13 August 2013
The title is technically a lie, because USA’s Graceland is now more than halfway done with its first season. The season started out strong, but fell into a bit of a routine, which while enjoyable wasn’t especially challenging or innovative. However, in the last two episodes “Goodbye High” and “Bag Man”, the show took incredible risks, in a gutsy move that will rock its foundations. (Major spoilers ahead).
In the pilot episode, we learn that FBI newbie Mike Warren was sent to Graceland (an undercover house that hosts agents from the DEA, FBI and ICE) to spy on his superior, Paul Briggs, who was suspected of corruption. Mike also gets close to a scary drug lord named Bello. Graceland then fell into a pattern: Mike trying to get information on Bello and Briggs, while the other agents investigated various cases.
The thing that kept me tuning in wasn’t so much the plot, which wasn’t by any means bad. It wasn’t great. It was good, if predictable. I kept watching because of the characters and their relationships with each other. Graceland did a good job of establishing two worlds- the gritty work world of the agents, and the more familial world where they live. The believable camaraderie between the characters is the best part of the show. I like all the characters in the house (well…Briggs is iffy at this point, but more on that later).
Aaron Tveit continues to shine as Mike, who was shoved into the deep end with his job, but learns fast, and is rapidly becoming a skilled agent. What makes Mike a great character is how he maintains his compassion and innocence. These are traits I hope he doesn’t lose, but I’m kind of afraid he will, because of the increasing number of traumatic experiences he finds himself thrust into.
Charlie (Vanessa Ferlito) and Johnny (Manny Montana) are the glue that holds the house together. Charlie is sort of a nurturing figure, and the most important lesson learned from this show is listen to Charlie, because she knows what’s up. Johnny is the heart of the show; it would be easy to write him off as comedic relief, (to be fair, he’s hilarious), but his unconditional love and support of his teammates make him more than that. Brandon Jay McLaren’s Jakes is underused, and it’s a shame. They teased us with a backstory a few weeks back, but never really delved into it further. Hopefully it’ll be touched on again later.
Despite an abundance of great characters, Graceland hit a plateau for a few weeks. There wasn’t an urgent sense of danger. Okay, some of Mike’s scenes with Bello were stressful, because Bello is seriously nuts. But even though the team’s assignments leave some of them emotionally scarred, at the end of the day, you knew they would go back to Graceland, and help each other heal. Graceland’s role as a safe haven erased any real fear that actual permanent damage would happen to the characters.
Which is why the last few weeks were awesome.
In episode 107, “Goodbye High”, Mike discovered Briggs is a former heroin addict. Although Briggs take Mike a story that he was forced to take the heroin by a drug cartel, and won Mike’s sympathy, at the end of the episode Briggs told Bello he was Odin, a drug lord the team happens to be investigating.
I was very, very skeptical of Brigg’s claim; no one had ever seen Odin, so identifying himself as Odin in order to do business with Bello could have been one of Brigg’s convoluted plans in order to gather evidence in their case. I’m still not 100% convinced he’s Odin. There could be another player waiting in the shadows somewhere; that Briggs could maintain his life as an undercover agent and an established drug lord for so long seems a little far-fetched. But Odin or not, he’s definitely dealing drugs and doing all kinds of shady business, as seen in the most recent episode, “Bag Man”.
Having Briggs be addicted to drugs wasn’t completely a shocker. For Mike to be there investigating meant he was suspected of doing something serious. But for him to be a drug dealer, and actively betraying the team was unexpected. From a writing point of view, that is bold move. The team very nearly caught Briggs in the last episode. Mike will only be blinded by his admiration and gratitude for Briggs’s guidance and help for so long before he figures it out. Charlie is already suspicious; “Bag Man” may have seen her back off actively questioning Briggs, but she’s nowhere near convinced of his innocence.
Exposing Briggs’s double life is an inevitability. How then, do you have a show where one of the main characters is going to be ousted? He can’t stay in the house once they catch onto him. But I can’t see Daniel Sunjata leaving the show either. I have no idea how they’re going to handle this, and it’s very exciting. More than cast an ambiguous shadow over the show’s future, Briggs’s new role contaminates the sanctity of Graceland. It’s no longer a safe place. Briggs showed that he won’t actively try and hurt his teammates (although whether this is to protect his own interests, or because he actually cares about them is less clear), but he will if he has to.
This move unites the two worlds of Graceland like nothing did before. Bravo to the writing staff for making such a game-changing decision, and in the first season, no less. I thought I had the show figured out, but now it feels like anything can happen in the four remaining episodes.