Vinyl (HBO) Episode 5 Recap: "Record Man" Shows His True Colors
As always, if you have not seen Episode 5 yet, do not read this because:
A really insightful person (Paul) who reads this blog made a great catch on something I totally missed in the first draft, I am very appreciative (sometimes in my rush to get this out in time so late at night I get a little sloppy). Anyway, thanks, for the help!
Generally, protagonists have at least a few admirable character traits. Even in this era of the Anti-hero.
Walter White really did love his son (and his wife).
I can see why so many people are comparing this to Mad Men (but I am not entirely sure it will work out the same way at all or that the character arcs are going to be that similar).
I am starting to believe that Terrance Winter is trying very hard to have a protagonist with zero likable qualities. Winter sent a pretty strong signal of his intentions in Episode One when he had Richie (Bobby Cannavale) murder the DJ Frank "Buck" Rogers (Andrew Dice Clay) with a trophy to the head.
If you remember that scene, Richie killed Frank mostly because Frank tried to kiss him. So, we knew almost from the jump Richie has some real problems with anger (and with homophobia). As a result, we have known from the very beginning that we are following at least a murderer (and probably worse).
We also know Richie has a serious coke problem and that he had conquered it once but is now fully off the wagon.
If you are keeping score, that means as of the very beginning, we knew Richie Finestra is:
* A Murderer
* A serious cocaine addict (who has no interest in recovery)
We also know he has been, in the first four weeks, an absentee and unreliable husband. We also know his wife Devon (Olivia Wilde) is pretty angry and frustrated about being left in the burbs to watch the two kids Richie insisted she have.
But what makes someone so miserable and self-loathing?
Fear Of A Black Jimmy Hat
Guess what, Richie is also (drum roll please) a racist.
There are three or four major African American characters so far in Vinyl:
1) Lester Grimes (Ato Essandoh) - Lester was Richie's best friend and Richie took off to make his fortune basically abandoning Lester to be destroyed by the mob. Despite this, Lester wants to believe that Richie is a good guy. Deep down, he wants to believe they can still be friends and that Richie really cares.
2) CeCe Matthews (Susan Heyward) Is Richie's secretary.
Last week Richie spent much of the episode pimping CeCe to his Funk client Hannibal.
This week when she returned to the American Century offices and tried to alert him to the attempts by Jackie Jervis (Ken Marino) and Andrea "Andy" Zito (Annie Parisse) in regards to signing Hannibal to their rival record label she hears the following:
"If I fired you, I would have to replace you with another Black secretary because it makes me look hipper"
Later Richie also tries to grope CeCe in one of the grossest moments of the show so far (even more disgusting given what he says to Devon after - more on that in a minute).
Oh, so I guess he is a sexual harassing boss as well.
But the point here is that he admits he uses relationships with Black people to make him look "hip" and maybe more.
Big Red Flag.
Hannibal (Daniel J. Watts) is the anti-Lester Grimes. He is very skeptical of Richie's shuck and jive act in episode 4 but doesn't mind reaping the benefits. But, it is very clear in Epsiode 5 he knows exactly who and what Richie is.
Episode One was really about exposing the sick heart of 70''s Rock and Roll.
Richie is our stand in for the record industry in this drama. As I have said before, this show is not a heroes journey, it is an exorcism. And the record industry itself has a convoluted and complex relationship with its own racism and exploitation. It simultaneously celebrated and cheated its African American artists, it loathed and loved its own exploitation.
In order to keep Hannibal at American Century Records Richie decides to pull out all the stops for a double dinner date with Hannibal and CeCe and him and Devon. At the dinner, we find out that Hannibal has a talent for making anagrams of people's names.
He goes through a few versions of Devon's name to show off, then someone suggests he try doing an anagram for Richie Finestra.
He calmly sits back and with a look of total satisfaction he says:
"He In Racist Fire"
He knows who Richie really is. Richie takes it as a joke and laughs it off but it is no joke. Hannibal sees through Richie's bullshit, he sees who Richie is at the core.
Just another racist record executive doing a song and dance to keep him on the plantation.
But earlier we find out there is more too it than this. Richie has his own surprise.
