The Cancellation of Graceland

Viewers and critics alike don’t care about ratings, just about the quality of the shows they’re watching. Networks, on the other hand, initially only have their expectations and crystal balls to go on. They make an assessment of how a script is likely going to be translated to screen, judging by creator, actors and director. Then, they decide to start production on a number of episodes. But when a show’s on the air and doing great in the quality department but is unable to rake in the necessary ratings, there’s no mercy.

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Bad Decisions
This week we had to say goodbye to a merciless kill by USA. They don’t usually make bad decisions; they’ve been renewing Suits – one of the best shows on television -, they’ve chosen Satisfaction over Rush for a new season (the former will have its second coming on October 16), and very recently they’ve lost dead weight Complications. But every now and then, a show just doesn’t haul in enough (big) advertising (contracts), like, apparently and for incomprehensible reasons, in the case of Graceland. So we had to say goodbye to Briggs, Mike, Paige, Charlie, Johnny and Jakes. At a point where it was getting very, very interesting.

Fresh and New
The show, starring Daniel Sunjata, Aaron Tveit, Serinda Swan, Vanessa Ferlito, Manny Montana and Brandon Jay McLaren, blew up the summer of 2013 with its first season. Every week there were multiple cliffhangers, revelations, twists, turns, sharp dialogue, cool images, sizzling locations, this fresh new show was on everybody’s radar immediately. So where did it all go wrong, I hear you ask. But did something actually go wrong?

Dead Serious
The way I see it, every Graceland season wore a different signature. Almost like for three years in a row, the show changed showrunners. From the funny, action-packed season 1, they went for a more serious approach in season 2, with a new Mike. Still played by Tveit, he was a different guy. Left Graceland at the end of the first season finale, he came back after Briggs invited him, but at arrival demanded right away he’d be the man in charge. It turned out to be a total failure, with him doing some very questionable things. But not only that. His storyline was the least interesting of all, combined with the audience – well, I for one felt that way – distancing themselves from him, this new Mike that wasn’t relatable anymore, and suddenly Graceland was no longer about the laughs and the action sequences. It’d become a dead serious portrayal of a man who was losing his way. Therefor it was such a fitting ending, when the season 2 finale saw Mike die in a hospital bed.

Puppet
It was the ultimate price; giving his life, sacrificing himself for everything he’d done. It was the first (and last) noble thing he’d done in a long time. But you can’t kill off the star of your show, an old Hollywood rule prescribes, so he was brought back. He wasn’t an egomaniac anymore (season 2), and the time he used to be an ambitious, decent but gutsy new kid on the block was long behind him (season 1), no, he came back to life a junkie (season 3). An addict, or should I say puppet, with Briggs pulling the strings.

Evolvement
The third season quickly wrapped up all the loose ends the writers forgot about resolving, and turned its attention to the Sarkissian mob family and Briggs’ undercover sting operation. The show changed its tune again, and drew inspiration from Robert Rodriguez’ Sin City (the episode ‘Aha’) and Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (‘No Old Tigers’).
This tune changing might be an explanation for the declining viewership. If you were to compare the pilot and the series finale, the difference should be obvious. Now, that’s not a bad thing, per se. Evolvement can only be applauded. But maybe it went too fast to keep up for most people, who knows.

The Fugitive
It’s just sad, when the last episode promised so many opportunities for great stuff if a fourth season had been greenlit. As we’ve mentioned before, one of the coolest things that could happen is one of the Gracelanders turning on his or her former team mates. Like Tony Almeida (24, season 7). The season three finale set it up nicely, with Jakes leaving the band, choosing a life as a fugitive. Then again, I guess the best finales make you imagine what could’ve been. Although, just a lousy three seasons of Graceland, 38 episodes in total, just isn’t enough.

Graceland: No Old Tigers

The season three finale of Graceland wraps up everything neatly, but there’s enough unfinished business to look forward to the next season – if there’s going to be one, but I think it’s only a matter of weeks before USA announces that Briggs and Mike will ride again, and perhaps ride against one of their own.

