Vinyl (HBO) Episode 9: 2 + 2 = "Record Man"
I am going to do something radical tonight, I am going to put my money where my mouth is and do a quick run through on Richie's drama and then spend much more time on the story arcs of the women characters on Vinyl (since the most persistent criticism of the show has been about its treatment of the women on the show).
Don't worry, I will cover the important stuff (as usual?). The name of this episode is Rock and Roll Queen and I am calling it 2+ 2 = Record Man.
As always, if you have not seen Episode 9, come back AFTER you see it...in other words:
* Spoiler Alert *
Richie in Truth Land
Our last episode of Vinyl ended with Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale) cooling his heels in the tank (the group holding cell where prisoners are held until they are processed - you can trust me on this one, no matter where you get arrested, the tank is a "magical" place to spend a night).
This episode starts with Richie being questioned, with his lawyer, by an Assistant US District Attorney, a Detective from the major crime unit, and the two normal clownish detectives that have been putting the case against Richie together. To make a long story short, Richie can cop to manslaughter but have a deferred sentence (do no time) if he flips on Corrado Galasso (Armen Garo).
Apparently, Richie is going to make a deal so that he can join the rest of the cast, but not Terence Winter, in season two (I am getting ahead of myself, but he obviously has to take the deal since we already know that they have him dead to rights on at least attempted murder).
They release him so he has time to think about the potential deal and so that we can proceed with the episode (quite nice of them). Richie then heads to the office where he is told by Cece that he missed a dinner with his kids (while in jail). He then goes to chair a meeting with all of the main players at American Century Records including their newest influencer Maury Gold (Paul Ben-Victor) aka Richie's evil mentor and Galasso's #1 crony.
Before the meeting starts, we see that the tape in the player is a demo for Patti Smith (the version of "Hey Joe" I embedded above, the first of two appearances of this song in this episode). They had to make it a demo because this song came out years later than 1972 (I believe).
Anyway, Zak (Ray Romano) wants a full band (and orchestra) for Xavier (Ann Powers wrote a great piece uncovering the history of Xavier in a disco star named Jobriath, for once, I had no idea who that was - which is awesome because now I get to listen to new music - that story is HERE and is well worth your time). Maury wants to release a joint 50's compilation album between his label and American Century (exactly one person thinks that is a good idea - Richie). And Andrea "Andy" Zito (Annie Parisse) wants to re-sign Hannibal (which sends Cece running from the room aka foreshadowing).
Richie can't handle the drama, so he leaves and (drum roll please)....Takes out his coke....starts to snort.....considers the decision....and uses his mouth to blow the coke away. In other words, we have a second Richie sobriety alert (You probably remember that the last one ended in a coke-fueled gambling binge in Vegas ending in his loss of the $90k he needed to save his record company).
Next, we see Mr. Finestra, he is at the Chelsea hotel looking for Devon (Olivia Wilde). This ends up an odd period of comic relief. Richie knocks on the wrong door, it is answered by a shirtless man, Richie overreacts (of course) until the man informs him Devon lives two doors down. Richie walks two doors down and hears sex noises, so he gets his "macho" up and rounds the corner to find Devon's photographer boyfriend Billy McVicar (Richard Short) having a battle to the death with a bat using only a racquetball racquet.
Why there is a bat in Devon's room nobody knows, but Richie takes the racquet and starts swinging wildly at the bat. With one of his first wild swings, he misses the bat entirely connecting solidly instead with McVicar's forehead. He regains his bearings, takes another swing, and kills the bat. He realizes that he has left McVicar (who he doesn't know) bleeding and starts looking for some material to help staunch the flow of blood. As he hands over the towels or fabric he finds, he reconnects to reality and realizes this is his wife's lover.
Very nice example of how you can know the same person in entirely different contexts and feel an entirely different way about them.
Devon walks in and assumes Richie hit McVicar on purpose, once it all becomes clear they have a talk ending with Devon threatening that if Richie does not show up on time to pick up the kids for dinner she will sue him for full custody.
Later we see that Richie does, in fact, show up to take the kids to dinner.
Your Next Ghost Is Mr. Eddie Cochran
After the meeting at American Century, we get a cut to the song "C'mon Everybody" by Eddie Cochran. Eddie Cochran was the prototypical rockabilly rebel. He was a rock star who was made to seem like a Rock and Roll rebel but, in reality, he was a talented musician who played multiple instruments and was hired to provide instrumentation on many other records. Cochran tragically died at the age of 21 in a car accident.
