So, I suspect the question “What happened in the fifth episode of Vegas?” is not uppermost in many people’s minds this week. On the other hand, the show does provide a getaway to someplace where it’s warm, dry, sunny, and fifty years in the past. Though it seems some have complaints about the show’s verisimilitude in that respect, casting an interesting light on how our expectations for the production values of series television have changed. Even the makers of weekly TV are now expected to be Martin Scorsese picking out the right fish forks for The Age of Innocence.
Like the commenters on this thread, I was raised on 70s sitcoms allegedly set in the 50s, whose creators made only the most token gestures toward period authenticity after the first few episodes. The feathered locks of Loretta Swit, the sideburns on GIs fighting the Korean War – we just accepted these things.1 It took years of syndication before all that blow-drying began to look strange. Now, thanks to the soaring production values of premium cable shows, exacting period recreations such as Mad Men, and the simple fact that high definition and big screens make details more visible, viewers expect the same attention to detail as in an Oscar-nominated drama. Especially, it seems, the car buffs. For the record, this recapper might sense something a little odd if someone pulled up to the Savoy in a VW Rabbit, but barring that I won’t have many complaints. I do notice the costumes, which are apparently the real deal.
So what happened on Vegas? Savino’s wife showed up, providing more back story for a man who’s already the most well-developed character on the show. A truly scary hitman called Jones comes out from Milwaukee to look for Cornaro, who’s not around since Savino had him whacked. Over in Lamb’s world, Greg Grundberg of Heroes has his son kidnapped, and hidden tensions between the Lamb men are hinted at. Oh, and they suddenly seem to have a deputy, Native American or possibly Latino, who may or may not do standup at the Copa once a week. Carrie-Anne Moss, as per usual, gets a couple of nice outfits and nothing to do; this week Mia Rizzo joins her on the sidelines.
We open with Savino meeting with his Mormon banker, whom he surprises with a sparkler-topped birthday cake in the shape of the Tumbleweed. Savino is nervously awaiting the arrival of his wife, and not just because he wants to look every inch the family man when he’s dining at the country club. When Laura Savino (Vinessa Shaw) does show up, in an untouchable ice-blue ensemble, it’s apparent that there’s a certain distance between them and that, as she soon remarks, Savino seems to be courting her as earnestly as he’s courting the banker.
The story, which comes out slowly, is this. She lives in Chicago and has only rarely visited him at his, um, places of business. They spend Christmas in Miami with their daughters and he comes home for the odd weekend. Like Lorraine Bracco’s character in Goodfellas, she’s a middle-class girl who married into the mob, but unlike Bracco, she’s not turned on by danger . When she was in college, she and a date were at a casino for the music when her date got aggressive. The casino manager (Savino) put her date in a headlock and gave him a lecture on manners. Apparently, once upon a time, Savino promised to go straight for her, and that’s what he’s trying to do now in Vegas. He also wants her to move out and live with him again (the girls are in boarding school).
While Savino is courting his own wife, everyone else is wondering where Cornaro has gone. Oh, and the mayor wants Lamb to run for sheriff in his own right, instead of being a temporary appointee. But all this is swept aside when the son of a highway contractor who’s just been elected to the Gaming Commission (Grundberg) is snatched from the yard of his family’s impeccably clean styled mid-mod home.
Less easily distracted is Jones, the man we meet back in Milwaukee in what seems to a radio station where “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” wafts through the air. A man in engineering-student glasses answers the phone and agrees to head out to Vegas. He explains all this politely to the man in the booth, who we only see from the back. But as this man never moves, or makes a sound other than a sort of gurgle, and there’s blood splashed around, it seems that his time with Jones was coming to its natural end.
In Vegas, Jones’s first stop is the Savoy. He talks to Savino about Cornaro’s possible whereabouts, but leaves his complimentary drink untouched because he doesn’t like the smell of alcohol. Savino tells his henchmen to make it look like Cornaro skipped town, and says of Jones that “every time he shows up, bodies start dropping.”
Which quickly proves true. Jones drops in next on Cornaro’s secretary, walking into the bedroom as she’s, ah, entertaining her boyfriend. He shoots the boyfriend. Jones wants “the sandwich,” which is apparently the cut Cornaro was supposed to send back to Milwaukee. “The sandwich” is in the secretary’s drawer – she took it after Savino disappeared. The scene ends with her hopeful that Jones will leave it at that, but we later learn he’s staged the scene in her bedroom as a murder-suicide.
I’m not inclined to give too much space to the kidnapping plot. Like all the Lamb men’s crime plots, it wraps up within the span of the episode. This week, the mob’s not involved at all, so there’s no crossover with Savino’s story, though Lamb does drop by to question Savino about it, as is now standard practice for him, giving us another nice shot of Savino’s giant fish tank. It turns out the boy’s been kidnapped by his own uncle, who wants to persuade his brother-in-law, the new gaming commissioner, to change his vote on the license for a new casino – except now the uncle’s been double-crossed by his hired thugs, and the situation’s deteriorating fast. There are two big action set pieces, a shootout at a motel, and a scene where Quaid, pretending to be the uncle, drives into the desert to meet with the kidnappers while his deputies, who’ve arrived secretly on horseback, set up an ambush in the hills above. And there was moment, when Lamb’s forcing an injured gunman to tell him where the boy is hidden, when I thought network standards regarding permissible swear words had changed, but the man was actually saying “shed!”.
Lamb seems to be especially angst-ridden about this case – it’s a wonder he doesn’t crack any molars with all his jaw-clenching, and it’s suggested that the Lamb men have issues dating to when Lamb spent years as an MP while brother Jack ran the ranch and raised Lamb’s son. Lamb also doesn’t want to put his son in the line of fire, which is understandable.
Meanwhile, Savino’s plans to woo his wife face a momentary setback when she spots the bullet holes in his car’s interior on their way to dinner. Also, he wants his henchmen to plant Cornaro’s car at the airport, but the man at the chop shop has already chopped it up, and they need to wait for him to stick it back together. He does a good enough job to fool Jones, who finds the car at the airport, and part of a ticket to LA in the backseat. And Savino’s wife agrees to stay in Vegas, but only on the grounds that he always be completely honest with her. (We’ll see how that works out).
The forces of law and order also find Cornaro’s car, but note something that Jones apparently missed – corn chaff stuck to the undercarriage, suggesting that its former owner is now under said cornfield. Lamb calls his own meeting out in the corm with Savino, in which he says menacing things about how “the time will come”, as “secrets don’t stay buried” and neither do bodies. But given the degree to which I’ve come to see Savino as the show’s protagonist, this just makes me feel worried for Savino.
Next week: Lamb and Savino must “join forces”, thereby throwing Mia and Jack together. Will they end up “joining forces” too? And will Carrrie-Anne Moss ever get something to do?
1 For the record, my favorite film of all time is Terence Malick’s Badlands, whose recreation of the fifties is squarely in the blow-dried camp, probably due to budget constraints. That doesn’t mean it’s not a great film.