Graceland 2×09 ‘Gratis’: Above water

Graceland 2x09 Cover

When you’re engaging with any sort of story, you have to look at the people involved as more than just pieces on a chessboard.  They have to feel human, like they have aspirations, fears, failures, successes, and relationships.  They have to feel like we feel about ourselves, as we acknowledge our own complexity and are able to empathize with those that seem like us.  It’s why we distance ourselves from people by isolating one thing about them and fixating on it.  It’s why intimacy with a person is such an affecting experience.

Graceland 2x09-2

Source: USA

More now than ever, Graceland has divided its characters into separate storylines, and it’s certainly great that everybody is getting the spotlight every once in a while.  Every storyline here has the chance to be interesting, from Charlie and Jakes preparing for the bank robbery, Johnny down in Mexico with the Solano Cartel, Mike and Paige with the Tinker Bells, and Briggs infiltrating the LAPD.  The issue is that we’re held at arm’s length to many of these stories, so much that it’s difficult to get invested to storylines that are designated to the sidelines during an episode.  In “Gratis”, the most interesting storylines are that of Mike going undercover in the sex slave house and Johnny undercover in Mexico.  The other storylines just weren’t as engrossing because they seemed to move along with respect to plot but didn’t do much else.

Graceland 2x09-3

Source: USA

Mike’s storyline was (surprisingly) the most impressive of the episode, simply because we got to see the power dynamics between him and Sulla boil over.  Sulla has never been an interesting character, as we don’t know much of anything about him, but his insidious nature, coupled with the house being his territory, adds a sense of foreboding to his character.  And while there’s a lot going in in the Tinker Bell storyline that doesn’t feel like it matters, Mike being in that house was fairly riveting.  He’s trying to navigate getting the girls out safely along with keeping the pipeline moving for the case, but he isn’t able to keep all of those plates in the air without a couple breaking.  And the one that ends up breaking is Lena, as Sulla kills her when Mike tries to extract her.  It’s not necessarily a heartbreaking loss, as we didn’t know a whole lot about Lena, but the sheer brutality of the act makes it stand out as one of the high points of the episode.  Mike is finally beginning to realize just how far into the darkness he is, and as he cremates Lena, there’s a part of him that falls away as well.

Source: USA

As for Johnny, his time in Mexico is spent navigating the Solano family in order to get closer to Carlito’s father, the boss of the cartel.  What continues to drive the narrative here is how Johnny is still in over his head, unable to navigate these waters without angering one or both of Lucia and Carlito.  Johnny’s attraction to Lucia is clouding his understand of the way that she perceives him.  He wants to be with her, but being in Mexico and being watched by Carlito is keeping him from her.  In addition, Carlito’s attraction to him is making Carlito paranoid and obsessive, as he nearly kills Johnny after the dinner with Carlito Sr.  But Johnny has enough sense to understand what his mission is and how to keep from being distracted.  He’s trying to impress Carlito Sr. so that he can take him down when the time is right, and mentioning the cruise ships as another avenue for drug transportation affords him a meeting with the boss.  Here, Johnny has things under control more than usual, but he’s still in unknown territory with a great many people who would have no problem seeing him dead.  And that “behind enemy lines” feel that the episode has makes both Mike and Johnny’s stories the highlight here.

This season of Graceland is about everybody trying to keep their head above water, only to have another wave threaten to pull them under.  It’s about being continually battered and seeing what comes through the other side.  While not all of the plotting is working, enough is working to effectively chart the impact of the narrative on the characters.  At this point, it’s just a matter of who is going to make it through whatever happens when all of these plots converge at the end of the season.  And with the way that none of these characters really have anything under control, it’s anyone’s guess as to who is going to survive the inevitable climactic conflict.

So what did you think of this episode of Graceland?  Does “Gratis” set us up for anything in the season’s final act?  Do you think Johnny is going to survive the season?  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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