Oddly enough, Cochran was close friends with Buddy Holly and Richie Valens and he was so traumatized by their deaths that he changed his whole life to reduce his traveling risks. He even became prone towards morbid predictions of his own death. I think that what Cochrane represents here is both Richie and Zak.
Like Cochrane, Richie and Zak are not really what they appear to be. Both Richie and Zak appear to be hard partying "Record Men" but at their cores are wounded and vulnerable men. This is demonstrated yet again, as Zak who is in his office, gets a call from the Hilton in Vegas offering to fly him back to Vegas in a private plane and give him a comped high-roller suite. Zak, never the smartest character on Vinyl, takes this in stride assuming that he was finally just getting a good break for once.
Skip Fontaine (J.C. MacKenzie) is also in his office and Zak explains his good fortune to Skip. Skip (only a shade smarter) realizes that this makes no sense and informs him that for him to get that kind of treatment from a Vegas hotel he would have needed to drop at least $50k at the tables (not the mere $800 that Zak admitted to losing).
Finally, Zak puts 2 + 2 together and comes up with Richie.
Zak sees Richie walking down the hall, chases him into the elevator, and proceeds to beat the hell out of Richie. Zak is hitting Richie because he loved Richie so much that he never even suspected that Richie was capable of betraying him so cynically. Richie never tries to defend himself because deep in his heart, he knows he deserves the beating.
Which leads us to Richie returning to the Chelsea Hotel where he calls Devon down to the street (waking up the kids) where he.....
Hold that thought for a second. There is this thing with addicts where they feel like it is important to come entirely clean when they first recover. This is one of those times. My point is not that it is bad for addicts to come clean, it is that coming clean alone doesn't clean the slate. Think of this like how for some reason we think by saying we are sorry everything will just be okay.
Richie thinks that if he finally comes clean, everything will be okay (kind of like he believes that if he has one transformative hit American Century will be saved). It is also possible that Richie thinks these are the only plays that he has left to make.
So, Richie decides to come clean. Richie tells Devon that the reason he started using again is because he killed someone, that it was an accident, but that he did it and did not want her to think he was an animal for killing both his best friend (in the drunken car accident at the end of the "Cyclone" episode) and someone else. So he tried to cover it up and used the drugs to help get him through it.
This is accurate, Richie did start using again after killing Frank "Buck Rogers (Andrew "Dice" Clay) and the binge took him all the way to the Mercer Art Center where he saw the New York Dolls and discovered the Punk sound which led to listening to and being inspired by the Nasty Bits.
So, if you are keeping score at home. Addicts believe things like that you can be divinely inspired with the answers to all of your problems by coke. Or that disclosing that you committed a murder to your estranged wife will cause reconciliation.
At the same time, both Zak and Richie are being open and honest and at their most emotionally vulnerable here. Both of them are letting you see the man behind the "Record Man." You can see that Zak really loved Richie. You can see that Richie really loves Devon.
Sometimes love isn't enough.
Andrea "Andy" Zito
Okay, finally, now I can start talking about the character development of the female characters on Vinyl (since we are close to the end). One of the most consistent comments is that the women are written "shrill." Here is an example of that criticism from Noel Murray writing in Vulture magazine:
"But all along, there's been a troubling uniformity of tone, evident in the way women are presented over and over again as shrill, petty, and pitiless."
I actually like Mr. Murray (we have had a few brief Twitter conversations) but blaming Vinyl's writers for writing women who are too "shrill" (especially since many of the episodes have been written by women) is coming dangerously close to calling outspoken women "bitches." And it just isn't true. There is only one woman on the show who is consistently shrill and that woman is Andy. There are no women I have seen who are petty and pitiless (more on that later).
Anyway, tonight, Andy walks in after Cece (Susan Heyward) has revealed to Richie (off-screen) that she is pregnant by Hannibal. She aggressively calls out Jamie for sleeping with Kip (clearly misunderstanding Jamie's real game) and Cece for sleeping with Hannibal. Since she has been hired as a part-owner of American Century she has been consistently harsh and punitive with everyone she has come into contact with. But why is this exactly?
