I’ll start by saying that I liked the relevance of tonight’s title to both Lamb’s and Savino’s plotlines. It’s a very minor quibble, but the episode titles so far – “Money Plays”; “All That Glitters” – could have been pulled out of a hat and assigned to virtually any episode of this show (or any other show set in Vegas). “(Il)legitimate,” though it would look better in a serif font, is right on topic. Sheriff Lamb investigates the hit-and-run death of Estelle, a young African-American woman who turns out to have very close ties to a prominent white family, while Savino goes where no gangster has gone before – to a legitimate (and Mormon-run) bank, for a business loan, the kind any legitimate business man might apply for.
We start with Lamb staring pensively at an old oak tree on his ranch, then goes inside, where brother Jack, bent over the ranch’s books, argues that it should be sacrificed so they can tap the aquifer underneath and use it to water their cattle. Lamb refuses, saying it’s a “century oak,” and he’d rather tap the aquifer on a more remote section of the property, even if it is more expensive and time-consuming. Water issues — props to the series for working to create a sense of place beyond the casinos and mobsters. A phone call requiring them to “go be sheriffs” cuts the conversation short.
If Lamb’s all about hanging on to the past, Savino’s all about moving forward and embracing change. Over at the Savoy, Savino has a crooked dealer Mia Rizzo’s spotted into his office for a chat. (Have I mentioned the massive fish tank in Savino’s office? A nice period touch, suggesting the lair of an early Bond villain.) Anyway, Savino turns on the silken menace, and the man’s looking very uncomfortable. Imagine his surprise when Sheriff Lamb and Jack walk into the room. It’s Savino who’s called them – he wants the dealer arrested, like any employee caught swindling his employer. Lamb’s pretty surprised, too: “You people usually handle this kind of thing on your own.”
Savino’s got surprises for everyone. His expansion plans have been nixed by Angelo back in Chicago, but he’s not letting that stop him. He wants to buy out a fading casino with large lot, the Tumbleweed, and he wants to pay for it with a loan. From a bank.
Very conveniently, this week’s other plot also involves the Tumbleweed. Estelle works there as a maid, and is a steward in the employee’s union. She earns a round of applause at a union meeting when she urges her fellow employees to say no to an illegal strike engineered by the union’s mobbed-up leaders. Unfortunately, she’s hit by a car and killed on the way home. Lamb figures out from the car’s trajectory that this was a deliberate killing, not a drunken accident, and starts interviewing her fellow employees, who quickly mention Estelle’s clash with head shop steward Kovacs (who’s played by Bellick from Prison Break, aka Wade Williams).
And… I’m not saying a white sheriff in 1960 would never put this much personal effort into the hit-and-run death of a young black woman, or offer rides home for the victim’s co-workers regardless of race, as Lamb does here. But I think there would at least be a sense that he was making efforts not everyone in his position would feel compelled to make. The next day, the man who employed Estelle’s mother as a housekeeper drops by with his son to offer a cash reward in the case. And when Lamb goes to check out the dead girl’s apartment, he finds it ransacked and sees someone who turns out to be Kovacs driving off.
Meanwhile, the owner of the Tumbleweed is discussing his union problems with Savino, who shows him an artist’s rendering of the Tumbleweed of the future, a luxury resort whose amenities will keep high roller’s wives and girlfriends from leaving to spend their money elsewhere. The owner looks as shocked as anyone when Savino tells him the part about taking out a legitimate loan from a bank.
While Lamb’s out investigating Estelle’s death, Mia Rizzo drops by the police station to get her “work card” (a casino industry/Gaming Commission thing, I’m assuming) from brother Jack, who immediately starts flirting with her. She points out that his brother had recently put her father in jail, to which he responds that “I’m not my brother, just like you’re not your father.”
Savino wines and dines the banker he hopes to borrow from. Make that lemonades and dines – the man’s forebears were part of the first Mormon settlement in the valley, and Savino’s savvy enough to adjust the menu accordingly. It’s another nice piece of local color. The one person I’ve known who grew up in Vegas (her mother worked in the casinos), said that when she lived there, every white collar professional in Vegas not employed by the casino industry – every doctor, lawyer and chiropractor — was Mormon. The upshot of this was that my friend got invited to very few pajama parties because, she said, her Mormon schoolmates’ parents preferred not to have her over.