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Great Drama
It’s an emotional hour of tying up loose ends. ‘No Old Tigers’ serves up a little bit of everything, including an empty warehouse shootout (which ends a little too conveniently), but the relationships between the members of the Graceland team lie at the heart of the episode. Everyone seems to have a different opinion, approach or solution to the mess that Briggs has been making for the past 13 weeks. It’s turned them against one another, and because the stakes are high, that makes for great drama.

The Backup Plan
Briggs has been undercover with Ari and cut so many corners, put so many people at risk, stood by helplessly and watched in so many situations, the paperwork of his case would be blood-red. It was clear from the beginning he was going to hang, so he orchestrated a backup plan. An (what seems to be a much simpler and more efficient) idea to trap Martun. Mike was doped up, so he was the ideal volunteer (involuntarily and unknowingly) to believe anything. Briggs, using Mike’s notes about the vision he had when he almost died, connected him to Gusti.
Eventually – and just in time – Martun buys a gas canister from Gusti, planning to take out a rival gang by releasing it in their neighborhood. Briggs made sure there wasn’t poisonous gas in it, Mike gets wind of it and shoots Martun down. With the head of the Sakissian crime family behind bars, Briggs’ role’s over.

Dead in the Water
There’s just one problem: Mike knew Briggs had manipulated him, prior to the arrest. So to sign a report that leaves out that little fact, Mike’s committing perjury. As we all know, Mike’s such an honest guy (if he wants to be), so he doesn’t want to do it. Everyone should lawyer up, he says, which means the Graceland project would be dead in the water.

Freedom
But he choses a different way to handle it. He signs it. In exchange for a few conditions – one of which is the release of Gusti. Apparently he has more love for this small time crook than his Graceland buddies. But his move comes too late for Jakes, who just wants a clean break. The romance has gone to his head (and the dreadlocks don’t agree, so they have to go, too). With (part of?) the money he took from his and Charlie’s secret bank sting, he wants to go all Thelma & Louise. Johnny tries to make him stay, which results in an emotional brawl – two friends who love each other but one’s fighting for something more important: freedom.

Tony Almeida
Jakes comes out on top – leaving Johnny heartbroken on top of the Christmas tree – and rides off into the sunset with Courtney. Johnny warned him. Everybody’s going to go look for him. Hunt him down. Including Johnny. Now, this could be a great setup for next year, making Jakes the antagonist. The plot would be so much richer with a sort of 24 season 7 Tony Almeida, crossing over to the dark side.

Fugitive
There’s one loose end, still. Ari’s walking the streets, where Briggs finds him. When they run from a lot of itchy trigger fingers, and are saved by Charlie and Paige who ‘pinged’ Briggs’ phone, we get the final showdown between Briggs and Ari. Both shot, blood on their necks, arms and faces, the scene has a vintage Tarantino style to it. Ari’s the only one who can blow up the report, so he has to go. But before Briggs puts a bullet in the exact middle of Ari’s forehead, they have a very nice, mature and subdued dialogue. Almost like a classic western, they take the time to say goodbye to each other. They both know what’s coming – true tigers don’t get old -, but there’s no rush.
When Charlie, Paige and Briggs return to their apartment, the team’s one man light. Jakes has gone from friend to fugitive.

Graceland: Dog Catches Car

And with a punch in the face between two friends, another season of Graceland is done. Well, if there wasn’t still one episode to go, that is. ‘Dog Catches Car’ does answer a lot of questions, though. But indeed, loose end Ari is still to be taken care of.

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Endgame
Ari wasn’t the objective, at least not this week; Martun was. I suppose that was the intention all along, to cut off the head of the Sarkissian snake, and so they did. So Mike did, actually, with a little help from Briggs. You’d assume that’s where the story ends, but it hasn’t yet. Slamming the cuffs on Martun and cramming him, bitching and cursing, into a cop car apparently was just the dress rehearsal. That means Graceland will pull another big fat white rabbit out of its ass for next week’s finale; if catching the bad guy wasn’t the endgame of the third season, what is?