4) Richie Finestra
In an aside during a conversation with Richie earlier in the episode, Richie's Father Sal (David Proval) mentioned that Richie's Mom was a mulatto ("It is a well-known fact Mulattoes can't handle their liquor").
It was so subtle in the conversation that I missed it the first time and had to double back (that is good writing).
Richie's Mother was mixed-race. Making Richie Black. Or part black. Record Man is very conflicted.
"He in Racist Fire"
He is Racist Fire.
Like so many people, his racism comes from self-hatred and fear of not being able to pass (most likely). His privilege and position is at least partially tied to his race, and under the laws at the time, he was not actually white (whatever that means, my point is that society made a legal issue out of racial purity not that actual makeup is "real").
Race itself is a social construct, there is no biological or scientific validity to race. But that social construct, as we all know, is a real thing for the people painted by it.
Richie so badly wants to be the hep/hip "record man" that he hates and loathes who he really is. He doesn't need a Black secretary to make him "hep" - he needs a Black secretary to make him seem more white.
His anger comes from the struggle to pass as white and to constantly hide and deny who he is (as one of the readers of this blog aptly pointed out to me in a comment to me earlier today).
Take My Wife Please
So, they take the "party" back to the hotel. Previous to going to dinner, Richie calls Devon and tells her to "wear something sexy."
Remember Devon wants more than anything to get Richie to pay attention to her. Last week her "attorney" saw through Devon's hatred facade and saw it for what it really was a call for attention. Later in episode 4 Devon tries to make Richie take her seriously by mentioning the lawyer and Richie totally ignores her.
This time she is not going to be ignored. She is furious about his continuing lack of attention towards her, she is furious about Richie not financially supporting her artistic dreams, and she is furious that he has asked her to be his sexy arm candy to sign an artist.
So she dances, I mean really dances. Then she "really" dances with Hannibal. I think she clearly knows (even if subconsciously, that she will be crossing a line in Richie after we find out about his heritage this is even more dangerous as she has to have known his feelings about his Mother and his heritage too).
Hannibal clearly thinks it is a riot that Richie is basically putting his wife out there, knows he has another record company ready to sign him to a better deal anyway, and already thinks Richie is a racist d-bag. So he takes full advantage.
Meanwhile before he can fully get his racist anger on, he has to grope his Black secretary (isn't that just the entire history of race relations in the United States in a ten second burst). It is not until he is rebuffed by his secretary (good for CeCe) that he realizes his wife is dancing super-serious sexy time with his client.
His temperature boils, he insists that they leave immediately, and they do (Devon leaves because she finally has his attention - negative attention is still attention).
They leave via the hotel elevator and Richie gets his anger out by choking Devon as he starts to sexually grope her. She actually seems to be happy because her plan worked. And then, the sultry moment is destroyed when Richie realizes (gasp) Devon was already wet.
More on sexism in a few minutes, but this is a pretty typical male response, Richie has literally asked Devon to exploit her own sexuality for his gain, but blames her for having a physical response.
Now he is no longer thinking about sexy time at all, now he is furious. He is furious because he clearly wanted her to "act the part" but not get turned on. And then he lets the bomb drop....It is very hard for me to type this, but it is pretty important.
He says something about how she couldn't wait for some "Black Dick."
"He Is Racist Fire"
Fear of a Black Jimmy Hat.
I remember times, when I was younger, when I would have too much to drink and I would say something "terrible." I remember that when people would ask me about what I had said the next day, I would always respond by saying something like this:
"I don't remember, I was wasted, I couldn't have meant it."
But deep in my own personal honest heart, I knew that I usually say exactly what I really felt about people when I was drunk.
What I really should have said that next day to my friends was:
"I was really drunk, so I probably said what I am normally too polite to say."
Richie is performing his self-loathing and fear here. He is insecure precisely because he is hiding what and who he is (and always has been).
He is not holding back what he is too polite to say, he is letting the truth out. He hates her for being turned on by "Black Cock" - his or Hannibal's.
He is racist fire.
Her Rotating Head
Oh, Richie, in case you didn't figure this out above, is also a sexist.
The newest character to get a bunch of screen time this week is Andrea "Andy" Zito. Andrea is the A&R person at the rival record label run by Jackie Jervis. Andrea is also apparently a former lover and protege of Richie Finestra (he slept with an employee...are you as not shocked as I am?).
