Graceland 2×02 ‘Connects’: High/low stakes

Graceland 2x02 Cover

When it comes to raising the stakes in any story, a couple of things need to happen.  Firstly, the plot has to be fierce enough that the bad things that could possibly happen to the characters seem likely enough to cause the audience to worry.  Consider Game of Thrones, a show that features characters dying left and right, one that tries to create a world where nobody is safe.  We may know that characters like Daenerys are here to stay, but Brienne?  For a non-book reader, those minor characters’ fates are certainly up in the air.  Secondly, we have to care enough about the characters to worry about what happens to them.  That being building characters that matter to us, either by humanizing them or giving us insight into how they fit into their own world.

Graceland 2x02-2

Source: USA

That being said, Graceland certainly feels more self-assured in this season than the last.  The story moves by at a brisk pace, and even though Paige’s case seems like a diversion from the Caza Cartel storyline in order to parcel out that storyline in small chunks, the writers knew how to use Paige’s storyline in a way that worked.  It revealed a little more about Paige’s feeling for Mike, and it showed Mike getting further sucked into the Graceland life once more.  It’s unclear yet as to whether Mike is into Paige because he actually cares for her or because he wants to be a part of Graceland again, but it looks like their relationship will again be a focus this season.  One thing that I’m not particularly a fan of is how Paige is being used as a vehicle for the male gaze.  She’s constantly undressing, only to be stared at by the men around her.  Even the camera simulates this gaze, leering up and down her body when she’s in her underwear.  It’s certainly frustrating that Graceland caters to male viewers in the way that it does.  However, Charlie is at least interesting enough to hold her own in a scene by herself.  The exploration of her guilt is something that Season 2 is doing well, even if Briggs is a part of that storyline as well.

Graceland 2x02-1

Source: USA

There are times when the stakes are legitimately high.  Briggs is being closed in on from all sides, and it only looks like those sides are going to continue to close in on him.  Charlie, still guilty from being unable to stop Jangles from “killing Badillo”, is stalking his widow, and it seems apparent that she’ll find out sooner or later that Briggs is the culprit.  The tape recorder that the kids found at the pawn shop is being stashed away for use later in the season, so Briggs will have to contend with that as well.  But those stakes are sometimes undercut by the notion that Briggs is going to be around for the series’ endgame, whenever that will be.  It’s one of the things that made Dexter suffer, especially in later seasons.  No matter how high the stakes tried to get for Dexter, we always knew that he would make it to the next season.  So, even when he was stuck in a fire or tied to a table, we knew that he would get out somehow.  The stakes seem legitimately higher for Charlie, who is relegated to supporting cast and is more likely to die at the end of the season.

Graceland 2x02-3

Source: USA

When it comes to the Mike/Paige relationship or Jakes’ problems with his kids, that’s where the stakes really begin to suffer.  We’re supposed to be worried about Mike and his girlfriend’s relationship, but we don’t know enough about that relationship to really care about what happens to them.  Instead, we’re supposed to be rooting for Mike to cheat on her for Paige, simply because we know Paige better.  It’s a rather convoluted message to be sending, and while I’m sure we’ll learn more about their hook-up and what it means for the characters surrounding them, the drama present doesn’t feel like it matters.  Why should we care who Mike is sleeping with?  Paige isn’t a character who has been built up at all, and Mike’s romantic escapades were tedious in the first season.  As for Jakes and his son, there’s inherent drama in a son watching his father get taken away by the cops.  But that doesn’t entirely counteract the lack of potent character development for Jakes.  We don’t know enough about him to really understand why he wants so much distance from Graceland.  If we knew more about his plight, it would be much easier to become invested in his plans to move out and find an apartment with his son.

Graceland is destined to be another USA network B-list show, but that doesn’t mean that it’s bad TV.  It’s interesting enough to keep my attention for the full hour, and it certainly has some interesting stories building up.  But if Graceland wants to be any better than it is now, it needs to learn how to build up the stakes within its storylines.  It needs to give us reasons to care about Mike and Paige’s affair beyond us having a “Gasp!  An affair!” reaction.  It needs to build up its female characters in ways that transcend using them for the male gaze.  And it needs to make us feel like the characters are in real danger.

So what did you think of tonight’s episode, “Connect”?  Was it a worthy follow-up to last week’s premiere?  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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  • Stquu1

    Don’t remember anybody complaining about “female gaze” or “gay gaze” the last 100000 times they show Tveit’s nipples and crotch and backside in close-ups.

    • Michael St. Charles

      It’s certainly different, considering the institutionalized nature of sexism against women. Not to mention the show’s emphasis on character development with regard to the male characters as opposed to the lack of character development regarding the female characters. Charlie is the only legitimately developed female character, and even she has been shaky up until this point. It’s the show’s lack of attention to female characters, in tandem with the leering gaze of the camera, that frustrates me. But this is a specific complaint against Paige. Mike’s character is treated in a very different fashion.

