Graceland 2×01 ‘The Line’: Within

Graceland - Season 2

USA Network has really been looking for more breakout shows ever since they decided to get rid of Burn Notice.  I mean, sure, they have Suits and Royal Pains and White Collar, but none of those shows get the kind of ratings or critical attention that competing cable networks like FX or AMC get.  I mean, The Americans on FX barely grabbed 2 million viewers a night last season, but Landgraf knows that critical attention can be worth exponentially more than on-the-spot ratings, especially considering how that kind of critical attention can increase the longevity of a show’s profit.  But none of USA’s shows have really attracted a great deal of critical attention, certainly not even close to FX’s shows (The Shield was an explosive breakout hit) or AMC’s shows (the Breaking Bad/Mad Men knockout punch absolutely made the network).

Graceland 2x01 Cover

Source: USA

So, the question remains: Is Graceland the show that is going to propel USA to the echelon that FX and AMC are at?  No, probably not.  While Graceland is a decent show, it’s still stuck between the typical USA drama and the breakout drama it wants so badly to be.  USA’s signature drama dabbles in drama, but always alleviates the tension through comedy or some other device.  It never digs deep into the existential issues that permeated other networks’ breakout hits.  Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and The Shield all mined the “antihero” trope to great success by pairing it with some dense existential themes, even though today that trope gets diminishing returns (House of Cards, Ray Donovan, and Halt and Catch Fire all suffer because of their central protagonist).  I’m not saying that Graceland needs an antihero, but it needs those deep, existential stakes to feel like the things happening on the show are a big deal.

Occasionally, during “The Line”, we see those themes breaking through once more.  Mike is unable to live the thrill-seeking life that he loves through his work at the FBI, so he pushes his way into Graceland in order to live that life once more.  Everybody else is dealing from the fallout of Season 1’s events, the fallout that comes from their personal failings and the fallout from the damage they’ve done to each other.  Mike returns to a house that is willing to accept him, but he’s frustrated by their playful demeanor in the face of all of this serious work that needs to be done.  But, of course, this isn’t all on those back in Graceland.  Mike is angry with himself, with the fact that this vicious undercover work is the only thing that keeps him content.  It’s the same thing we saw in The Hurt Locker (which is an amazing movie, so see it if you haven’t), where Jeremy Renner’s character is so hooked on the adrenaline rush that he ends up hurting those around him.  Mike puts everybody at risk with his behavior, and when others try to put the ramifications of his past behavior behind them, Mike rails at that.  He makes everybody else the enemy, and alienates himself in the process.

Graceland 2x01-1

Source: USA

The interpersonal drama between Mike and the crew is the best facet of the premiere, because the rest of it falls somewhat flat, mostly because the rest of the cast doesn’t get storylines that really go anywhere.  Everybody is torn up by their pasts, and there’s not much to suggest where they’re going from there.  Sure, Charlie and Briggs are sleeping together.  Sure, there’s a new guy (who we know nothing about).  Sure, Johnny is drinking himself stupid to stay sane, and Jakes is looking for an apartment for himself and his son.  But it doesn’t do much to suggest any sort of movement on any fronts.  Not enough has changed to make the characters very interesting yet.  Of course, this could change as time goes on, and probably will, but there just isn’t enough in “The Line” past the introduction of new story to make it thrilling.  Charlie scoping out Juan Badillo’s wife is interesting, but it seems like an obvious setup for Charlie and Briggs to be at odds with each other later on in the season.  It could be good, but it’s worrisome as well, considering how last season Graceland had a reputation of stretching out plot elements to the point of squeezing the tension from them.

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Source: USA

The story, however, looks to be more serialized than before.  This episode is basically the opener for a storyline that is to continue for the rest of the season, and while it isn’t the most riveting story right now, it is at least focused.  It also sets up payoff from past stories told in the previous season, such as Briggs murdering Juan Badillo.  It’s obvious that Charlie will find out that he killed him, but at least those stakes are being set up instead of leaving things completely inert like Halt and Catch Fire so far.  Graceland at least has the common courtesy of providing us with a storyline that does indeed matter, even if it isn’t executed with the level of urgency you might see in True Detective or Breaking Bad.

Graceland isn’t really a great show, but it’s still good enough to warrant spending 43 minutes to watch it.  Mike and Briggs have a strong enough presence to command the episode, and the central storyline concerning Caza smuggling busloads of drugs across the boarder is enough to set up some interesting starting points.  Hopefully, Graceland takes this season to get its act together, so that the end of the season can hit home with the vibrancy and the viciousness that the show needs to become the breakout hit that it dreams to be.

So what did you all think of Graceland’s premiere?  Do you think this season is going to be better than the first?  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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