* She has taken a huge gamble on becoming a part owner of a record company that is all but dead. Each week she sees nothing but total incompetence from every single member of the staff (and she has the misfortune of actually being good at her job, so she knows the difference between good and bad work).
* It is, as the recently fired Terence Winter comments at the end of the episode, "truly incredible" to find a woman in her position in 1972. She knows that women don't get to do the work she does because everyone assumes they are weak or slept their way to the top. God forbid she actually tries to overcompensate to protect her constantly challenged position.
* She actually is trying to mentor Jamie (Juno Temple) not to be one of those women who tries to sleep her way into relevance in a record company. She actually does think Cece and Jamie are being monumentally short-sighted (in Cece's case this is probably true). She has faced every single male that she meets assuming she only has power because she is sleeping with someone important. She knows how hard it is to work your way to the top in the 70's music industry.
* She has a history with Richie where he took advantage of his position as her boss and mentor until he decided to settle down with as he put it the "more attractive" model in Devon. Devon was also more willing to have kids and clean and cook for Richie and act like he thinks a 70's woman should act.
Finally, in the tense back and forth between Richie and Andy, we find out that Richie got Andy pregnant and took her to the abortion clinic to take care of it (once she finds out that CeCe is pregnant she asks in a knowing way if Richie will take her to get the problem fixed).
So, I would say she is pretty justified in her anger and approach at American Century. She desperately wants to save a company filled with drugged out idiots. She has legitimate "beefs" with her boss. She is a woman executive in an industry that has NO women executives and is mostly known for treating women horribly. And she is trying to be a strong but good mentor to the women around her.
Either the writers of Vinyl could have chosen to have NO female executives, chosen to write her in a style that made NO sense for the time period, or they could have her react like any normal human being would in similar circumstances.
She is justifiably shrill, she is certainly not pitiless (she has real grounded reasons for her actions and is not being wantonly cruel), and she certainly is not being petty. And personally, I would rather have a show include more women and write them this way than include fewer women in the cast or create magical unicorn characters (women who are written to satisfy critics objections instead of the plot).
I also don't think you can remove a historical drama from the period it is written in. In the 70's women in business were largely treated like shit. I remember my Mother getting so frustrated by the way men treated her that she eventually poured hot coffee on a guy. I think people often try to make today's criticisms and apply them as if they would make sense in other periods in history.
Cece's story arc reflects the truth about how women are treated in the 1970's in the workplace. She is expected to always be there as a confidant and keep
Richie's secrets and protect his interests (and office). At the same time, he takes advantage of her to try to woo Hannibal to renew his contract. Richie also says a number of really disgusting and sad things to her and to Hannibal about her despite her loyalty and importance to him. Richie tries to physically take advantage of her when Hannibal gets too friendly with his wife.
Despite this, I don't remember one time when Heyward's Cece was even 1% "shrill" despite having every justification to be really fucking "shrill." She always has dignity and Heyward made every single second of screen time count. At no time did she passively "take" the bad behavior and at no time did she abuse anyone else.
I don't remember one time when Cece was pitiless. To the contrary, she is one of the only employees at American Century that always seems to be doing her job and being professional to everyone who works there. If she has been petty during the 9 episodes to this point, I don't remember it at all.
In the criticisms that I have seen, Jamie Vine is oddly absent from the criticism. Why is this? I suspect it is because she is a pretty radical character. She has proven that she has no problem being as creative and manipulative as she needs to be to reach her goals. She has proven time and time again to be a complex and interesting combination of elements. Tonight she went from craving reassurance and traditional support from her boyfriend after her Mom induced her Aunt to evict her all the way to throwing traditional relationships to the wind by instigating a threesome.
As Kip (James Jagger) puts it right before the threesome (that she spent most of her time on the episode working to set up between her, Kip, and Kip's new guitarist friend) she is "The Queen of the Nasty Bits (said while the song "Rock and Roll Queen "by Mott The Hoople plays - this is our second entry by this great band on the show). Some people have said she is just being immature, I think she is the embodiment of the spirit of punk. She does what she wants, damn the torpedos.
Richie is one side of the excess of rock and roll, Jamie is the other.
She is certainly not shrill, she is not pitiless (although certainly calculating and self-interested), and she has been petty to her Mom but not to anyone else.
This is where the gender criticism of Vinyl makes me the most frustrated.
Devon started out as an ambitious Warhol girl, fell in love, agreed to be a wife and a mother but with some conditions.