      • Stquu1

        “Institutionalized nature of sexism against women” oh dear. Your own pre-conceived notions of the society and political standings are not facts, and are hardly legitimate arguments to criticize a show. How is it different from one quoting bible to justify their critiques?
        You are quite obsessed with gender, are you not? Maybe, just maybe, the emphasis on “male characters” (read: Mike and Briggs) is because of the fact that this show’s leads are two guys? I wouldn’t say Jakes or even Johnny are particularly well-developed. If you want to see Charlie and Paige to get as much developments as the two leads, then you either have to wait until the show promotes them as leads, or watch some other show (like Covert Affairs) where the leads are female. And the fact this is a cop show doesn’t help your case much, either. The female agents are definitely over-representing in the house (1/3 to 2/7) comparing to real world stats.

        • Michael St. Charles

          I mean, you don’t have to believe that the sexism is institutionalized if you don’t want to, but it is a fact. And it’s a fact that women are generally underdeveloped and commodified on television. I’m not saying that this is a HUGE problem for Graceland, but I am arguing that Paige isn’t treated as a character with depth, while Jakes gets his own personal storyline (even if it is underdeveloped as well). Also, keep in mind that Mike and Briggs are of the same casting status as Paige and Charlie. They’re all part of the lead cast. There’s just an increased emphasis on Mike and Briggs.

          I’m not “obsessed” with gender, but I am recognizing that gender binaries and sexism plays a role in how developed characters are and how their relationships operate. It is important to look at these things instead of pretending that they don’t occur.

          • Stquu1

            I won’t argue with a religious person about the existence of God so I won’t get in the “fact” argument here, either. I just want to point out in your “recognizing” you are conveniently ignoring/forgetting many things to fit your own view. For someone writing reviews of tv shows, you can’t be joking to say the concept of “leads” doesn’t exist? If you seriously think the 6 main characters are of the same status, I might as well stop here since I don’t see the point of continuing the discussion.

          • Michael St. Charles

            Hey, there’s really no need to be acting so aggressive. I would really implore you to do some research into sexism as an institutionalized power structure, and to read up on the feminist theory of male gaze. Both of those are very important to keep in mind when viewing storytelling media, whether it be television, film, music, etc.

            And all six of the characters in the Graceland home are billed as series regulars. Sure, Mike and Briggs are the lead characters, but all of the six main characters are billed as series regulars. That’s all I’m trying to say. And you’re very right in that Graceland would definitely be an interesting show to observe through the lens of race. Maybe I’ll make that a point of emphasis in subsequent reviews.

            Thanks for showing such interest in the dissection of the show! It’s great to hear other opinions, even if they’re disagreeing opinions!

          • Stquu1

            Sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude. I’m probably a little bit scarred by the sophomore seminar I took in gender studies department. Being familiar with some theories doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll accept them, though. I do think some feminists often sound very much like religious missionaries in many ways like “I implore you to read…”, “it’s a fact”and the assumption that everybody should think like them.

          • Michael St. Charles

            Analyzing a particular work through critical lenses like gender and race has been done in academia for decades. It’s fine if you don’t agree with such analysis, but it is commonplace to do so to a piece of literature. I often look at the way gender operates in storytelling media because the way sexism often weaves itself into these texts is both fascinating and worth discussing. And you don’t have to think like I do. Just don’t assume that the reviewer needs to think like you do, and if they don’t, that they’re incorrect or have selective memory.

            I do thank you for the respectful discussion, and I’m glad we could have this discussion about televisual analysis.

          • Michael St. Charles

            On another note: What do you think of the season so far, Stquu1? Are you more impressed by it than Season 1?

          • Stquu1

            The race thing is sarcasm, in case I didn’t do well enough to demonstrate the point. I was trying to say that if you set out to see things with certain bias and cannot remain objective, you’ll easily find faults that exactly match your pre-set views in pretty much anything, as selective memory is such a good friend to reviewers.

          • Stquu1

            And Paige has a major human trafficking story line coming up. If you are not happy they show her in underwear before her big story is presented, you might as well argue that the close ups they did with Mike’s crotch and butt when he was just making his bed in the second episode in the FITST season were also signs that they didn’t “treat him as a character with depth”, etc.

          • Stquu1

            Also just to recognize more issues, you might as well add race into the mix, and see how much faults you can find with that filter on. See the only characters really showing professional competitiveness on screen are the white ones? Paul as lead didn’t even have a major bust scene without Mike, yet, and when he’s good he’s sketchy as f**k. Johnny’s been side tracked for way too long. Jakes has been in supporting position a lot, and his own cases sound like joke (birds?). While Mike had all the white knight moments, Paige with her truck crashing into houses, and Charlie had more than enough features to show how good she is (Quinn story line, Her own investigation story line).

          • Stquu1

            And as a female I see it as hugely ironic that when an attractive male actor is shown scantily dressed, he’s lusted over by fans in a sex god-like fashion and other people won’t blink an eye, let alone going forward to criticize the show for showing him that way (Mike and Johnny for countless times, including very early on in the first season, before they got any real developments); and when an attractive female actor is shown underdressed (she’s got a GREAT body), oops victim of “male gaze”! “Lack of depth”! Dear, give me a break.