Vinyl (HBO) Episode 6: A "Record Man" Of Wealth And Taste
As always, if you have not seen Episode 6 of Vinyl (HBO) you should not be reading this recap.
In other words, *Spoiler Alert*
I will admit that I have not read every episode of episodic television that has been produced this year. But out of the hundreds and hundreds of hours of television that I have watched this year, there have been two "Genius" hours so far.
And tonight's episode of Vinyl (HBO) called "Cyclone."
Any of the Vinyl haters should watch this episode, then rewatch the first five episodes, and then apologize. Tonight's episode was that good.
Sympathy For Richie's Devil
To this point in the show, Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale) has been haunted by a cadre of ghosts who take the form of famous figures in music history (he is haunted by one more in this episode, but we will get to that later).
Tonight's episode starts with Richie being haunted by his Devil, Ernst (Carrington Vilmont).
In case you don't remember Ernst, Ernst appeared in Episode two. Devon (Olivia Wilde) and Richie get together for the first time during a double date at a Velvet Underground concert. The twist is that Richie was dating Devon's best friend Ingrid (Birgitte Horst Sorensen) and Devon was dating Ernst. Ernst is a Warhol affiliated photographer.
Some people complained that Vilmont was doing line-readings like a WW2 German Villian, but it turns out there is a reason for that. His nihilism and over-the-top cartoonish nature play into this particular part of his character arc.
Anyway, Ernst and Richie start out the episode at the tail end of an all-night bender at Richie's house (yes, with the kids at home). Ernst seems to be encouraging every single one of Richie's worst instincts and all of his worst future plans.
It seems fairly clear after Richie's kids and the housekeeper (or babysitter) show up for a brief heartbreaking visit to his drug den that Ernst is a hallucination of some kind. One thing I know from addiction is that all addicts travel with an unreliable narrator in their heads. Ernst is the distillation of that devil that is always riding co-pilot in our heads. Ernst is Richie's devil.
Throughout most of the rest of the episode, Ernst is Richie's German "Bro" Greek Chorus, egging him on to worse and worse behaviors as he runs like a cannonball through everyone and anything he cares about. Encouraging him to have sex with American Century secretaries, to steal a car, patting him on the back and encouraging to find his wife who is certainly fucking someone (maybe even a black someone...because racist self-loathing).
Oh, after that suggestion, Richie objects mentioning that his Mother was half-black. Since Richie is hanging with a figment of his own imagination he can finally say the things he can't say in public. Ernst responds by asking if the other kids "made fun of him" because of that. You can tell by the look on the face that this was a particularly painful memory for him.
Anyone who has struggled with addiction knows that a very common part of the trigger pattern for most addicts is feeling insecure and humiliated. Richie struggles with the constant fear of being outed as Black and also with his own fears of humiliation and insecurities born of being teased for being mixed-race.
The larger picture starts to take shape later in Ingrid's apartment. Ingrid and Devon are cuddled up discussing what has been going on in Devon's life and they mention Ernst (because of a picture on the mirror). They talk about Ernst in the past tense (verifying that he is dead) and talk about how he was a very extreme personality and also that Richie had been a good influence on him. (suggesting that they were very close).
Devon and Ingrid seem very sad about Ernst, he was clearly very close with all of them.
So, now we know we should be starting to feel some sympathy for this devil.
Devon, Andy, and Bowie
Andy Zito (Annie Parisse) holds her first meeting as head design and marketing badass at American Century (pointing out that the logo is an industry joke because it looks like a toilet) and reads everyone the riot act (including a very f'd up Richie).
She invites Zak (remember him - Ray Romano) to go pitch David Bowie in order to steal him away from doing a "Biafra benefit" that Jackie Jervis' record label wants him to do (or something convoluted like that). Zak, feeling included for the first time in like four episodes, is pretty excited.
A few scenes later, they walk in on a Bowie concert rehearsal (Noah Bean seems a little bulky for Bowie IMHO but he handles the part well otherwise). Zak blows his Bowie moment, but in between the bungling of his pitch, Bowie admits that his Ziggy Stardust character is going away ("maybe to Mars" opines Zak). Some of the conversation suggested that Bowie felt constrained by the Ziggy character.
Well, in that scene at Ingrid's apartment (that we referred to before) Devon reveals that when she is at her house in Connecticut when Richie isn't there the house creaks and she feel's like that creaking is "the sound of me (metaphorically) hanging myself from the rafters" (remember, I did say that there was a decent chance this wasn't going to end well for Devon)..
Well, when Richie comes home (from ruining Zak's daughter's Bat Mitzvah - because that is kind of what Richie does - he is a "cyclone" - more to come on that in a bit), he tries to apologize to Devon and promises to "clean himself up" but mentions that he has been "hanging out with Ernst."
Devon, knowing that Ernst is dead, does not seem particularly thrilled to hear her husband promising to clean up with the help of their dead friend. Richie does not take her rejection well, and yells at her for abandoning her Kids (forgetting perhaps that it was him who decided to come home to them while totally wasted).
