Graceland 2×04 ‘Magic Number’: How to deal

Graceland 2x04 Cover

If anything, Season 2 of Graceland is focused.  The case-of-the-week elements have funneled themselves into the characters’ more personal stories, and those personal stories have become more interesting and high-tension than ever before.  And even though the serialized storyline weaving its way through the season hasn’t ramped up to any feverishly high level as of yet, it’s still a great way to hold those personal stories together.  Because it’s that level of focus that keeps us invested in the people in the show, not seeing them solve some arbitrary case.

Graceland 2x04-2

Source: USA

This is why “Magic Number” is one of the best Graceland episodes of the series, if not the best.  It takes what seems like a bunch of sprawling stories and keeps them focused all the way through, interweaving a strong thematic undercurrent of dealing with internalized pain.  It even takes stories like Jakes’ struggle with his son and transforms it into something infinitely more wrought with tension, amplifying those stories that the first three episodes introduced but failed to inject with much life.

Jakes, at this point, has a story that has transcended losing his son.  His drinking is beginning to affect his job, to the point that he was vomiting thirty minutes before having to go into the field.  He grows closer to the man he’s supposed to be watching, as they both swap stories about losing their children.  And he even seems to be enjoying his work as a mechanic; that is, until he remembers just how high the stakes are of the operation he’s going through.  He’s completely isolated, just as Johnny is completely isolated, to the point where drinking a six pack in his truck and having sex with hookers is his only escape.  The show did a fantastic job building the tension in Jakes’ story, both by showing what he needs to move on and showing just how his isolation is beating him into the ground.  Paige, on the other hand, hasn’t had as much of a chance to shine as Jakes.  Even though she’s invested in this human trafficking business, it’s not readily apparent why she cares to the extent that she does.  I can empathize with her being sad that such a horrible thing could take place, but she’s far more disturbed than everybody else, and it’s not quite communicated why.

Graceland - Season 2

Source: USA

Johnny’s story was already interesting two weeks ago, but it’s even more interesting now, as Carlito continues to exert power over him through any way he can.  He knows that he’s already in a position of power, so he uses it to contort Johnny into bringing him girls and making him watch their threesome.  Carlito’s character isn’t much more than a sociopath, but this episode uses that one-dimensional characterization to emphasize just how “in over his head” Johnny really is here.  It’s not exactly subtle (Briggs pretty much says this verbatim), but the focus is still there, and it’s certainly impressive.

Graceland 2x04-1

Source: USA

Charlie and Briggs are going through their own personal struggles as well, Charlie feeling that she let Kelly down and Briggs understanding his role in Juan’s passing.  Both are trying to relieve themselves of guilt in this episode, and as they find a way to get Kelly the life insurance check that she’s been waiting for, it’s still not enough to rid Briggs of his guilt.  Sure, Charlie is able to breathe easier now that Kelly has been compensated in some capacity for the loss of her husband, but Briggs is only sinking lower, as he has to deal with the full force of Kelly’s depressive sobbing.  No matter what money Kelly receives, Briggs murdered her husband, and there’s nothing he can do to replace that.  This episode of Graceland emphasizes two specific things; it emphasizes how it’s nearly impossible to fix the pain and guilt that really plagues you, and it emphasizes how reality always finds a way to come rushing back.  In most characters’ cases, there’s a way to forget about your problems.  But, in the end, there’s no way to forget about the horrible things that you have done.  Forgetting is only deluding yourself from really dealing with it.  And while it’s okay to utilize defense mechanisms to keep yourself from going insane, it becomes easy to become addicted to those defense mechanisms, whether they be alcohol, sex, or work.

Overall, Graceland is steadily improving, becoming better than most of the shows out there this summer (except for The Leftovers, which is brilliant television).  All of the characters are becoming much more interesting than before, even Mike, who occasionally gets his chance to shine, even though he’s downplayed a bit this season (which is for the better).  Graceland is beginning to understand that it’s not necessarily gritty crime busts that keep the audience glued to their seats.  It’s creating characters that are going through real suffering, characters that react to that suffering in a realistic, poignant way.  And, while Graceland is still a far cry from being anywhere as good as today’s best, it’s taking some great leaps towards being a much better show than it was last year.

So what did you think of this week’s Graceland?  Was it as impressive as I thought it was?  Or were you hoping for something a little more intense?  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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