Not only that, but apparently "Andy" left because:
A) Richie chose Devon over her
B) Richie wanted her to cook and clean for him.
Richie wants to get back at Jervis for signing Hannibal, and he realizes his company is in big trouble, so he goes on a full court press to get Andy back.
He chases her down a second time at a Velvet Underground show (White Light White Heat is the song) after his blowup with Devon (the first time he approached Andy he refused to give her a stake in American Century so she blew him off).
As the Velvets play, and we get the exposition, she forces him to answer a question,
"Why did you choose Devon over me"
His final answer?
"She was more beautiful"
So, in reviews, he picked Devon because she would give up her life and cook and clean and because she was more beautiful.
Richie loves robots. White obedient sexy robots.
There may have been some more context on this in the conversation with his Father here too. Sal Finestra implies (while drunk off his ass) that Richie's Mother was a dunk. There is a short few words about the state of the house and Sal being an absentee Father.
Richie is starting to come into focus. There is a difference between understanding and forgiveness though. Self-loathing isn't the same as making amends.
Oh, I Almost Forgot, A Kick Ass Ghost
This weeks ghost is still alive (in his 80's). He is a true icon.
He is Little Richard.
Little Richard comes at the end of the visit to American Century Records by Richie's alcoholic trumpet playing father Sal (David Proval).
The song by Little Richard (Rip It Up) starts right after Sal says:
"I hope the cops catch who did it"
Since we know Sal knows who did it (Richie), this seems to be a pretty direct statement that he wants Richie to go down for the crime.
Richie of course seems as oblivious as ever, he sits down and starts sketching out his idea for the name of his new sub-label "Alibi Records."
He is starting to seem like the guy with a million dollar ear and five cent head (in addition to being a horrible human being).
Anyway, Little Richard (Richard Wayne Penniman is his real name, not sure who played him as the ghost on Vinyl) is a musical genius. Little Richard is credited as one of the artists in Rock and Roll who accelerated integration in the United States (along with Fats Domino and several other chart-toppers). He was also heralded for his "Flamboyant" performances which often was coded language at the time for gay (he wasn't).
When Frank tried to kiss him, Richie killed Frank. We also know that Richie is a racist, so the inclusion of Little Richard here exposing these "spirits" makes a great deal of sense.
In particular, Little Richard was always talked about in language that was coded because nobody could say what they "thought" he represented.
This is also Richie. Richie is being haunted by Little Richard because he can't accept who he really is (just like society could not even discuss what they were implying Little Richard was).
Odds And Ends
Finally, we get a Juno Temple episode. Her character Jamie Vine is still treated as a glorified secretary, but one who has the ear of the singer of one of American Century's signed bands. She uses her influence on Kip (James Jagger) to get him to fire his guitarist and then, perhaps sensing he is critical to her continuing influence at American Century, ingratiates herself with him in the guitarists place.
We also see Jamie at lunch with her Mother (Lena Olin, we briefly met her kicking Jamie and the Nasty Bits out of the basement they were practicing in on Episode 4). Her Mother is clearly disappointed in her life choices. She is apparently a Polish Jew who survived the holocaust and has some kind of business she wants Jamie to eventually run.
Clark has been demoted to "getting lunch" boy. He was actually fired by Julie (Max Casella) but broke down so totally that Julie was embarrassed into hiring him back on in Jamie's old (and current) job. So, now there are two "Vice Presidents" of getting shit for Julie (he was actually fired for taking Julie and Richie to see what appeared to be Jethro Tull).
Oh, and we also find out that Sal was wearing a wire for the cops (so they can catch Richie who they think murdered someone he he).
Oh, and one of the cops also has a cocaine problem.
And both Devon and Richie are most likely going to cheat on each other.
Well, that is pretty much it for another week.
Richie is still a terrible person :). But now we have much more context for his self-loathing.
"White light, White light goin' messin' up my mind
White light, and don't you know its gonna make me go blind"
Hope you enjoyed this weeks recap, what did you think of Richie's racism and sexism, what did you think of Sal's betrayal? I would love to hear your opinion, leave a comment!