Tweek-ish
But let’s rewind just a couple of minutes here. Last week, Javi was going to be avenged by two packed vans of angry gang members, on their way to the Sarkissian funeral – with Johnny caught in the middle of it. They’d brought a big wooden crate with them, the same kind Gusti’s driving around. Everybody immediately assumes they’ve got Gusti’s WMD, a canister with deadly gas. Javi’s crew’s about to wipe out an entire funeral home, so they need to be stopped.
Mike and Paige are in pursuit. I’m surprised the gang didn’t pick up on that raving lunatic, following them on the highway. Mike used to be such a ‘together guy’, but he’s really become this uneasy, overly-serious, twitchy Tweek-ish character. Keep your head cool, young man.

Saved
Long story short, Mike and Paige (and backup) arrive on the scene minutes after the shooting starts and save Johnny, who’d just saved Briggs, who’d just saved a Sarkissian family member. There’s no gas released, and there’s no trace of a canister. The crate was used to store a few guns, that’s all. Briggs escapes through the backdoor. He’s got some business to attend to.

Happy Commune
Mike stays behind, wanting to be sure there’s indeed no big lethal gas can standing around somewhere. Paige and Johnny follow Briggs home, where they demand answers, to the point where Johnny shoots Briggs in the leg. This is not a nice happy federal commune anymore.
When Mike joins them, Briggs explains what he’s done and why. It’s a bit hard to follow, also because yet again it’s not the full, undisclosed story. He’s still planning ‘something big’ with Ari, something the others know nothing about. But he did manipulate Mike, that’s clear. The Bureau wants to push Briggs out. That’s why he was given this (career) suicide mission, going undercover with the Sarkissians. There’s a slight chance Briggs is going to get out of this relatively well, and that is if Mike arrests Martun.

Freshening Up
Does this make sense? I could surely use a freshening up next week – or better yet, an elaboration. Anyway, why didn’t Briggs want to include the others? Why go through all this trouble and never once think maybe he should come clean. I know it wouldn’t be Graceland if he had, because secrets are the very foundation of the show. But still. They’ve all done much crazier stuff to help each other out in the past.
Sure, Mike’s been a little under the weather this season, and maybe he was unable to commit to a risky plan in his condition, being an addict and all. But why rely on him anyway and secretly? Play the dangerous game of manipulation, with an addict, no less. If I were Briggs, I would’ve picked any one of the others. So yes, I hope we do get a better explanation next week. Of course, the writers could do another season 2-like finale and leave everything wide open.
Briggs’ plan – whatever it entails – does seem to come together. Gusti has a meeting with Martun, to sell the canister. Mike comes too late, but catches up with Martun (who wants to release the gas to basically kill Javi’s complete neighborhood) and arrests him. Luckily, there wasn’t gas in the canister. Mike goes back home and punches Briggs in the face.

Matras
And here I thought we’d gotten answers. It did look that way at first, but now I feel more lost than ever. Okay, so the more straight forward storyline, with Charlie and Jakes, took a bit of a turn. Jakes has got a bank. A fake bank, but still, bad guys occasionally come in with big piles of cash, so to him it’s a real bank. And Jakes does what we all probably would do, he starts fantasizing about the money. The money that’s locked away in a… safe? I guess safes nowadays just need bars and no doors. But Jakes is thinking about that money, accidentally falling right into his own pockets. And thinking’s just phase one.
Jakes starts skimming. If he’d known he was the star of a television show, he definitely wouldn’t even have dreamed of it, but alas. Characters just don’t get away with these kind of things. They always get caught and Jakes’ number’s up pretty fast. His new girlfriend discovers the money, hidden in the most predictable hiding places of all: underneath Jakes’ matras. Girls feel those things, man, come on.

Graceland: The Wires

Well, that’s a surprise. Johnny (for the time being going by ‘Jose’) first gets jumped by Javi and his posse of up-to-no-gooders, gets the shit kicked out of him, to be nurtured back to life by an even bigger bad apple: Javi’s mom (Terri Hoyos).

