Graceland 1×11 ‘Happy Endings’: Time to take sides

Graceland 1x11 Cover

It may seem arbitrary, but there’s a specific reason that certain story elements are normally introduced in certain “acts” of the story.  If Graceland had waited until halfway through the season to introduce that Mike was investigating Briggs, the first half of the season would have seemed more hollow because it was lacking of any central plot device.  That is, it would have seemed more hollow if actions weren’t taken to introduce another central plot device.  Same goes for the climactic point of the story.  If the Mike/Briggs final confrontation occurred halfway through the season, then the story would have to introduce yet another conflict to resolve.  Not to mention that, unless the show ramps up that first conflict quickly, the climax may not be as strong as it could be.

This is all Storytelling 101, and it’s not a set of rigid rules as much as it is guidelines that can be bent without damage to the story if actions are taken to fill in the gaps.  Breaking Bad’s third season moved through plotlines at a breakneck pace, but took actions to make sure that each plotline was used effectively and that character dynamics were actually strengthened as a result of the pacing.  It bent the rules to the point where they barely exist, and it does so with unbelievable finesse.  It takes a great writing team to pull such an abstract tactic off, and that’s just not something that Graceland really has.

Graceland 1x11-1

Source: USA

The reason that I feel the need to ramble on about this basic idea is that this episode includes three specific teams (Paige/Mike, Charlie/Johnny, Jakes/Briggs), one of which just doesn’t work because the dynamic between the two was contrived in a deus-ex-machina fashion to meet the plot’s demands.  Of course, I’m talking about Jakes and Briggs, who apparently went way back to the point where Briggs confessing that murder to Jakes wasn’t a huge deal.  This is a huge problem, as Graceland is introducing new character dynamics in the penultimate episode just to move things forward.  If this relationship was revealed early on in the season and developed a bit, this episode would be a lot easier to digest, but introducing it now and then putting the weight of the episode on it just makes it feel hollow.  Supposedly, Jakes owed Briggs a favor, and that favor was called in to help him cover up Juan Badillo’s murder.  Now, it seems that Jakes, a guy who doesn’t want much to do with Graceland, would have a problem sticking his neck out to make sure that another member doesn’t bury himself .  But no!  The show tries to counter Jakes’ characterization by stating that he owed Briggs a favor and that they were close friends, and it’s just such a cop-out that it sours the rest of the episode.

I’m not saying that the Paige/Mike and Charlie/Johnny pairings don’t work.  They don’t work exceptionally well, as Paige and Mike were kind of thrown together and Charlie/Johnny haven’t gotten a ton of screen time together, but there was enough history to draw on to justify those two teams.  Paige and Mike have been hanging out for the majority of the season, so it would only make sense that Paige has some stake in the fate of Mike’s investigation into Briggs.  And we’ve seen that Johnny is a caring soul, someone who has his friends’ backs no matter what.  The Charlie scenes were some of the best of the episode, considering that they took time to draw from Charlie’s turbulent past, showing just how vicious her quest for justice has made her.

Graceland 1x11-2

Source: USA

It’s also nice to see Mike win one once in a while, even though the incriminating tape had mysteriously disappeared from Badillo’s Crown Vic anyway.  Briggs has always outsmarted Mike, to the point that the new agent has often looked like an idiot, so having him team up with Paige to outsmart Jakes and Briggs was a great deviation from the norm.  Though I haven’t been a fan of Mike’s characterization so far.  Mike hasn’t grown a whole lot as a character over the course of the season, so his victory seems more like a stroke of luck than anything else.  He just happened to interrupt Briggs’ meeting with Clayton.  He just happened to catch Briggs off guard when he handcuffed him inside the massage parlor.  He just happened to get the jump on Clayton and his bodyguard.  Mike hasn’t gained any legitimate skill as an agent this season, something that this episode has cemented with its many instances of luck and there being no real seasonal arc dealing with that.  Maybe a possible second season will turn Mike into a central character to be reckoned with, but for now, he’s nothing special.

Graceland - Season 1

Source: USA

One of the shots in the episode that struck me was when Briggs opened the fridge, glanced at Jakes’ orange juice, and took a drink anyway.  This season has worked so intently to show us how, when people band together, it’s not always to build each other up.  Building yourself up takes the energy of another, and it’s easier to simply take than to work together for mutual benefit.  Briggs has taken from everybody; he’s lied to Charlie (who is now in Jangles’ crosshairs), let Mike be savaged by both Bello and Jangles, put Jakes in jeopardy to find the tape, and manipulated Johnny’s friendship for his gain.  While Paige wants to help Mike and Johnny wants to help Charlie, Jakes is just roped into his pairing through Briggs calling in a favor.  Briggs is the character driving all of the disharmony in Graceland, so his actions following his departure from Graceland are going to be the catalyst for whatever the season’s conclusion will be.

Graceland really is falling apart; everybody is taking sides against each other, trying to uncover or cover up a truth that will invariably tear the status quo to shreds.  With those sides still dueling and Jangles ready to lunge in the background, it seems unlikely that everybody will get out in one piece.  But the real question on my mind is: What kind of show is Graceland?  Is it the kind of show where everybody comes together in the end or is it the kind of show dark enough to really show how people sacrifice each other for their selfish gain?  Is it willing to create some real casualties to make a solid point?  The finale will inevitably give us that answer.  Your move, Graceland.  Let’s see what you’ve got.

So what did you all think of the episode?  And was that Trombley from Generation Kill playing Clayton?  Show me your thoughts 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.

Both comments and pings are currently closed.
  • Eric Pharand

    Jakes/Briggs is unbelievably contrived. Paige got to be an agent again!

    • Michael St. Charles

      Right? The Jakes/Briggs pairing is clearly only there to give Briggs a fighting chance, not for any legitimate reason. It’s the worst part of this shaky episode.