Graceland 1×08 ‘Bag Man’: Lies and blood

Graceland 1x08 Cover

For the vast majority of the season, Graceland has used a “bust of the week” style to fill in some of the gaps around the main plot.  Most of the time, it’s a fairly obvious deviation from that main plot, as it doesn’t have a whole lot of substance and merely exists to fill running time and keep supporting characters on the screen.  Well, this week does away with that mechanic, focusing intently on the central plot and theme, using all of the characters to do so.  It’s a well-constructed episode (minus a few plot/character issues), and while I said last week that “Goodbye High” had my attention wavering, “Bag Man” had me glued to the screen for the entirety of its 42 minutes.

Graceland 1x08-1

Source: USA

What makes “Bag Man” so successful is how it brought a lot of the series’ vague plot threads into complete clarity.  Where last episode had a “Briggs is Odin” reveal that a lesser show would have left dangling for a little while, this episode quickly established the truth behind that reveal and drove forward with it.  It took the dynamic between Charlie and Briggs and immediately established how suspicious she was of him, how she was nervous that he was hiding something.  It tied together Briggs’ story about Jangles the hitman with the current investigation, taking Bello’s lackluster storyline and transforming it into something greater involving Odin and the Caza cartel.  This is undoubtedly the most focused we’ve seen the series thus far, as it never deviates from the main plot or the main thematic ideas, using every character instead of leaving them on the sidelines.  It’s also the most serious the series has been, as we haven’t seen a whole lot of violence up to now and are suddenly treated to a bloodbath shootout, torture, amputation, and cauterizing wounds.  Graceland has really amped up the tension, and it’s far better for it.

Graceland 1x08-3

Source: USA

It also took the thematic ideas that have been building for the last 7 episodes and brought them to a head, deconstructing the notion that those in Graceland are a family, showing us just how alone they all are.  Mike, after witnessing the carnage of the Bello/Caza cartel conflict, realizes just how empty life in Graceland really is.  He hasn’t seen his hard work come to any sort of neat resolution.  It’s all been lies and blood.  And while Mike and Abby’s relationship hasn’t gotten any sort of legitimate spotlight (Abby is still a one-dimensional story piece), I’ve seen enough in his police work to buy why he would see Abby as his escape.  So, in a moment of desperation, he brings Abby to the house, trying to infuse his awful and painful life as an agent with the joy he has with her.  But it’s still all lies and deceit.  He can bring her to the house, but he can’t tell her everything.  He still has to lie.  And while he continues to lie, all he has is a woman that cannot truly know him.  Paige may say that Graceland is there to keep these cops afloat, but Graceland isn’t a family.  It’s lies and deceit, even among those who can be honest with one another.  The one real moment of honesty we have in this episode is Jakes telling Johnny how people perceive him as a joke.  And it’s something that is resolved by the end of the episode.  “Goodbye High” may have told us how the truth can be a burden, but “Bag Man” reminds us how it can set us free.  It all depends on what that truth is and how it is presented.

Graceland 1x08-4

Source: USA

Of course, this episode wasn’t perfect.  There were quite a few plot and character contrivances that detracted from the overall quality, even if they weren’t huge enough to break up the tension too badly.  Some of the characters have to be blissfully air-headed in order for the plot to play out the way the writers want it to, such as Charlie and Johnny half-heartedly searching Briggs’ apartment or Mike easily believing that Briggs had nothing to do with Odin slipping away at the end.  When Mike, at the end of the episode, describes his assailant to Briggs, the show borders on the kind of contrivance that we sometimes see in Dexter, where people are so close to Dexter that they should be able to take him out but are stupefied by the omnipotent hand of the writer.  At the very least, those problems won’t have a huge impact on the show’s future episodes.  It’s not as if an entire string of episodes is damaged by a lackluster storyline; bad character writing is something that can be quickly modified for future episodes.

A few issues aside, this was probably the most exciting episode of Graceland thus far.  The plot was clearer, the action was bloodier, and the mood was substantially darker.  The thematic work is even more forceful than it has been in the past, offering a more focused glance on the message this show is trying to convey.  And now that the agents of Graceland are closing in on Briggs and the Caza cartel is ready to war with Bello, there’s a lot of great ideas setting up for an intense finale.  Let’s hope it all goes out with a bang.

So what did you think of this episode?  Imperfect, but still a lot of fun?  I’m thinking it was probably the best one yet.  Let me know what you think in the comments!

Want a chance to win a Hulu Plus subscription just for reading and commenting on articles? Check out the details, then leave a comment below!

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.

Both comments and pings are currently closed.
  • Eric Pharand

    It would have been one of the better episodes if not for The Plot Demands It/Idiot Ball.

    • Michael St. Charles

      I’d say that the episode’s other strengths overshadowed the plot contrivances, but there’s no denying that the writers had to twist characters and plot to make things work.