Graceland 1×07 ‘Goodbye High’: The burden of truth

Graceland - Season 1

Graceland has some great ideas.  It often discusses what it means to live through lies, how lies impact others, and this episode even touches on whether or not the truth is just another burden to put on another’s shoulders.  It’s all great stuff and it shows how Graceland is so self-assured as it moves forward.  Only problem is that the vehicle in which these ideas are presented isn’t compelling enough to make them stick.  Their impact is damaged by a lack of forward movement, both in plot and character development, and it’s absolutely frustrating to see these good ideas squandered because Graceland doesn’t have enough plot ideas to interlace with its strong thematic ones.

Graceland 1x07-1

Source: USA

That’s not to say that nothing moves forward in this episode.  In “Goodbye High”, not only do we get some backstory from Paul, we also deal with Charlie’s heroin use, Mike’s feelings towards his girlfriend, Jakes in a random subplot that’s only used to shed light on Mike’s plot, and yet another cliffhanger-y revelation involving Paul potentially being Odin.  It seems like a lot for an episode to cover, but the biggest problem with all of it is how familiar it all is.  We’ve already dealt with Mike’s feelings for Abby, how he has to continually lie to her, and the impact of his job on that relationship.  We’ve already dealt with a lot of Mike/Bello tension, as well as Charlie’s heroin use.  I do like how Graceland takes things that we’ve seen already and manages to put a new spin on it, such as juxtaposing Mike and Abby’s relationship with Jakes’s dilemma concerning his child.  Jakes was right when he told Mike that Graceland isn’t forever.  None of them can march ahead, doing their jobs until they burn out, because eventually they’ll be left with nothing to show for it.  They’ll be alone and miserable, like Paul is now.  The problem is that Jakes’s subplot is so unbelievably bland that it dilutes the power of that message.  A subplot can’t only exist to shed light on a larger plot.  It has to be strong in and of itself.

Graceland 1x07-2

Source: USA

So, as a result of the slow movement of the overarching plots, even the more compelling bits become stiff and bland.  After twenty minutes passed by and not much was going on, I felt myself tuning in and out until the final potential “Odin reveal”.  Graceland is certainly a show that milks cliffhangers for all that they’re worth, using them as a springboard to the next episode instead of ending with something truly strong.  Cliffhangers can certainly be powerful if used properly, such as the raft ordeal at the end of LOST’s first season, but there has to be more to them than just shock value.  They have to place characters in peril.  They have to be potentially earth-shattering for the development of the characters.  And having Paul potentially be Odin…well…it doesn’t feel like it matters all that much because the whole “Is Paul a criminal?” plot doesn’t have a lot of force to it.

Graceland - Season 1

Source: USA

However, despite all of my frustration with the show, the things that were discussed over the course of the episode really were smart and interesting.  Lies damage the wielder no matter how they’re handled.  Mike might lie to Abby in order to keep Graceland from being compromised, keeping himself safe in the process, but those lies hurt his chance to develop a meaningful relationship.  He already sees this truth, as much as he wants to shield himself from it, so he’s already looking for a way out, a way to get out of Graceland and over to the east coast with Abby.  There’s also the way that Charlie handled the news of her heroin use, where she tells the entire house that she’s been using.  Ridding herself of those lies might make her feel better, but now she’s just shifted the burden of her actions onto other people.  No matter what she does, the action has already been committed.  Time is the only thing to alleviate the burden of the action entirely.  Until then, it can only be passed around and shared.  Living in Graceland is to live with a burden.  And we’ve seen how damaged Paul and Charlie have been by theirs.  It’s not a huge revelation that secrets and lies are cumbersome, weighing people down the more they pile up, but it’s interesting to see that within the context of Graceland because everybody is forced to live with a perpetually increasing pile of secrets and lies.  Within each member of Graceland, there’s a breaking point waiting to be reached.  And it’s just a matter of time before they get there.

Graceland may be a show that knows what it’s doing, but there needs to be more to it than there is now.  A television show has to take the time to connect its own dots.  Those dots can be well-placed.  They can have the potential to form a powerful picture.  But unless they’re connected well enough, the picture looks hazy and incomplete.   As great as Graceland can be, as strong as its ideas are, it doesn’t know how to sufficiently connect those dots.  And, right now, that’s a huge problem.

What do you all think of Graceland as it nears its home stretch?  Decent summer watching or not worth much?  Considering how few truly great shows air in the summer (aside from Breaking Bad, which is still brilliant), I land on “decent summer watching”.  Let me know what you think in the comments!

Michael St. Charles

is just a Michigan State University grad who loves a good story. If he’s not off teaching the young ones how to solve quadratic functions or to write an expository essay, he’s watching old-school HBO shows, indie horror movies, or he’s playing Resident Evil 4.

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  • Eric Pharand

    Mike is the least interesting/sympathetic character. Jakes and Paige are caricatures. Mike is a terrible agent. Too many cliffhangers.

    • Michael St. Charles

      The only real tension the show has comes from its cliffhangers, which is definitely not a good sign. And I don’t think we’ve seen Jakes since episode 4 (though don’t quote me on that). I don’t think the show has really fleshed out Jakes or Paige at all.

  • Tinkerbell

    I personally agree. I think it’s decent summer watching, at the moment. I like Mike, Briggs, Charlie and Johnny. Paige, and Jakes I’m meh about. I like Bello too, in some kind of weird way. I don’t like Abby all that much because I don’t think she serves any real purpose other than to be a love interest to Mike-she’s bland, and a caricature. I generally only like love interests when they are a character’s subplot, and not the sum total of their little plot. They’re also using too much exposition at the moment, rather than showing us things they are telling us it. Makes it slow to watch. It’s good entertainment, and so far, I am enjoying it, contrary to what may appear in my comment. It could be one of those shows that finds it feet as it goes. I sure hope so because the potential is there. Personally, I’d ditch Jakes (or give him something interesting to do) and let us really get to know our main characters. Mike, I feel like we don’t know enough about him, only that he’s smart and has designs on the director’s chair at Washington. I have a feeling there’s a lot more to him, and that things will unravel there. Sorry for the long ass comment!

    • Michael St. Charles

      I can definitely understand not really caring about Paige and Jakes. They’ve never really had the spotlight, and when they get it, it’s not anything more than a B-plot. Neither of those characters ever really factor into the main plot. And I wish Abby was more than just part of Mike’s character dynamics. It’s frustrating to never see their relationship evolve past “Mike shouldn’t be with her”. I don’t think we legitimately know anything about her. But yeah, Graceland is fun summer watching in a summer void of anything halfway decent (ALTHOUGH BREAKING BAD RETURNS IN 12 DAYS). It does a fairly good job exploring some of its thematic ideas, even though that exploration doesn’t dig really deep. Though it is enough exploration to keep me in my seat. I’m excited to see where the season ends up!