Prior to being stable enough as a young family for Devon to start insisting on Richie implementing her conditions, his drug problem and their partying led to the death of a close friend (Cyclone). As a result, both agree to clean up and fly right.
Devon stops partying and has two kids.
Richie falls off the wagon and turns down their future financial security without telling her. Subsequently, he is so cash poor he cannot live up to his end of their bargain. So, she has to sell one of her prized possessions in order to move forward with her plans.
She sees him destroying everything they have built, she sees him ignore her to the point where she feels entirely abandoned, and she sees her ambitions thwarted by his self-absorption. Rather than just throw her husband away, she tries desperately to get his attention (with a lawyer and then with Hannibal). Instead of returning to her, he is even more awful to her.
Finally, she leaves.
Since that point, she did not pine for him. In fact, she took her kids, moved back to the city, and started to follow her ambition on her own. She is scared and unsure of herself, but time and again, she chooses a path that could be fulfilling for her and grows farther and farther away from him.
Her story started out on a typical 70's story arc and is ending in a pretty liberated and liberating place. She is not petty, shrill, or pitiless. She has done her best to maintain her family and follow her dreams to great sacrifice. How again is this bad writing of a female character?
Tying Up The Loose Ends
While all the rest of this was going on, Clark (Jack Quaid) invented disco. Seriously, he heard a disco track on an album with his new buddy and then suggested strongly that the underground funk DJ play it and after a bit of a delay, everyone loved it. Clark (a white guy) invented disco. I wish I could tell you what the song was, for once I honestly don't know.
Earlier in episode 9, Richie and Julie Silver (Max Casella) meet in Richie's office. Julie tells Richie all about seeing Devon at Max's Kansas City for the Springsteen Show (we saw it as a Bob Marley show but the Wailers were the opening act at that concert). Julie tries to get Richie to sign Springsteen but he demurs. Oddly enough, right after this Richie says he wants "music that speaks to people." Ironic, since that is exactly what Springsteen is most famous for doing.
Right after this, Richie admits that he is "not a God" which is appropriate since Julie was clearly right and Richie was nuts.
Anyway, much later, Richie, after leaving Devons place, goes back to American Century and listens to the new Nasty Bits song (by Lester) and since he is on his new truth mission, he decides to roll over on Galasso. He calls his lawyer (or the police - not sure) and says he will "do it" (rat on Galasso to stay out of prison).
Lester (Ato Essandoh) sees that Maury is now working at American Century and tells Richie to stay away from him now and forever. The show started with Devon, Zak, and Lester all loving Richie (although Lester Hate/Loved him) and now all three are pretty close to just hating him.
As I suggested way back at the beginning, Richie is not a traditional hero or anti-hero, he is more of the instigator of the drama that allows all of the other character arcs to develop. He is the machine we hate to love.
One weakness for me is that the Nasty Bits are just not that good. Maybe this makes sense in the context of Richie hitching his star to a flawed dream because addiction has ruined his ear. They aren't terrible, but they are not "saving a record company good."
Pretty sure that the two usages of "Hey Joe" are to highlight the difference between what he wants to do to Devon at first (shoot her) for her infidelity. But ultimately, he is about to risk blowing everything else up instead (it is a metaphor).
Only one episode left in Season One.
A few notes as the season is coming to an end.:
1) There are literally hundreds of people reading these recaps, I could not be more flattered. For a big time writer, that is probably no big deal, but this is my first real attempt at doing official recaps for a network show. It really means a great deal to me that you take the time, thanks so much and I really appreciate your support!
2) In just a few short months, I will start my recaps of Mr. Robot (USA) season two. Mr. Robot is the series that inspired me to write about television and music on television shows (instead of just music). I wrote my recaps of Mr. Robot before I even had a blog to publish them on. As soon as I started this blog (near the end of last season) I started posting them here.
I hope you will check out my season 2 recaps of Mr. Robot here too. I also post about 4-5 music related posts here a week. I would certainly appreciate your support, social sharing, likes and comments. If you ever have any questions or comments, I have yet to ignore a comment or a question here.
In other words, I would love to hear from you!
I hope you have enjoyed this crazy Vinyl Journey so far! Thanks again for your support! I am hopeful that this blog will continue to grow so that by next season HBO will actually send me the episodes in advance (I write all night on Sundays to get this out by Monday mornings).