Graceland 2×03 ‘Tinker Bell’: Becoming more

Graceland - Season 2

I’ve written quite a bit about serializing television shows, but I’ve never really dug into how the structural approach to storytelling affects the quality of a show.  It’s not necessarily that serializing a story makes it better, as shows like LOST and The Sopranos work in serialized elements while making many stand-alone episodes during their runs.  But case-of-the-week shows like CSI and Law and Order that favor stand-alone elements from a plot perspective often fall short simply because the characters take the backseat to the plot.  And while, sure, we watch shows for the plot, they don’t matter as much if we don’t care about the characters.

Graceland 2x03-1

Source: USA

Take Game of Thrones for example, a show that is known for its moments.  Whether it be the Red Wedding or a certain somebody being shot with crossbow bolts in the privy, Game of Thrones is looking to hit the viewer with plot points that sting, plot points that people remember.  Now, it may be a heavily serialized show, but it’s not the plot that makes those moments memorable, it’s the characters.  Would we care as much about the Red Wedding if the characters didn’t mean anything to us?  Would we care as much about the Red Wedding if the show didn’t operate on a serialized level?  Television shows don’t need to be serialized, but doing so can potentially open up opportunity for making moments like Game of Thrones or even LOST does.

Graceland 2x03-4

Source: USA

The reason I talk about this is that Season 2 of Graceland feels like an improvement on the first one, and I couldn’t put my finger on why until I realized how smoothly the season-long plot has been running.  Season 1 operated on a case-of-the-week level with some serialized elements sprinkled throughout that first half, all before shifting later on to be more heavily serialized.  But Season 2 is more sure of itself, moving forward with more drive than the last season.  The Solano drug-running business is still the central focus of the episode, and while there are some elements that are still in need of an improvement, that central focus helps immensely.  That kind of self-assured nature makes the viewing experience far more enjoyable than it would be if the show was sprawling like the last season of Sons of Anarchy.  Season 6 of that show is a perfect example of how NOT to structure a narrative, as it was all over the place and never really landed on a plotline to focus on as a central narrative.

Graceland 2x03-2Despite my complaints about character development, “Tinker Bell” actually worked well for the majority of the main cast.  I’m a sucker for thematic cohesion in storytelling, and having these characters struggle to be different people than they are was a great way to bring everything together.  Because, in “Tinker Bell”, everybody wants to be something better.  Mike has an intense ambition to be the FBI agent who makes waves.  Charlie wants to clear her head enough to be able to actually get back to work.  Paige wants to help those who can’t help themselves.  And Johnny wants to be an undercover agent like Briggs, one who always has control of the situation.  But just because these people want to be better doesn’t mean that it’s going to happen.  Wanting to change is a horribly difficult first step, but it is only the first step to change.

Graceland 2x03-3

Source: USA

Take Johnny, for example, as a character who wants something more out of his life.  His storyline was probably the most potent in the entire episode, as the tension created by his situation was palpable enough to show how Johnny struggles to hold it together in extreme situations.  After Carlito found out that the pistols were French, and Johnny managed to make up a story explaining that, the entire situation continued to devolve into chaos.  Sure, Johnny made it out alive, but had Luisa not interrupted the “duel”, it could have easily gone the other way.  Johnny was lucky that Carlito’s aide was the one that was shot instead of him.  Because even though he was able to hold it together, he wasn’t able to manipulate the situation like Briggs can.  And Johnny knows this.

Graceland 2x03-5

Source: USA

That doesn’t mean that the character development was all good.  The characterization of the villains was sub-par, as Carlito and Luisa Solano both were the menacing scumbags that amplified the tension, but they certainly weren’t much else.  And Zelanski continues to be some agent in the background, his only known quality being how much he’s into Paige.  The romantic triangle between Mike, Paige, and Mike’s girlfriend continues to expand, as Zelanski looks like he’ll be pushing his way in, but that is still the worst facet of the season by far.  When interpersonal drama devolves into “Who is sleeping with who?” without any sort of stakes or character development involved, it cheapens the dramatic content of the show.  Because it’s things like Johnny’s quality as an undercover agent or Charlie’s inability to do undercover work that matter.  Charlie and Briggs are sleeping together, but her inability to do her work is directly because Briggs was operating as Odin.  And that “ticking time bomb” feeling, where we know Charlie will find out and lose it, is the kind of drama that works.

Overall, I’m still fairly impressed by what Graceland has done so far this season.  The main cast is becoming more impressive, even though those surrounding the main cast continue to be nothing special.  Because the season’s self-assured nature it easier for the characters to shine, as they always have something to do, even if that something is sometimes a little tedious.  The character development is still a long way from becoming truly potent, but as long as it continues to improve, Graceland will continue to improve.

So what did you think of the episode?  Do you think the season is building to some great climactic moments?  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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