(She also told me that they kept moving to ever newer, more far-flung suburbs, until they ended up in a newly planned neighborhood where not only where the houses identical, they had identical landscaping and identical porch lights that switched on automatically at the same time. She identified her house by pressing the garage door opener in her car and seeing which opened. In reaction to all this unrelieved newness she became a medievalist.)
Back to Vegas, the show. Lamb’s in the Tumbleweed, confronting Kovacs, when someone tosses a Molotov cocktail inside. ADA O’Donnell (Carrie-Anne Moss), who’s come by as well, notes that this is a typical mob tactic. Apparently the mobbed-up union people answer to some wiseguys back in Milwaukee. I didn’t quite follow all the ins and outs of the union leaders and their Milwaukee connections. I am able to report that Carrie-Anne Moss, wearing her character’s signature jade green, looks stunning posed against the vintage red-and-white ambulance. Oh, and the Tumbleweed’s owner makes getting the Milwaukee crew off his back the price of cooperation with Savino. Savino again chooses to play nice with Cornaro (Cannaro?), leader of the Milwaukee contingent, and it seems to work. At least until Savino is ambushed by gunmen while parking his car, and has to back it out of the garage and around the corner with one hand while crouching down below window level. (The crooning pop ballad on his car radio as the gunmen open fire is a nice touch.)
Lamb has learned that Estelle was spotted with a white man, and that large amounts of money were being paid into her account by her mother’s former employer. Lamb shows up on the family’s doorstep and learns it’s an Arnold Schwarzenegger thing – Estelle was his child by the housekeeper. The father explains she wasn’t blackmailing him – he was paying her college tuition. Though Estelle had recently dropped out of college, and started passing the money on to someone else.
The son, Estelle’s half-brother, is next on Lamb’s list. But he’s in the clear, too – he always knew Estelle was his sister. And even though he’s a junkie, with the needle tracks to prove it, he’s not the one who Estelle had been passing her tuition money on to. He did, however, break into her apartment to steal back jewelry he’d given her, to feed his habit. The brother hands Estelle’s jewelry box over to Lamb, who finds photos of Estelle’s secret meetings with her father hidden inside.
From there it’s a short leap to identifying another maid, a young white woman, as photographer, blackmailer, and murderer. Apparently she was enraged by the fact that Estelle claimed solidarity with her fellow hotel workers while secretly being supported by a rich father. Estelle’s father was, it seems, about to come clean with his wife, thus ending the need to keep his relationship to Estelle secret, which would mean no more blackmail payments, but I’m not sure how satisfying I find this conclusion, or this storyline.
Much more satisfying is the ending to Savino’s storyline. Mia stops by his office to apologize for the behavior of her father, who’s claimed an exorbitant cut of Savino’s profits from the Tumbleweed as payment for not ratting Savino out to Angelo. Learning that he’s been invited to dine at his new banker’s country club, she praises his willingness to try new things. Savino, posed in front of his fish tank, talks about how “the old way was never easy either.” But sometimes, he says pensively, his face half hidden in shadow, “You need to take a step backward in order to move forward.” Cue Dean Martin singing “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head” as Savino’s men take out Cornaro.
This isn’t quite the ending – we learn through a flashback that Lamb wants to keep the oak because it brings up images of his dead wife hanging out laundry, and brother Jack asks Mia to dinner, only to learn she’s got a date with the corrupt DA, who has a snazzy red convertible and can’t believe that she’s never seen the Hoover Dam. But it’s Savino’s plotline that drove this episode. Lamb’s procedural business isn’t nearly as engaging.
Watching a character push beyond his comfort zone almost always makes for better drama, and that’s what we see Savino doing. It was an especially nice touch to open with him calling in the law on the crooked dealer, acting like a legitimate businessman, before ultimately taking a “step backward” by whacking Cornaro. And it should go without saying that Michael Chiklis is hugely enjoyable in the part. But I wonder why, if Lamb’s meant to be our protagonist, it’s Savino who gets all the character development. On that note, next week we’ll be meeting Mrs. Savino, whose existence we only learned about tonight.