously trying to make amends for them. It’s why he’s attaching himself and Charlie to Kelly now, and hopefully with Charlie involved again we’ll start inching closer to the truth coming out if only for the blowups that will accompany it, which will be far more interesting than Briggs and Charlie’s back and forth.

Though this episode was definitely a step up from “Connects”, I’m relieved that we’ll have a short break. The show’s not grabbing me like it did last season, and it’s unfortunate because however flawed the first season was it had a handle on keeping things interesting. This time around things aren’t moving at the same pace or with the same flow, and sitting down for this episode was harder than it should have been.

Stray Observations

  • Charlie: “Mike, at some point you have to stop acting like you invented undercover.” My thoughts exactly. Whose idea was it for a relatively green Mike to try to come in and assert authority among these agents who’ve been doing it way longer than him?
  • There’s some meta that can be written about Carlito prodding Johnny into dueling by insulting him, as Johnny’s determined to prove himself and can’t stand to be criticized that way and Carlito shooting one of his own people because he chuckles at Lucia’s insult.
  • Why did Mike call Better Mike “recalcitrant”? He wasn’t. At least he wasn’t more than anyone else who Mike’s been pissing off.

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