Devon, who left Ingrid's because she realized she had an obligation to her kids, says "You are right, I am a Mother." And here is where the great juxtaposition happens, the camera jump cuts to Zak watching someone at the piano at the Bat Mitzvah singing a passionate version of Bowie's "Life On Mars" (Trey Songz did the cover which is really good but seems a bit odd because the pianist in the episode was white - could Black musicians not play Bat Mitzvah's in the 70's?).
Richie storms into the bathroom, Devon packs a few things, grabs the kids and leaves Richie.
Devon, like Ziggy Stardust, has left for Mars.
The Night The Music Died (A Ghost Story)
Remember when I mentioned that the episode started ith Ernst and Richie totally wasted in Richie's house?
That was a little misleading. The episode actually started with a pool man cleaning the Finestra pool while listening to "Tequila" (The Champs) on a small radio. After we see that, we cut to Richie and Ernst.
A few seconds later, the pool radio switches to Buddy Holly's "Rave On." Richie freaks out for no apparent reason screaming at the pool man to turn Buddy Holly off (clearly implying he doesn't like Buddy Holly). This is really surprising because no "Record Man" would hate Buddy Holly (I, for one, LOVE Buddy Holly). What is the story here?
Okay, well Buddy Holly turns out to be Richie's next ghost. And Holly's "Rave On" bookends the episode.
Our buddy Ernst (that handsome Devil) shows back up after Devon leaves Richie all alone at home and as he turns toward Richie you see half of the back of his head is missing and bloody.
And a flashback to a car full of a very in love Richie and Devon with Ernst and Ingrid in tow.
"Oh, the little things you say and do make me want to be with you...Rave On Rave On"
Richie is clearly a total happy drugged up wreck (and everyone else is too). Ernst insists on standing up in the front seat, distractions occur, Richie loses control and there is a "CRASH" huge accident.
Ernst wouldn't sit down because he wanted a Nathan's hot dog (they used to be really good). He makes reference to wanting a Nathan's dog throughout the whole episode. Guess he is never getting that hot dog.
Sympathy for the Devil.
It (in a few seconds of great television) becomes immediately apparent how and why Richie quit drugs. It becomes apparent (again) why he is so haunted (Ernst was a close friend). It becomes apparent why he is such a wreck.
He killed his friend in a car accident while he was driving entirely impaired.
It becomes apparent why he is the only record man in the whole world who hates Buddy Holly.
Cyclone. "Rave On"
This was a very powerful, heartbreaking, and well-filmed scene. Kudos!
For those not versed in Holly lore, this makes particular sense because Holly died tragically in a plane crash (with Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper) that is known as "The Day The Music Died." Richie's music died here (and when he abandoned Lester). Oh, and yes, that is what is being referred to in the song "American Pie" by Don McLean.
The Nasty Bits are having a hard time finding a new lead guitarist. Richie tries to force Kip (James Jagger) to just pick a guitarist from the hallway full of hippies they have assembled but Kip stands his ground.
Kip meets a guitarist in a music store that appears to only sell guitars. They both rock out together to Iggy and the Stooges "No Fun." Kip's new guitarist friend tricks the store's lone customer service representative to go to the back and takes off with the guitar he has been playing.
Kip has found his soulmate, they sounded great together, so he steals his guitar too and tears off after his new found love. After chasing him down he asks if he "wants to be in a band."
Jamie Vine (Juno Temple) is marginalized on this episode and by Richie who asks "who she is" after threatening Kip. Similarly marginalized Lester (Ato Essandoh) just shrugs as if to say "me too?" Richie also gropes her to get her drugs (sigh).
I already mentioned that Richie assaults Warhol. Richie also plays a Little Richard song (Keep A Knocking) in his office (another nice bookend with Episode 5 reinforcing his identity confusion). Also, the Bowie song "Suffragette City" is based around a Litle Richard influenced piano line (Bowie was a pianist influenced by Little Richard and Fats Domino).
Oh, the band at the Bat Mitzvah plays a fun version of "Brandy" by Looking Glass.
Richie tries to have sex with the front-desk secretary at American Century Records but can't keep it up (I assume from coke but it could be out of guilt).
Oh, and there was a gratuitous scene where Devon (stretching her freedom wings) poses nude for Ingrid's artist boyfriend "Paul" - don't know who this is supposed to be representing (I am a record man not an art man).
That is pretty much it.
Did I mention how great this episode was, really well done. The New York Times thinks the "twist" was too telegraphed, but I think the telegraphing was kind of the point, you were supposed to know he was dead but not why (plus, if they are so smart, why were they so off last week?).
Can't put this one to bed without saying something about Bowie (since the episode was dedicated to him).
As I said at the time, it has been a long time since the death of anyone I didn't personally know hurt me so much.
I still feel very sad.
It was nice to hear Trey Songz version of "Life on Mars" and "Suffragette City" earlier in the episode.
RIP Space Man, you are missed On Pirate Satellite!
What did you think of this weeks episode? Did you love it as much as I did, or did you feel different? Start the conversation, leave a comment (or share this on your network)!