Graceland 1×12 ‘Pawn’: Tonal disparity

Graceland 1x12 Cover

Of course Graceland isn’t going to be willing to make the dark descent it considered making.  It’s a show with a tonal disparity, one with a pull between goofy/fun weekly procedural without serialization and a darker violent drama with heavy serialization.  If “Pawn” decided to dive into the darkness instead of just dipping its toe into the water, it would void the ability to move back to the weekly procedural it utilized during the first half of the season.  It makes the finale a little disappointing, knowing that the writers aren’t willing to go one way or the other, instead remaining in a purgatorial state that won’t be adjusted until next season, if we’re lucky to see an adjustment at all.  Ultimately, “Pawn” is an episode I’m torn about, as it neatly wraps up the plotting but leaves the more abstract ideas dangling in the wind.

There’s no jarring plot shifts to be seen here, as the story instead predictably shifts from Briggs as antagonist to Jangles as antagonist, a shift that works well enough to bring Briggs back into the status quo and put Jangles in the crossfire for the episode’s climax.  Jangles has never been a strong antagonist, mostly because the season has worked so hard on the cat and mouse game between Paul and Mike that Jangles has just been this menace hanging in the background.  We don’t see his fearsome nature as much as we hear about it, and it hurts those final climactic scenes between Jangles and the members of Graceland that have to deal with him.

Graceland 1x12-1

Source: USA

And those climactic moments seem to go by without much tension.  Sure, it’s a little tense to watch Jangles drag a knife across Charlie’s face, but, judging from the tone and pacing of the finale up to that point, it was fairly obvious that she was going to make it out of there alive.  The sheer inability for the finale to immediately commit to the darkness we saw in “Bag Man” made those climactic moments feel more contrived than they should have felt.  So, as Mike drove to Jangles’ apartment, as Briggs was watching Charlie prepare for her death, I didn’t feel what it seemed the writers wanted me to feel.  I was supposed to be scared for Charlie, to hope that she was going to be okay, but feeling certain of the outcome killed some of that for me.  And Jangles’ death didn’t feel like a momentous moment for me.  What was supposed to be Mike’s final test of the season seemed like just another thing that had to happen to get to the ending.

GRACELAND -- "Pawn" Episode 111 -- Pictured: Daniel Sunjata as Paul Briggs -- (Photo by: USA Network)

Source: USA

The episode’s biggest downfall (by a long shot) was its almost complete inability to thematically resolve the season.  We’ve had all of this talk about the nature of lies and truths, how both can damage and heal, how the healing done by lies is built on dissolving rot, but most of this is abandoned for the sake of wrap-up.  By the end of the episode, after Briggs has manufactured a plethora of new lies to stay alive (he pinned ODIN on Quinn, as well as Badillo’s murder on Jangles), there’s never the notion that Graceland might not be in harmony.  Lies apparently aren’t a big deal anymore, as Briggs is able to escape these huge pitfalls with little to no consequence.  If Graceland wants to be a weekly cop procedural, if it wants to avoid getting too heavy, that’s okay.  But if it wants to tell stories that really matter, it can’t be afraid of deviating from the status quo in order to do so.  It’s decided to state that fixing problems with lies is just a way of sweeping issues under the rug, but isn’t willing to hammer that home in the finale.  Sure, the ending where Briggs’ murder tape is found seems to echo that there’s disharmony in Graceland, but it doesn’t seem like that has any real implication as of yet.  I suppose next season could correct this problem, but as of right now, it’s certainly a huge tonal issue.

Graceland - Season 1

Source: USA

But, aside from Jangles being an inert “Big Bad”, the plot wrap-up wasn’t half that bad.  Charlie’s relationship with the Mexican agent/Jangles was laid to rest, as well as every one of Briggs’ sins.  Mike proves himself as an agent capable of solving a real case, an agent that can take down a guy as “vicious” as Jangles.  Though it really seems to rush through his transfer to DC, as well as his time spent in DC.  The entire finale, while complete in terms of plot, felt somewhat incomplete, likely due to its inability to thematically end the story.  But Jakes was certainly right.  Mike is a junkie, a guy who loves to be in control, and his love for Graceland stretches farther than good memories.  While being beaten or losing Abby made his stay at Graceland a trial more than anything else, there was something about Graceland that made him feel free, like he is in control of who he is.  Maybe we’ll see more of that next season, but for now, we’re left with a character shift that is yet to really be explained.

So, this first season of Graceland wasn’t perfect, or even that great, but it was a fairly solid way to start the series off.  I’m really hoping that some of the thematic ideas that I traced over the season take more prominence in the final resolution of next season, and that there are legitimate consequences for action characters take, but for now, there’s a fairly strong foundation laid for a second season.  Let’s just hope that the next season delivers in the numerous areas where this one has failed.

What did you think of the season finale?  What are you anticipating for the second season (and yes, it has been renewed for a second season)?  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

    Meh. I’m not watching Season 2.