Graceland 1×10 ‘King’s Castle’: And the walls begin to crumble

Graceland 1x10 Cover

Despite some issues here and there concerning occasional lackluster writing and some decent-at-best “bust of the week” plots, I’d have to nominate Graceland for one of the better shows of the summer.  Granted, it’s not like there’s that many good shows on.  Aside from yet another phenomenal season of Breaking Bad, The Newsroom is still boring and preachy, Dexter is slowly sinking under the weight of unbelievably boring plotting, and Ray Donovan is just muddled and nearly impenetrable.  Not to mention that Graceland could potentially use the next two episodes to take the easy way out and create some deus ex machina plot twists to move everything back to a comfortable status quo.  Nevertheless, Graceland, for the last few weeks, has churned out some surprisingly compelling television, “King’s Castle” being one of its best entries yet.

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Source: USA

So what makes Graceland a great summer show?  In the last couple weeks, the various characters have gone from having somewhat hazy characterizations (with the exception of Mike, Charlie, and Briggs, which have all been mostly straightforward since the beginning) to everybody being used for a distinct purpose. This even applies to Jakes, who was otherwise useless for more than half of the season.  These purposes all contribute to the movement of the main plot, as well as the thematic concepts that drive the story.  While they don’t do much more than those two things, they’re more than enough to keep a show like Graceland smart and compelling.  The plot has also vastly improved from what it was.  While, during the first half of the season, Briggs and his potential heroin smuggling was kind of boring, it’s far more interesting now that he’s wrapped up in a cat-and-mouse game with Charlie and Mike, trying to stay one step ahead of the two of them.  It’s become less relevant what Briggs has done and more relevant what he could potentially do to everybody around him.

Graceland - Season 1

Source: USA

One of the lines that Graceland straddled this week was the ability to sell (or not sell) the vicious and dark image that the show tries to present.  When Bello tried to pawn off Eddie’s death on Mike, when he said that the FBI was to blame for the carnage, it didn’t entirely ring false.  Sending somebody undercover disrupted the status quo within Bello’s operation, and since Mike wanted to get closer to Bello, he had to replace who was already close.  While the criminal life was a catalyst for the death of Bello’s friend, Mike’s presence was also a catalyst.  Both were part of the process that led to Eddie’s death, even if one is supposed to be good and the other is supposed to be bad.  That kind of blurring of the lines is important in good drama, and Graceland did a fair job pulling it off.  However, sometimes Graceland tries a little too hard to be edgy.  Charlie’s threat to Bello about finding the “rapey-est cellmates” was supposed to hit like a brick, but it came across goofier than it should have.  Sometimes, the writing just isn’t entirely up to the challenge of Graceland’s “dark and moody cop show” mission statement.

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Source: USA

This week’s Graceland is all about restraint, what happens when restraint isn’t exercised, what pushes people to break the restraint that they’re exercising, and the consequences of breaking that restraint.  When Briggs says at the beginning of the episode that just one drink could be the difference between a medal and a murder wrap, he’s speaking volumes about everybody’s issues in Graceland.  Take Jakes as an example of restraint vs. excess, where he drinks too much and tries to reconcile with his former lover.  If he had turned up sober, things might have gone differently, but he turned up drunk, at 3 AM, slamming on the door in desperation.  His lack of restraint ended up destroying him more than anything else.  Mike’s also guilty of the same offense.  He should have proceeded with caution, but decided to plunge headfirst into undercover work before he was fully healed.  He made himself vulnerable to Briggs’ machinations, and he was injured again as a result of that, not to mention that his cover was also blown.  Johnny’s lack of restraint is the most poignant of the group, as he tries so hard to boost morale in Graceland by throwing a massive surprise party for Jakes.  Of course, he goes all out and rents out a massive bouncy house and “a gaggle of strippers”, all of which makes Jakes angry and leads to a physical confrontation.  Just about everybody has a problem with restraint in this episode, and it’s all bred from an emotional response to their own pain, whether it be Jakes’ desire to have his old family back or Johnny’s desire to bring together his own.  The more they try to find catharsis, the further they drift away from it.

