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Graceland - 1.02 - Battle to become the alpha in "Guadalajara Dog" - Review

After ending its premiere episode with the reveal that the FBI wanted Mike to investigate Briggs, Graceland came back for a second week with trust issues, new character introductions, and more set up.

It came back a little weaker. There was a lot of time allocated to set up – the full first half to be precise. While this was an issue in the premiere as well, I was more forgiving with the pilot because set up is important to orientate us viewers so that we know who and what we’re watching, and so that we care. This episode seemed to meander in the first half, jumping around from Mike’s jog on the beach, Jakes’ birds and cop-killing bullets, Johnny’s smelly breakfast, karaoke with a newly introduced Paige, and finally Mike’s introduction to his shrink/case handler - none of which built much suspense. It wasn’t until the second half where the tension started to build, culminating with a shocking ending of Briggs pulling a gun on Mike.

This show has a different structure than most of spy series on USA Network (i.e. Burn Notice, Covert Affairs, White Collar). While the others almost always anchor the episode in a strong case, or objective, of the week, and the character interactions and storytelling unfold around the fringes of the main story, this episode was jarring because it was only the series’ second episode (a little too early for the tension between Mike and Briggs to carry the whole episode), and because the case of the week, when it was introduced (a plan that included using cop-killing bullets to get close to a bad buy and to take down Paige’s Bobby problem), clearly took a backseat to the focus on the increasing distrust and animosity between Mike and Briggs.

Who’s the bad guy?
Let’s talk a little about Briggs and Mike. Mike doesn’t trust Briggs with good reason, and Briggs doesn’t trust Mike with good reason. We saw Briggs reviewing Mike’s folder in the premiere, obviously already suspicious that Mike might have been placed at Graceland for an ulterior purpose. Somehow Mike’s trip to his “shrink,” and his response that he’s going to have weekly sessions, tipped off Briggs that Mike was lying. And Briggs knew about Mike’s call to the FBI office. Was Briggs watching Mike more closely than he appeared while Mike was in line for the Guadalajara dog, or did Briggs have a different way of knowing about Mike’s phone call (a bug on Mike’s phone or a spy at the hot dog stand)?

Mike came across as cocky and smug considering he’s fresh out of the academy with almost zero experience, and Briggs seemed set on pushing Mike’s buttons and putting him in his place. Mike is a rules guy and Briggs did everything he could to shake him. As a fan of the network’s other spy shows, I’m used to an off-the-wall, genius and risky plan being pulled off successfully and saving the day. That is just another day in the office on White Collar (a show also created by Graceland’s executive producer Jeff Eastin). But the difference is Peter and Neal from White Collar are usually united in the end goal (and if they are not, we know their good intentions). Briggs’ sudden change of plans and his attempts at pushing Mike out of his comfort zone were aggressive. They were about putting Mike in his place. After the job was successfully completed, Briggs made a big show of skimming some cash – again a way of asserting his dominance and unsettling Mike. Does Briggs usually take a cut of the cash? Possibly, or maybe not. This may have been just to rattle Mike.

Briggs’ behavior may have been about getting him to reveal his intentions, but it also seemed personal. We learned Briggs was a lot like Mike before whatever changed him transpired. There could be some resentment – that Mike still has his innocence and idealism – and maybe Briggs wants to bring Mike over to Briggs’ way of thinking to justify his own actions to himself.

Mike wearing green
Now Mike, on the other hand, seemed to take a step backward from the premiere when he was really smart. He ran after a chips thief at Hector's Tacos.  I get it, he’s a rules guy, but even I know undercover agents don’t break their cover for something so minor. And the bad fake accent – my thought was that he’s been watching Burn Notice. But if had been watching Burn Notice, he would know he doesn’t break his cover. Briggs outmatched him by a mile. Mike had it right when he said Briggs hits the trifecta when everyone else is still sizing up the horses.

In a review of the pilot, I said I was pleasantly surprised that Mike didn’t seem to be the typical young, inexperienced, impulsive character we sometimes see placed in the lead. I take it back now. The problem with this set up is that a good chunk of the show is focused on the least interesting character in the room (see Revolution as an example). Mike’s smugness, and his FBI contact bolstering Mike’s ego by telling him that he’s smarter than Briggs, didn’t do anything to win me over.

Speculation time
We’ve had two episodes so far, and both ended in unexpected twists. I think it’s a safe bet that we’re not done with the twists yet. Something happened to make Briggs cynical. I’m guessing we’ll learn that the FBI agents who want Briggs investigated aren’t exactly better than Briggs.

Another angle I’m expecting is that we’ll learn that the whole group at Graceland is in on whatever Briggs is in on. At two points in this episode, Briggs referred to the Graceland group as “misfits”: calling Graceland the “island of misfit toys” and calling the group their “merry, merry band of misfits.” Misfits are people who don’t fit in anywhere. The misfit characterization makes sense in their day-to-day life, where they assume alternative identities.  Are they all misfits in their respective agencies as well?

I’m also suspicious of Charlie and what her agenda is in getting close to Mike.

Another question to ponder is what Briggs meant when he told Paige: “You know I owe you plenty.”

Finally, the Guadalajara dog we’re told is a dog sold by a food van, Sun City, that is smothered with sour cream, tomatoes, and jalapenos. It’s called the Guadalajara dog even though Guadalajara doesn’t have sour cream. Metaphorically speaking, who or what is the Guadalajara dog? I’m open to suggestions here.

Mike: “Working on a new Mike.”
Johnny: “Sounds like a lot of work, bro.”
(I agree)

Johnny: “You almost burned Hector’s Tacos.”
Jakes: “You never burn Hector’s, man. That shit is real.”

Gratuitous shot of the SoCal shore in the early morning job win short shorts and Charlie in her walk of shame.

Briggs: “A million crimes in the city, I’m sure we can find one with training wheels.”

Mike: “What’s the signal if something goes wrong?”
Johnny: “How about ‘Oh Shit?’”
Briggs: “That’s good.”

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