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Crueler
Sure, she’s an excellent chef, but ruthless when it comes to ordering hits out on people. The reason her gang doesn’t get along with the Sarkissian family, is because Briggs slept with Javi’s sort-of-girlfriend. Now, Briggs isn’t to blame, according to Mommy, because ‘that’s just what guys do’. So it’d be okay if Javi slept with the girlfriends of each of his gang mates? I suppose so, because she’s convinced the girls would be at fault. Therefor, Javi’s sent out to kill his girlfriend Eva Torres (Erica Camarano) and put her head in a box. Why? Because Graceland dictates Mommy has to be the crueler than any one of her boys, that’s why.

Unwrap the Saw
Briggs isn’t exactly a ‘carpenter’ – he doesn’t still ‘nail’ the girl – but as a federal agent (and a human being, I’d surely hope so) he can’t let her get killed. He gets an heads-up from Johnny, who’s been accepted into Mommy’s inner circle.
Together with Ari, Briggs comes to Eva’s rescue and arrives just in time. If I were Javi, I’d first shoot her and then unwrap the electric saw, but Javi’s got a more disturbing idea. He picks up the saw and strikes a pose. At that moment, Ari bursts through the door and shoots him down.

To Save a Life
Eva has to get running. Javi’s men will try to find her and finish the job, so Briggs gives her a thousand dollars to get as far away as she can. She isn’t too happy about the whole saving mission by Paul ‘knight in shining pepper and salt beard’ Briggs, or the amount of ‘just’ a thousand dollars. In the world of television, nowadays you’d better have a very luxurious witness protection program in your back pocket before you dare to save someone’s life, otherwise: don’t bother.

Retaliation
When he turns around, Ari’s looking at Javi, lying on the floor. He’s just as interested in the electric saw, lying right next to him. Next time, remember not to leave the two of them alone in a room; Ari’s looking way too eager to use it. Briggs knows there’s no way he’s going to be talked out of doing a little bit of nip and tuck.
The next day, Mommy receives a package with her son’s head in it. This means war, and it’s all hands on deck. The gang, including Johnny, is off to retaliate against the Sarkissians.

Love & Magic
Meanwhile, Jakes and Charlie are doing a very elaborate scam, during which the former manages to smooth talk his way into getting a girl’s phone number. That’s indeed what’s been missing from the show this year; fooling around with the opposite sex. Graceland style, of course; Jakes isn’t a federal agent, no, he owns a bank.
Mike is after Briggs – he’s looking for the ‘wires’ of ‘the magician’, as he calls him now – and constructs one of those wall wide collages of post-its, world maps and connecting, colored threads. Together with Paige, they’re trying to figure out how and when Briggs got his hands on Gusti’s weapon of mass destruction, but they hit a dead end.

Proof
It’s only when Johnny walks into the door and casually gives them all the information they need, that they know where to go. The docks of Santa Barbara. There must be camera footage of when Briggs was supposedly there. And there it is. Briggs, carrying a big box around. Is it proof enough to confront him? We’ll know soon enough. Two more episodes to go to unweave the web that’s been woven throughout the season. Hopefully we won’t be disappointed by the big reveal.

Graceland: Master of Weak Ties

Graceland’s smelling the barn, just three episodes away from the season finale. It’s accelerating, shifting gears and laying a few more hidden agendas underneath it all. The show’s at its best when you don’t know who to trust, and we’ve come to that point yet again.

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Lucy, Manny and Reynaldo
First and foremost: ‘Master of Weak Ties’ is directed by Lucy Liu (Charlie’s Angels, Ally McBeal, Dirty Sexy Money, Southland). She’s been in the director’s chair only three times before (two episodes of Elementary, and the short film Meena), but she’s done a very good job here. There are some interesting choices throughout the episode, in terms of locations, the use of in and out of focus, and the boxing scene between Johnny (Manny Montana) and Javi (Reynaldo Gallegos, who’s made a career out of playing the worst of bad guys, on Sons of Anarchy, Prison Break and Gang Related, among many more).

Boxing
Boxing scenes are hard to shoot. At least, I guess they are, since the number of great fights inside the ring can easily be counted on the fingers of one hand. Usually, there are way too many slow motion shots, edited in between. Closeup shots that show the fighters’ faces, or just a random punch. Then the image speeds up again and we’re watching apparently very meaningful footwork. And then, when the editor’s out of ideas, the fight abruptly ends. Fortunately, Liu leaves all this camera trickery – that always fails to make it more interesting – behind and just shows the fight.

