Graceland / Screen

Graceland shows signs of former glory with “H-A-Double-P-Y”

It’s notable that “H-A-Double-P-Y” isn’t the worst episode of Graceland (it’s hard to say what is though it’s surely one of this season’s) though it does have all the worst things about the show at the moment taking place. It also has some of the best so maybe they cancel each other out. It’s not likely, but by the end of this episode I wasn’t left feeling completely apathetic toward the show or its characters, even vaguely interested in seeing what happens next.

First there’s Johnny who kicks off the episode with a visit to Carlito’s place where he walks in on a violent argument between him and Lucia which gets even worse when Lucia catches Carlito in the face with one of the bottles she’s flinging at him. Then it gets even worse when Johnny, to keep Carlito from strangling Lucia to death, wacks him in the face. To salvage the operation Johnny goes back where it becomes apparent that Carlito’s got more than platonic or even hateful feelings toward Johnny, these veering more toward the romantic. Though watching Erik Valdez and Manny Montana kiss a little bit (and having Carlito accurately call Johnny’s face “pretty”) is an episode, even a season, highlight, it reeks of gimmick.

I know USA’s trying to distance itself from its sunny aesthetic, and Graceland was its first venture into this darker television landscape. But while last season’s unfolded naturally, this one seems to be trying to hard to make it so. Maybe turning Carlito’s feelings for Johnny into something romantic seems like an interesting twist, and it could be if it didn’t feel like the show was reaching for this rather than letting it fold organically. It’s like someone in the writer’s room felt that Carlito’s childish uses of violence weren’t enough, but they had to add repressed homosexuality to it too. It’s not making him gay that does this, it’s how the show pulls it out, turning it into something gimmicky, almost comical at the outset before tinting it with USA’s try-hard brand of “dark” which manifests itself in Carlito responding to Johnny’s kiss with holding him at gunpoint and smacking him around. It feels like the show’s on one hand making fun of Carlito for being gay at all, considering his quickness to force Johnny into watching a threesome last week, and on the other trying to….I’m not even sure. And I love Johnny but him kissing Carlito’s gun was just awkward. That being said, I enjoyed watching them more than anything else, and I’m not totally hating the love triangle unfolding between Carlito, Johnny and Lucia.

But Graceland‘s other triangle is a total failure. Jessica’s arrival at Graceland throws Mike, and his and Paige’s insufferable (and shrill) flirting, off. Even though this triangle is truly terrible, I still laughed at seeing Paige and Jessica meet for the first time because that’s really all I can do with this show these days. The house is more welcoming to Jessica than Mike is, all in a knot over what Jessica’s intentions are, and his anxiety is validated when she announces that she’s there to shut down Mike’s investigation at the end of the week which gives the house one more shot at a bus.

Jessica on her own isn’t a bad character. I actually don’t mind her, but it’s clear what the show’s trying to do with her. Earlier today I watched some episode of Alias season 3, and while the shows are pretty different, they have something in common. Lauren Reed emerged in season three as Michael Vaughn’s new wife and main character Sydney’s competition for his affections. In the back half of the season, Lauren was turned into a double agent which not only made her relationship with Vaughn impossible, it made her viability as a character impossible, too. She’s a bad guy so she can’t do anything but be bad. Alias didn’t even try for any nuance with Lauren’s feelings for Vaughn, throwing her into an affair with another bad guy just to make sure we knew how bad she was, how unforgivable and how evil. And Graceland‘s going the same route.

Maybe not with the double agent stuff (though the episode’s ending as Mike realizes there’s a leak does open the door for that), but with making Jessica just enough of a villain that it’s clear that she has no place here. She arrives from Washington to shut down Mike’s operation, but then she announces her plans to scratch Paige’s human trafficking operation and we know she’s terrible. I didn’t see her that way really. She’s just a cog in the machine that is D.C, a machine that Mike’s been chugging along for all season (while being a million times more insufferable than Jessica by the way), and she’s willing to let Paige’s operation continue when Mike asks. It’s grating, and very much so, when Paige and Mike conspire to seduce Jessica into keeping the operation active as if just making a case for it would be so hard. And even though Mike returns to Paige and tells her Jessica ended the op because she realized Mike’s into Paige, that’s cheap, and I’d be more inclined to believe that Jessica shut it down because she was offended at being used. But Jessica’s obviously not a character so much as a plot point, and an attempt at showing how torn Mike is.

Then we have Dale who hooks up with the prostitute he slept with, now dozing on a bench, and he takes her back to his apartment where he lets her clean up. I thought this was weird, kicking off some kind of weird romance between Dale and the still unnamed hooker, but then it got even more weird when Daniel turned up. Having found Dale’s address on the restraining order, Daniel rode his bike there to meet him, and though Dale starts doing the right thing and sending Daniel home, his new friend convinces him to change his mind. So they spend the rest of the day in bumper cars because there’s nothing that can go wrong here.

I should mention that somewhere in here Dale actually does some work, and it’s fun to watch him. Part of the fun of the first season was seeing the agents undercover, seeing what they were willing to do in the name of making their case. For Dale it’s feigning drunk on the job, even vomiting on his boss so he can find out when the next bus is due. It’s a fun moment (gross, too), but fun because we haven’t seen anyone have that good of a time undercover all season.

To prove how limited Dale’s foresight is he’s later arrested for violating his restraining order, and it’s a big problem because he’s currently providing backup for Paige who goes after one of the Tinkerbells. While Dale’s attempting to run from police and getting tased for it (I actually said “WTF”), Paige decides to take the place of the Tinkerbell who died after a drug bag burst inside her, and she goes in not knowing that she’s lost her backup.

It wasn’t as electrifying a moment as it should have been, watching Paige throw herself into danger that way for the sake of catching her bad guys. As she swallows down the bags the Tinkerbell threw up, it’s reminiscent of Charlie last season as she took heroin to maintain her cover. But unlike that, it’s hard to find investment in it, even though I am interested (tentatively so) in seeing how Paige manages undercover.

The episode’s final moments are its attempts at bringing everything together, and it works… sort of. I’m still fuzzy on what Carlito has to do with any of this, but he and Johnny are doing a pickup that gets derailed when someone leaks the information and blows up the bus depot. And Mike’s realization about the leak isn’t at all interesting, assuming its someone we’ve yet to meet and therefore have no reason to care about them (unless it is Jessica) but Paige and Dale’s cliffhanger endings, however tainted by the flaws of the season, are a good example of what drew me to the show in the first place. And reminded of me of why it’s so sad to see how far its fallen.

Stray Observations

  • Are Briggs and Charlie even on this show anymore? The most memorable thing they did this episode was have Charlie profess her love to him for helping her through her “darkness” ( the dialogue on this show used to be better, right?) and have Briggs look guilty over her shoulder.
  • You know, awkward gun kissing aside, I would watch Johnny and Carlito makeout in a web series. And I would pretend that none of Carlito’s previous characterization had ever happened and he really was just some dude trying to prove himself in his dad’s crime family while not really wanting to (which is way more interesting albeit predictable and kind of Disney-movie like) instead of just being a too-rich and too-entitled man child who hates when people make fun of him and tries to kill his sister despite saying how much she “means” to him.


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