In its second week, Cowboys vs. Gangsters!, aka Vegas, seems to be finding its feet. Tonight’s plot balanced a self-contained story and longer story arcs more gracefully than the pilot did, and the leisurely, less exposition-driven pace allows viewers to savor more of the details of time and place. On a more critical note, I’m occasionally finding some of the plot points a bit murky, and the minor characters can seem interchangeable. Sheriff Lamb’s younger brother and adult son both act as his deputies and I have trouble telling them apart when they’ve got their cowboy hats on, which is much of the time. When the hats come off, I know the guy from Terra Nova is the brother. There are also a lot of casino employees with interchangeable mid-century hair. I’m just saying the other new show I’m recapping, The Mob Doctor, also features complex plots involving the collision of two worlds, one of which is organized crime, and watching that show I have fewer questions about who’s who or what’s happening.
This week I also got more of a sense of the two main characters, Sheriff Ralph Lamb (Dennis Quaid) and mobster/casino boss Vincent Savino (Michael Chiklis), and while I’m definitely forming opinions about them, I’m not sure they’re what the show’s going for. Lamb and his cowboys seem to be meant as representatives of a vanishing chivalric order, but more often than not they come across as impulsive, reactive, and more violent than the gangsters, cowboys in the derogatory British sense more than the laudatory American sense. Savino, by contrast, seems to be far more of a strategic thinker, with considerable self-control and an eye for detail. He also generally has nicer manners, when he’s not arranging for people to be whacked. Of the two, he’s the one I’d rather have lunch with.
So what actually happened this week? We open in a diner, where Ralph’s meeting with A. D. A. Katherine O’Connell (Carrie-Anne Moss, who’s been given a stunning wardrobe, but has been woefully underused so far). But this is just an excuse to get him out on the street in time to foil the robbery of jewelry store (he sees the guy entering with a gun in his waistband, so this is not exactly Poirot-level deduction). He grabs a broom off of a street sweeper and uses the handle to trip the guy as he comes back out.
Besides establishing Lamb as a quick-thinking badass, the other purpose of this scene is for Savino to see it from a passing car and look annoyed. We follow Savino to his casino, and get a much subtler and cleverer bit of character development when Savino chides the doorman for looking at his tip, instead of maintaining eye contact with the customer. Savino opens an employee meeting by telling anyone who was in with, or knew about, Perrin, the embezzler from last week, to walk away and never come back. Three do, including the manager of what I learn is called the “count room,” which means they need to have a replacement sent out from Chicago.
Meanwhile, Lamb and his men are at a robbery-murder scene in a private home. (The victim’s matching end table and coffee table are, by the way, the epitome of mid-century cool.) They find the man’s terrified girlfriend in the garage, tied up and locked in the trunk of his car. After questioning her back at the station, Lamb opens the drawer of his murdered predecessor’s desk, and finds a lot of high-denomination poker chips. The former sheriff, he says, was “on two payrolls.”
The sheriff’s not the only one. ADA O’Connell and her boss the DA question Perrin, who wants to cut a deal by informing on the local mob. The DA quickly arranges a meeting with Savino, who says they’ll need to let Perrin walk in order to keep him quiet. The one eyewitness who can finger Perrin, a maid at the casino, will be “going away,” he says. Literally. We see the maid heading off to Florida as Bobby Darin’s “Beyond the Sea” (a favorite of mine) plays.
The new count room manager from Chicago rolls in; she’s a sexy young blond in a leopard coat. Her name is Mia, and she’s the daughter of one of Savino’s old cronies. Her father, she says, never had a son to follow in his footsteps, so he raised her to do it. And I like that on this show we see women with careers; while ideas about women’s roles were different in 1960, it’s not as if some kind of alarm went off any time a woman left the kitchen (the impression given by some shows set in this period). The dead man’s girlfriend is also a career woman of sorts – she took a casino job in order to save her ranch.