5’ 3”
It’s already exciting as it is. Johnny and Ravi, one on one, with Johnny basically having everything to lose and nothing to gain. And it’s a real fight (I know, it’s TV and therefor make-believe, but still, it feels real), you can follow the punches, the physical story of the boxing match; it’s not a carefully pieced together mishmash of punch, stumble, sniff, step, punch, spit and punch. And it’s not suddenly over. There’s a clear appetizer, main course and dessert.
I can only imagine 5’ 3” Lucy Liu directing them (and the tall tough guys watching from around the ring) just offscreen. Given she’s obviously done a great job, she must’ve wrapped them all around her little finger. (I surely hope there’s a making of of this episode; I would love to see that.)

Up to Something
Mike, Johnny, Jakes, maybe Paige as well, they’re all thinking Briggs is up to something. Granted, he played a risky move, by kidnapping his boss Sean Logan – and torturing him -, but Logan was in on it, it turned out. Briggs had it all figured out, kept the other Gracelanders in the dark (for undisclosed reasons), but his plan was solid. No hidden agendas. Still, he’s lost the trust of Mike especially, for some reason. But why?

Red Birds
Then Mike discovers it wasn’t his purgatory dream about red birds that lead him to the phone number of a rehab center, it was Briggs. To help Mike kick his addiction, of course. What other goal could he have had? But Mike thinks it was all about Briggs – it’s always and only about Briggs. I couldn’t quite follow Mike’s reasoning, but I thought he was wrong. And then the big twist rolled around.

Rat
Mike’s back at Gusti’s place. The (over)friendly guy who likes to laugh and does a lot of his business on the fly, it seems, o, and he has a weapon of mass destruction in his trunk, but don’t worry about that. Anyway, someone’s at the door. It’s Briggs. He seems to know Gusti quite well, which is interesting. Has he been in contact with him, and why? Gusti asks him when it’s all finished. Soon, Briggs says, and hands over a rat in a cage. If that doesn’t scream hidden agenda, then I don’t know what does.

Graceland: Hand of Glory

Briggs kidnapping his boss, Sean Logan, and Mike seeing it all go down; that’s what ‘Savior Complex’ left us with. The hows and whys are revealed in ‘Hand of Glory’, a very ‘even’ episode, attending to all the different characters and storylines perfectly.

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Wisecracker
Poor Charlie. She’s truly been the most unfortunate one of the Graceland Gang this season. Granted, she put a few bad guys in cuffs, but at a very high price. And now Jakes is running away with her case. That may have been the reason the writers left him with nothing more but one wisecrack an episode for the first half of season 3; but he’s brought into play now, going after a big (British) fish. A shark of a guy, actually, who – quite atypical for a Brit – doesn’t seem to have a sense of humor whatsoever. Wisecracks had better stay within the confines of Jakes’ brain. Charlie’s tasked with getting Jakes out of bed – and taking pictures of him with a huge camera from miles away.

Tools
The big story is still the Sarkissian family and Briggs’ undercover work with Ari. He’s taken Sean Logan hostage – abandoned warehouse, chair, some home improvement tools, the whole shebang -, willing to do whatever it takes to make him talk. Briggs and Ari are torturing him, but he keeps his mouth shut. It’s only when Ari starts to threaten him with the ‘hand of glory’ that Logan confesses there’s a DEA mole inside the Sarkissian administration: Paige.

Burnt
In the meantime, Paige is buttering up against Toros. They’ve got some great scenes together, in which they get closer, and closer, and the rough and tough Toros even has a softer side. He opens up to her, he’s declaring his love without actually declaring his love; the way a love scene ought to be written.
Then Paige gets the call. She’s burnt. Cover blown, abort, get out of there. She escapes through the rest room window and makes a run for Graceland. The only thing she forgets about is the determination of her admirer. Even DEA agents forget to look in the rear view mirror sometimes; Toros catches up with her.