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Source: USA

There’s a moment late in the episode where Johnny makes a long speech to the group about how they should be a family.  His speech’s effectiveness is somewhat muddled by how cheesy the whole sequence is, but there’s certainly a point to be made.  What everybody needs is a family, a space to be honest and caring, but that’s not there anymore, if it was ever there in the first place.  Graceland is only lies, only isolation, and even the truth hurts as much as everything else.  The only thing that can save everybody is to purge, to rid Graceland of whatever cancer is creating lies and deceit.  Of course, there will always be some cancer there, whether its personal trauma or the nature of the job itself, but removing a tumor like Briggs will at least make things better, if only for a time.

I could have been harder on this week’s Graceland, questioning things like Mike’s complete willingness to display his plans in front of Briggs (something that Charlie should have been extra wary of).  But everything, for the most part, was fairly smooth and competent in “King’s Castle”.  With two weeks left of this season of Graceland, we’ve gotten to the point where things are set up for all of Graceland’s lies to come falling down.  And considering how many have fallen already, how many have negatively impacted Graceland so far, these next two episodes should be even more intense than the rest.

So what did you think of this week’s Graceland?  Are you enjoying the show so far?  And what do you think the season’s penultimate episode will bring?  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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  • Eric Pharand

    One of the better episodes despite some big flaws.

    • Michael St. Charles

      I didn’t notice anything too outrageous, but yeah, I’d say it was one of the better episodes.

      • Eric Pharand

        1) Mike breaking all the rules 2) Charlie threatening Bello with getting raped 3) Johnny being the worst to Jakes but wanting to be family. 4) Paige 5) FBI handler having that essay.

        • Michael St. Charles

          I don’t find either 3 or 4 to be a big deal. Johnny being the most frustrated with Jakes makes sense because he was focusing a lot of his effort specifically on him. Paige hasn’t gotten a ton of definition, so her interaction with Mike doesn’t resonate a whole lot, but it’s not entirely bad or anything. That’s probably because her reaction isn’t at the center of the story, more of a side note meant to reflect on Mike than anything else.

          As for the rest of it, it all depends on the level of artistic license that you’re willing to put up with. Obviously, with any cop show, there’s a ton of inconsistency. Things like Charlie threatening Bello were more irritating to me because of how goofy the dialogue was written, not because of how unrealistic it was. For me, as long as it remotely resembles reality to the point of not being too distracting, it’s not a huge deal. If they can utilize the characters well, realism within the show can loosen up a little more. But if it starts to distract from the show and the quality of the show, then it bothers me. Of course, I don’t know a ton about the “reality” of being an undercover FBI agent, so “reality” is kind of a loose concept for me. Still, I was able to deal with the majority of those inconsistencies that bothered you a lot. But that’s just because I don’t mind putting up with more, I suppose.

          • Eric Pharand

            The points aren’t all unrealistic or only unrealistic. 1 and 4 are for the series in general. For 2, police and state police probably do threaten things like that, it’s just tired/goofy/heavy-handed in a tv series. For 4, Paige has been reduced to Hot Girl/Possible Love Interest and there’s only 2 female characters now.

          • Michael St. Charles

            Yeah…Paige doesn’t have much of a personality. Out of all of the characters, she’s probably the least developed (yes, even less developed than Jakes), and it’s never entirely explained why she finds Mike’s “secret” so utterly awful. Graceland doesn’t treat its female characters that well. It’s definitely more male-centric, and though most cop shows end up that way, it’s still a shame. At least it treats female characters better than…say…The Walking Dead or Sons of Anarchy. Sons of Anarchy is especially terrible at writing female characters (aside from maybe Gemma in Season 2), as most of their plotlines revolve around the actions of the male characters. At the very least, Charlie is strong enough to have a plot of her own. I’ll give Graceland credit for that.

            More than anything for Mike’s character, I find it frustrating that he’s so willing to believe that Briggs is a decent guy to the point of failing to suspect him at all. What bothered me most about “King’s Castle” was how he and Charlie had no problem airing their “plan” in front of him, then not really suspecting him at all when everything goes wrong. That’s one of the biggest writing flaws of the season, but when it’s compared to a show like Dexter, where the writing is SIGNIFICANTLY more contrived, Graceland really isn’t that flawed. Just mildly irritating.

            I completely agree that Charlie’s threat was goofy. I understand the motivation behind it, as Charlie is getting more and more desperate to figure out who Odin is, but she didn’t come off as threatening at all. One of those moments where I like what they’re getting it, but I don’t like how they’re trying to get there.

            Thanks for you input, by the way. It’s great to have somebody engaging with the show as well.