Graceland 2×08 ‘The Ends’: Further down the river

Graceland 2x08 Cover

Graceland has a plethora of ideas this season, more so than last season.  Not only do they have more in-depths ideas concerning plot so that the season can become more serialized, but there’s more thematic concepts at play here.  “The Ends” is a fairly self-explanatory episode, where the members of Graceland are getting in over their heads, committing immoral or wildly illegal acts in order to do what they think is right.  From a thematic standpoint, it does a fantastic job weaving through each of the plot threads, exploring this singular concept in order to bring the plot threads together.  But from a plotting standpoint, there’s a lot going on here that seems to shed previous development for the sake of current excitement.  And it can be frustrating to want to feel something for these great thematic strands, only to come up short.

Graceland 2x08-3

Source: USA

The reason that Graceland is coming up short stems from the new plot threads concerning Markham and the bank theft.  Instead of building off of anything, these threads throw new people at us without making us feel like we should care about them.  Billy and Amber are the newest additions to the secondary cast, and they don’t have any (interesting) personality traits to speak of.  Amber is portrayed as wild and chaotic, but that’s not much of a personality.  She feels one-dimensional, just as Billy feels one dimensional, just as Sulla feels one-dimensional.  These supporting cast members just don’t have the spotlight for long enough, nor do they have the characterization, to seem at all human.

Graceland 2x08-1

Source: USA

This isn’t to say that Graceland is failing.  There’s a lot of great stuff going on, and all characters are at least given the chance to take the spotlight for a scene or two.  Johnny is still the most interesting character of the season, with his new relationship with Lucia convoluting his plan, dooming him to an unhappy ending.  This isn’t necessarily that Johnny is going to end up dead or anything (though that’s certainly a possibility), but the way that the writing suggests that he’s in over his head helps to add palpable tension as he digs himself in deeper.  With Johnny’s story, at least there are multiple solid ideas working together to make us understand the weight of his situation.  Inevitably, he and Lucia just aren’t going to work.  And something is going to break.  That kind of inevitability works wonders for drama, as it echoes the inevitability of existence, of institutionalized systems of society.  But Johnny’s story is one of five or six here, and it just can’t carry the weight of everything else.

Briggs is the other character here whose journey is becoming more clearly defined.  His guilt is clouding his vision; Kelly is beginning to converge into his desires, simply because pleasing her is absolution from his own guilt.  When he is pushed away from her by Markham, as he had to lie to her face in order to keep his cover, he’s drawn even more to her.  Sure, his relationship with Charlie isn’t really founded on a whole lot, but his relationship with Kelly gives his story more intrigue and complexity.  He wants absolution from guilt, but he’s already returned from that descent into darkness.  He’s already killed Badillo.  There’s no coming back from that, no matter how badly he wants it.

Source: USA

At this point, it’s just a shame that the season isn’t doing more with Mike, Charlie, Paige, and Jakes.  They’ve gotten their spotlight, some far more than last season, but their storylines pale in comparison to Briggs and especially Johnny’s.  Mike and Paige’s involvement in the sex trade isn’t complex enough to really dig into either of their psyches.  While it makes sense that Paige is furious about the girls, and it makes sense that Mike has to use caution when proceeding because of the many plates he’s keeping in the air, there’s nothing really else going on with them.  And it’s frustrating, because just a little more complexity and the storyline would be far more interesting.

Ultimately, Graceland has all of the main cast diving further into the heart of darkness, and it’s unclear how they’ll come out the other side.  As secrets are revealed, and as people plunge deeper into the darkness, they further risk their own lives with the hopes that whatever happens will validate their journeys.  But it’s as Rust Cohle says in True Detective’s “The Secret Fate of All Life”: “This is a world where nothing is solved.”  Even if they’re able to take down the cartel, the bus line, the Tinker Bells, they won’t get past the torment in their own lives.

If there’s one thing that True Detective, Breaking Bad, The Wire, and all of the great dark shows of the 21st century have taught us, it’s that nobody returns from the darkness unscathed.  And that there are some that never return, doomed to either waste away or have their lives taken outright.

So what did you think of “The Ends”?  Was it as good as the rest of the season?  And do you think any of the characters are going to end up dead?  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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