Bulletproof
Back in the warehouse, Briggs ties up a loose end: he shoots Logan. After giving up Paige, he’s of no more use. Mike’s suspicion seems to come true; Briggs found a way to get rid of Logan and pin it on Ari.
But this is Graceland. After Ari drives off, Mike and a backup team come storming in, ready to arrest Briggs. But then Logan gets up, showing the bulletproof vest he’s been wearing. He was in on the whole thing. (That doesn’t mean he isn’t furious at Briggs. Logan shouts he’s going to burn for this, whatever happens. Even if he manages to put the whole Sarkissian bloodline behind bars, Briggs is going to feel the wrath of Logan. So maybe Briggs will come up with a plan to take him out after all in the coming weeks.)

She’s not Armenian
In the Graceland apartment, Toros wants answers. Paige figures out he hasn’t yet heard she’s a mole – he just wants to know why she left so suddenly. She’s not Armenian, is her defence, but he doesn’t buy it. Toros gets rough and tough, but this time Paige can’t return the favor. As he’s choking her, she’s got no other choice but to take the glass cutter out of her purse and swing it.
The other guys come home a few seconds too late. Toros’ blood is all over Paige.

Graceland: Savior Complex

Graceland is still juggling several storylines – in ‘Savior Complex’ it’s all about Mike and Charlie, everything else is on hold again -, which is giving the third season a bit of an unbalanced impression.

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Backburner
What seemed to be at the heart of the show this year – taking down the Sarkissian family – has been put on the backburner for a few weeks now. It’s only a scene here and there, with Ari and Briggs (and Toros) discussing something. That something’s been whether or not the Armenian mobsters should kill Briggs, so it’s always a good, tense scene, but then it’s back to Mike’s addiction and Charlie’s very risky, almost amateuristic undercover operation.

Martun
Alas, ’Savior Complex’ is no exception. With only 4 episodes left, they’d better get a move on throwing the net around Ari, Toros and the big kahuna himself, Martun Sarkissian; that’s the ultimate goal, I assume. Or would they already have season 4 planned out, in which they’ll bring back Peter Stormare to play the bad guy for 12 episodes straight? That wouldn’t be such a bad idea. Still, I don’t think that’s the plan. I just hope they won’t rush to the season 3 finale in a way that it feels, well, rushed.

Flyer
Briggs did sell himself to Ari and Toros as a double agent; that’s the Graceland we all know and love. He once again gained their trust, so that means he’ll… O, you just have to wait another week to find that out. Right now, he’s got other things to deal with, like cuffing Mike to the bed.
Mike’d gotten a lecture from Gusti, but what really made him want to quit cold turkey was a flyer. Not just a flyer, but one with red birds on it. I was worried the messages in his near-death-experience-dream would turn out to be something far more corny, but this was actually okay.
I don’t think the whole ‘signs from the afterlife’ is completely done, though. After all, there’s still number 47 and the time of 10:10 that will probably point to something significant as well. I don’t really buy it was pointed at Gusti’s shipment.

72 Hours
Briggs helps Mike detox – as we know he’s got more than enough experience with it. This process usually takes about 72 hours, but luckily this is television and Mike’s clean in a couple of minutes – including a nice ‘Mike Warren in Wonderland’ segment. One cold bath, a close shave and he’s good to go. I’m glad we got that out of the way, because Mike as a junkie slowed things down more than I cared for.

Gator Huntin’
Then it’s time to go over to Charlie, with her undercover sting. You just know it’s going to go wrong somehow – and it does. It’s failure upon failure; she might be even worse than Mike. Although, to be fair, this time it isn’t completely her fault. Someone from ATF spoils the party. In the end, it all didn’t matter too much anyway. The Gator Huntin’ Gang is arrested and Amber’s back behind bars. Makes me wonder why the sting was necessary in the first place.

Kidnapped
With one case wrapped up, there’s room for something new, and boy, it’s promising something good. There are clues Sean Logan, the one responsible for putting Briggs undercover with the Sarkissians, isn’t as squeaky clean as he appears. In the final seconds of ‘Savior Complex’, he’s being kidnapped in front of Mike. By who? By Briggs. This is going to be fun.