Back in Lamb’s storyline, the dead man’s been identified as Wes, a craps dealer . They go to question one of Wes’s fellow dealers, who’s a little uncooperative, so Lamb knocks him to the floor. This is apparently the only way he knows to keep a conversation going. It turns out the guy was robbed in similar circumstances, and that he and Wes both kept their cash at home in safes installed by the same company.
Lamb’s brother questions another employee, and I’m pulled right out of the story by how familiar he looks. It’s Jack O’Toole from “The Zeppo”! Which is near the top of any right-thinking Buffy fan’s list of best episodes ever. Sadly, while this scene occurs in a kitchen, we do not learn if any of the knives are named Katie. On the way out, Lamb runs into Savino, who feels they got off on the wrong foot. His attempt to get off on the right foot doesn’t go so well, as Lamb hands over the dead sheriff’s poker-chip bribes while ominous music plays.
It’s not the end of Savino’s tough day, either. Mia wants to make the blackjack tables more profitable in a way I don’t really understand, except it involves something they call “hitting on soft seventeen.” When Savino doesn’t like the idea, she goes over his head and gets the guys in Chicago to make the change. Not to mention that Perrin’s gone over the Vegas DA’s head and cut a deal with the feds, who apparently are able to claim jurisdiction because the nuclear test site where he dumped the body is federal land.
Lamb’s son’s car is rear-ended by a Goodfellas-looking man in thick glasses, which we soon learn he doesn’t actually need, when he’s hustled off to jail after punching the son. He’s a hit man who needs to get into jail to get to Perrin, and there’s shiv concealed in one earpiece. But as he’s stalking Perrin, Lamb’s son interrupts.
Lamb goes looking for the man who sold safes to all the robbery victims, finds him in the casino. When the man is not immediately cooperative, he calmly and politely explains why the man’s evidence may be vital in solving a string of violent crimes. Just kidding! He throws him through a plate glass window. The safe dealer explains that some men in a white Oldsmobile with Missouri plates forcibly purchased his client list at gunpoint.
While checking out the other addresses on the list, they spot the white Olds outside a really nice mid-century modern house (flat roof line, glass walls, sort of like this). When Lamb and his men enter, we catch a glimpse of a TV with a test pattern on the screen, indicating it’s late at night. It’s a nice period touch. (I just remember test patterns myself.) Lamb confronts one of the robbers outside, and the man is about to shoot the sheriff when Lamb’s son shoots the robber, who topples artfully into the blob-shaped mid-mod swimming pool (sort of like this).
That looks like it for this storyline, until Lamb notices that Wes, unlike the other victims, was tied up with a knot used by cowboys, not city slickers. They talk again with Gloria, Wes’s girlfriend, and discover that before she took a casino job (to earn the money to save her ranch), she dated Ted (Jack O’Toole! From “The Zeppo”!). Ted, a country boy, took it hard when she left him for Wes. Lamb brings in Ted, who tells Lamb that “it used to be the cowboy who got the girl – now it’s the guy who gets the best tips.” Lamb agrees, but arrests him anyway. He then “invests” Wes’s money in Gloria’s ranch; Lamb and Gloria bond over the “5000 foot neon wave” that’s about to submerge their way of life.
Meanwhile, Savino tells Mia that the increased profits from “hitting soft seventeen” will only be short-term; the stooges will stay, but the high rollers will go elsewhere, eroding long-term profits, something he learned firsthand in Havana. Savino then goes out and takes a sledgehammer to a seemingly random fire hydrant, flooding the street. He’s very calm and deliberate about it, but it’s a baffling move – until we learn from the local news that Perrin is being moved to LA. Because of the flooded street, Perrin’s car stops right in front of a bomb. Messy, but effective.
Lamb goes home, but stops when he sees his TV. It’s not Perrin; when his brother comes in, talking about fence lines needing repair, Lamb points out that the poker chips he returned to Savino are neatly lined up on top of the TV.
So, that’s it for this week. I’m left with a few questions, but I’m not sure they’re all that relevant. Will Carrie-Anne Moss get more to do? Who designed Wes’s matching tables? And how did “cowboy” take on such negative connotations in British English?