Graceland 2×06 ‘The Unlucky One’: The strength to endure

Graceland 2x06 Cover

Graceland isn’t on a roll, per se, but it’s certainly most interesting than ever.  It’s embracing the grit that it tried to embrace in the first season, but could never really manage to.  It’s taking the characters and subjecting them to this kind of grit in order to deepen their struggles, asking us how much they’re able to take until it’s all just too much to bear.  When Briggs asks Charlie near the end of the episode if she hates him, he’s wondering whether anybody who has been dragged through the mud could be deserving of love.

Graceland 2x06-3

Source: USA

Pain is at the heart of “The Unlucky One”, where Paige’s story grows into something wholly worthwhile, and everybody is suffering in their own way.  Mike is trying to keep his case together, and that means hurting some people and letting those who suffer continue suffering.  Briggs is resorting to doing the worst thing that ever happened to him in order to make progress.  And Paige is living life as a slave, alongside others that are bought and sold with impunity.  These three take front and center this episode, and doing so has taken some of their more underdeveloped qualities this season and improved them to the point that each character on the show is how capable of commanding their own scene.  If you would have told me at the beginning of the season that an episode centered on Paige would be great, I’d have told you that you were crazy.  But the way that Paige’s experience was steeped in grit and pain make it resonate that much louder.

Graceland 206-4

Source: USA

Because Graceland, at its center, is a show about what people have to endure when their job is to immerse themselves in darkness.  The first season centered most heavily on secrets and identity crises, but this season is flat-out about darkness, taking a cue from this year’s most fantastic shows: True Detective and Fargo.  Both are mini-series that work intently to dive deep into the evil of man, and Graceland seems to be doing the same with torture, human trafficking, and psychotic criminals that murder with impunity.  So, when Paige bonds with one of the girls and tries to break her out, only to see just how trapped they really are, she begins to really flirt with that darkness for the first time.  And that’s why, when Mike gets her out of there without taking down the human trafficking ring, it actually makes sense why Paige is so heartbroken.

Graceland 2x06-1

Source: USA

Briggs’ storyline is also laden with heartbreak, as he does to another the exact thing that Jangles did to him: he pours the man’s demons down his throat.  The recovering alcoholic that ran the bus shop is kidnapped by Mike, only when Mike doesn’t get the answers he wants from the man, he has to employ Briggs to come and torture him.  Mike, with reservations, participates in that torture, but watching Briggs waterboard the man with liquor makes him oddly more sympathetic.  Briggs is trapped in a life of pain and misery, and when he asks Charlie if she hates him, that vulnerability is a great moment for his character.  He’s feeling the weight of everything on his shoulders, of Badilla, of Charlie, of his own pain, and the longer that he goes on, the more it seems lie that pain is simply there to grow and grow.  It’s like a malignant tumor, laying dormant until it has the chance to infect a little more of the body.

Graceland 2x06-2

Source: USA

And then there’s Mike, who is trying to work a case that is subverted at every turn by violence and death.  He’s been running into wall after wall, with Carlito in the wind and the evidence up in flames.  But when he decides to take it a step further, by kidnapping a man and eventually torturing him, he’s forced to deal with the consequences of playing dirty.  That man ends up executed by the cartel, and Mike comes face to face with the cop who tipped Carlito off.  Mike’s also forced to deal with keeping the human trafficking ring operational in order to move further with the case, and doing so isolates him from Paige more and more than before.  Stepping into the darkness is isolating him from everybody, even Briggs, who he confronts about the torture.  But Briggs reminds him that he agreed to it, that he called him in order to get somebody to do what had to be done.  Mike may want to escape what he’s done, but there’s only so much he can do to deny reality before it slaps him in the face.

Ultimately, this case is just another descent into a nightmare, only Graceland has made this descent infinitely more wrought with tension.  If the season had a slow start, it is taking off, and quickly.  Because having a show expand its focus to discuss the way that darkness twists us echoes the great shows in a way that doesn’t feel cheap.  The members of Graceland simply feel more human than ever, and it makes for some great television.  I’m legitimately excited to see what comes next.

So what did you think of “The Unlucky One”?  Isn’t this season way better than the last one?  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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