Graceland 1×09 ‘Smoke Alarm’: Revelations and deception

Graceland 1x09 Cover

Ever since “Bag Man”, last week’s episode where it was confirmed that Briggs was ODIN and things heated up between Bello and the Caza Cartel, it seems like Graceland has had a second wind pumped into its lungs.  The first seven episodes, while decent, never seemed to push very hard at the main storyline, always diverging off into “bust of the week” scenarios that network dramas with a 24-episode season fall back on (except for shows like LOST, even though LOST greatly benefited from a reduced episode order).  And it makes sense; it’s difficult enough to be creative with a 12-episode order.  Infusing a 24-episode order with enough plot and character depth to be continually compelling is nearly impossible.

But after “Bag Man” and “Smoke Alarm”, I’m confident that Graceland could, if it tried, come back next summer with a great sophomore season.  Dropping the “bust of the week” scenario has done wonders for the show, infusing exponentially more tension into the proceedings while taking the characters to darker and more interesting places than ever before.  It’s also sped up the pacing to make those two episodes feel bigger and grander in comparison to the rest.  Cutting those diverging self-contained storylines makes each scene feel more important, and as a result, these latest episodes have felt more important than the rest.

Graceland - Season 1

Source: USA

That’s not to say that “Bag Man” and “Smoke Alarm” have been perfect episodes.  Graceland relies heavily on plot twists and quick, dense plotting, though sometimes it seems like the writers are in over their heads.  Mike has consistently been the character that fails to really suspect Briggs, and lately it has come off as even more contrived than before.  When Agent Badillo reveals (in one of the more startling and ominous reveals of the season) that there was a group house before Graceland and that all the agents except for Briggs were murdered there, Mike brushes it off and condemns Badillo for being crazy instead of paying it any attention.  That complete lack of interest rang odd to me, considering how strange Briggs acts and how extreme that reveal is.  Not only that, Badillo isn’t feeding Mike any lies.  The dramatic end to the “prototype” Graceland was absolutely true.  That, in particular, dragged down the quality of “Smoke Alarm”, that Mike is so intentionally blinded by the writers.

That isn’t to say that there are ways to attempt to rationalize Mike’s behavior.  He’s certainly angry at Badillo for being strung along, for having his room bugged.  He also has a certain bond with Briggs, considering that Briggs trusted him enough to tell him the story about Jangles (the oddly named assassin).  The problem is that both of these influences aren’t fleshed out enough to make Mike’s decisions seem rational.  If more emphasis had been put on these specific points, some of these issues with character action wouldn’t be quite as glaring.  Sometimes, when a television show gets too ambitious, it doesn’t have the ability to back up that ambition.  But I’ll give Graceland some credit; the ambition is there.

Graceland 1x09-4

Source: USA

But aside from some of the character issues and inconsistencies that are present in this episode, “Smoke Alarm” manages to improve on the action-packed “Bag Man”, mostly because it cuts Abby out of the mix and moves forward with the Caza/Bello conflict.  It also takes the pointed character positioning that happened in “Bag Man” and ran with it, pushing Charlie further into her investigation into Briggs and pushing Johnny apprehension about that investigation to the point where he confesses it to Briggs.  Paige may not get a strong characterization, but she at least has a purpose, playing off Mike and his mental breakdown.  Jakes, however, doesn’t really get anything to do past comment on how Graceland isn’t a family at all.  It would be great to see that dynamic examined a little further, but Jakes hasn’t really gotten the spotlight and it doesn’t seem like he will anytime soon.

Graceland 1x09-2

Source: USA

While most of the season has dealt in lies, this episode dips further into the converse: truth.  Briggs gets drunk at the end of the episode and ends up telling the truth to an undercover Agent Badillo right before he murders him.  Mike suffers a stab wound and tells Paige the truth about his purpose at Graceland.  They’re both suffering from immense emotional trauma, secrets eating away at them so furiously that they have to purge them with the truth in order to stay above water.  Because we all live with the loneliness of our secrets, the pain of being the only one hurt by them, and eventually there’s a point where we just can’t take the emotional turmoil any longer.  Only problem is that, after we’ve deceived others with those lies, the cathartic act of telling the truth hurts those we’ve deceived.  Mike is the only one of the bunch who has admitted a lie to somebody he’s deceived, Paige, and she instantly abandons him as a result of that.  It’s akin to the last season finale of Mad Men.  The truth might hurt.  It might destroy parts of your life, if not all of it.  But it’s the only way to move forward.  And, at least Mike has taken that first step towards progress.

Despite some of the minor issues that the episode had, “Smoke Alarm” was another strong episode of Graceland.  It looks like the season will end on a fairly strong note, considering how much there still is to resolve and how there are still revelations necessary to bring the whole picture into focus.  There’s still a lot more truth that needs to come out in Graceland, many more secrets that need to be shed in order for that picture to be brought into focus.  And, if this episode is any indication, there’s going to be a lot more suffering and death before any of that can happen.

So what did you think of this episode of Graceland?  Do you think the season will end on a strong note?  Let me know 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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  • Jefferson

    I, personally, enjoyed both of these episodes. For the “bust of the week” comment, I never really got that vibe from the show. Sure, they do put some people behind bars, but that’s because they aren’t going to film an episode with nothing exciting happening. Plus, there are 6 agents in that house, there are a lot of people between them to get a crack at someone. For me, there aren’t that many plot twists but when they happen, they take me by surprise and I like that. Everything is there for me to figure it out if I choose and it makes me an active audience. All the episodes have been, I feel, boiling down to these last few episodes. I love all the characters, who are all still developing of course, and I love how the devil is in the details. The writing is fantastic. It is a little dark but there’s also humor in it and inside jokes from previous episodes that you have to watch for but are little ‘Aha!’ moments when you catch them. There is so much information in each episode that I think you would be lost (maybe not lost but confused at least) if you missed one. I think this season will end on a strong note and I desperately hope it will be renewed for another season. I’m excited to see how this show will turn out in the next three episodes.

    • Rae Bradshaw

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    • Michael St. Charles

      I suppose it really depends on how you feel about procedural shows, where they use that “(blank) of the week” method to give audiences a contained story arc every episode. I’ve never been a huge fan of it, but that’s a personal opinion, and one that varies depending on how well a show pulls that method off.

      Anyway, I’m liking this show a lot more than I thought I would. The writing, while not perfect, works pretty well for the show, and a lot of the build-up has been paying off wonderfully these last two episodes. I also REALLY hope that it’s renewed for another season. Despite some basic structural issues, Graceland has had a fairly solid freshman season, and I think it has the potential for great things in a second season. Keeping my fingers crossed!