Richie Finestra is going down the tubes in “He in Racist Fire” (an anagram for his name, as it transpires, as well as a hint at some of his subtextual conflict), not only in the sense that his marriage looks totally over — he’s lucky Devon didn’t rip out his carotid artery after what he pulled on her with Hannibal this episode — and the doomsday clock on his business is at about 11:59. As a Vinyl character, he remains the hole in the middle of the record, not the songs that make up the album. He’s flawed and contradictory, which would be fine, except for the increasingly disturbing impression that it’s because he’s a badly written character, not one whose flaws and contradictions come from deep, layered characterization. I could be wrong about this, admittedly. But it feels as though any depth he accrues is going to be through suddenly introduced bits of information; the show isn’t building on a foundation, it’s asking the audience to have faith that it’s done establishing work that it simply hasn’t done.
There was a return this week, in grand fashion, of Horrible Coke Faces. Bobby Cannavale, bless his heart, cannot do a realistic-ish line to save his life. If cocaine was really as powerful as the shit Richie Finestra does (what looks to be thousands of dollars per day), he would have been dead three episodes ago. Really, though, the worst and stupidest coke thing this episode (and the only reason why I harp on the cocaine business so much is because the show lingers on it) was when Cop A does a bump right there in the squadroom, without even trying to hide it from anyone. No. I don’t care if “it’s the 70s.” It’s dumb.
At least, among all the other dumb stuff Vinyl is dealing with (the marginalization of all the established women characters, the amount of money they must be paying Ray Romano to show up and have two lines per episode, the 95 different plot lines), two elephants in the room have finally been identified. Yes, the show is aware that the Nasty Bits are not, at the moment, good (this was bugging me since the pilot) and they need work if they’re going to be as good as everyone keeps saying they are/will be. This leads to the second, major revelation: the show is actually aware that Richie has no idea what he’s doing. Hallelujah. The solution, a horrendous contrivance involving bringing back an alleged visionary who was working for Jackie Jervis’ company, and who is also his ex-girlfriend and ex-secretary. (By the way, Jackie Jervis, as played by Ken Marino, seems like a lot more fun to be around than Richie, to the point where I’m openly rooting for him to pull a Joffrey Baratheon on Richie’s Ned Stark.)
The episode ends with one of the worst shot-reverse-shot sequences I’ve ever seen, with an anachronistic woman awkwardly sashaying toward a catastrophically overacting Bobby Cannavale, making an anticipatory Horrible Coke Face from the coke she’s about to give him. Maybe “the worst I’ve ever seen” is overstating things a bit, but so was that acting.
Danny Bowes (@bybowes) is an artist and critic whose film and TV writing has appeared in Premiere, Tor.com, The Atlantic, Indiewire, Yahoo! Movies, RogerEbert.com, Salt Lake City Weekly, and The A.V. Club.