A brief mea culpa before continuing: I’m primarily a film critic, and approach TV as cinema, because it is. One key difference between episodic television and theatrical films, though, is that the experience of watching a TV show in pieces makes an appraisal of the whole impossible until the series concludes. Despite this, I still persist in thinking of a show as a whole, and the radically shifting nature of that whole can make writing about one a bit jarring, as a beautifully cogent assessment one week might be reduced to dust the next, given a narrative development of sufficient scope.
If this sounds like padding word count to avoid talking about this week’s Vinyl, that’s because it kind of is. “Rock and Roll Queen”, the ninth and penultimate episode of Season One, is largely a gathering together of ongoing plot threads and weaving them into a runway on which the entire season will land next week, and that’s fine. Not every show can be Game of Thrones and murder half the principal cast in the ninth episode every year, and although Richie does his best to get himself clipped in this episode, he lives to struth aimlessly another week. However, if he manages to stay clean, we’ll be deprived of another hilariously stupid cocaine scene. I’ll remember them fondly.
The episode’s title comes from its most memorable through-line, concerning the image-molding of the slightly-less-terrible Nasty Bits. The photographer at their shoot wants to costume Kip in cartoonish Brit drag, of which the sullen junkie romantic Kip abhors. The beginning of tension with the new guitarist (Has he been named?) emerges over hair length, because New Guitarist sports a wig from the Early 70s Costume Shoppe and the rest of the Nasty Bits have anachronistically short hair because they’re the first punk band or something (even though they’re not for about 80 thousand reasons). Jamie desperately leaps in to make peace, and everyone settles on the compromise that Kip will get zhuzhed up like the Queen Mum as long as he gets to take a scissors to New Guitarist’s flowing locks. There have been a number of interactions with them that leave one wondering whether the writers are embedding ultrasonic hints of homoeroticism, or whether it’s just supposed to be a “normal” hetero thing with two normal hetero bros. This wondering continues up to and includes the scene where the new bandmates have a ménage à trois with Jamie (who has been coronated the Queen of Rock and Roll, as they all listen to Mott the Hoople’s excellent “Rock and Roll Queen”), since they fastidiously avoid anything, like, gay. Afterward, though, Kip clearly seems to be having a pang of jealousy when looking over at Jamie dozing naked and draped with perhaps excess affection over the sleeping New Guitarist. Is it hetero bro “moy buhd shagged this uvva bloke, innit, an’ oy’m in a band wiv im, fuckeen ‘ell” angst, or is it merely one of the occasional pangs that customary red-blooded, bi-poly folk work through on a daily basis? Man may never know. Straight man, at least.
Everything else is just kind of a blur of thread-gathering: Devon’s photographer boytoy’s dick might be as big or bigger than Richie’s, which is notable, and Zak finally figures out that Richie stole the cash from their hotel room safe in Vegas, and he beats the shit out of Richie, which is satisfying, and there’s a whole bunch of dumb stuff with Maury (which, along with the whole gangster mess, feels like a cross the show is bearing for having Terence Winter and Martin Scorsese among its array of éminences grises). It also feels like a way to inject some dramatic season-finale-y urgency into a show that’s at its best when it’s sitting around bullshitting, noodling on a guitar, or having a quiet smoke.
To circle back to that lament about the transience of critical assessments when writing about TV, despite the hundreds of mean words I’ve written about Vinyl over the course of the season, it feels like the writers — and whoever takes over as showrunner from Winter — have a chance to realize the show’s potential, as shocking as that might have seemed a couple months ago. The disco foreshadowing is really, really working (a lot better than the punk stuff), and next season potentially takes us right up to when disco really takes off. It feels a little weird that that’s more exciting than what the punk storyline has in store, but that’s life.
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.