“Estinto,” the title of this episode, is the Italian word for “extinguished,” and is apparently a musical term meaning to play a note so that it’s barely audible. Someone more musical may well have known this, but as I am even less musical than those commenting on my last Mob Doctor recap think, I didn’t. I’m not entirely sure how the title relates to this week’s episode, unless it’s an oblique reference to the rather dark twist at the end of an otherwise fairly lively episode.
We know it’s Christmas in Las Vegas, because all the women are swathed in vintage furs, and the episode begins and ends with Elvis singing “Blue Christmas.” And all the Lamb men are getting paired off. Jack and Mia finally catch fire, Dixon and Sanchez are fight-flirting all over the place, and Ralph Lamb even gives Katherine O’Connell a bottle of horse shampoo and an awkward kiss on the forehead. Luckily, Dennis Quaid continues to be Dennis Quaid, instead of a more downbeat version of Gary Cooper, so this is all very charming.
Another plus — the writers continue to explore the far western cultural landscape. Tonight we get references to the internment of Japanese-Americans and to tubercular patients moving west for the climate, as well as a lady evangelist with overtones of Aimee Semple McPherson. On the debit side, my initial guess as to who committed tonight’s murder was again correct (though there was a bit of a twist). Maybe the writers should spend the holidays brushing up on their Agatha Christie.
As we begin, Rizzo and Diane roll back into town, and the latter has a brand new engagement ring to show off along with her ocelot coat. This leaves Mia, who is less than thrilled, with no plans for the evening, so she finally goes out with Jack to a honky-tonk where they dance to “Please Help Me, I’m Falling.” We see Savino’s daughters for the first time, but don’t hear from them, as Savino has to leave Laura and the girls for a nighttime meeting at the site of the Tumbleweed, now undergoing rebuilding. Savino and his man are annoyed because the contractor’s double-billing has gone beyond what they’re willing to accept as the price of doing business in Vegas. Everything seems to be amicably resolved, but the next morning, the contractor, Del Merrick, is found stuffed into one of his own cement mixers.
When the Lamb men show up to investigate his death, Merrick’s right hand man can’t wait to pin the blame on Savino, thereby immediately identifying himself as suspect number one. Merrick’s rather brittle blonde wife is also there, babbling about how he was about to be honored by the Rotarians.
At the Savoy, Diane contrives to speak with Savino dressed only in her underwear. Now, earlier this evening, “Raising Hope” repeated one of the episodes in which Melanie Griffith guest stars as Sabrina’s oft-married cougar mom. I’ll just say that Melanie Griffith’s character is understated compared to Diane.
Thanks to Merrick’s death, Savino now has other troubles. Lamb has pulled the construction permit for the Tumbleweed while the murder is under investigation. And when Savino confronts Lamb about the permit, he explains that someone’s also been pilfering from the stockrooms at the Savoy, and it looks like an inside job. Lamb sends Dixon to look into the burglaries, and arranges for Savino to get his permit back by writing “Give it back to him, Shirley. Thanks, Ralph” on the letter Savino received. Savino stares at this, and says that they’re worse than Chicago. It’s a brief exchange, but nicely encapsulates the dynamic that’s emerging between the two, and the irony that in this case, it’s the mobster who likes things done by the book.
Lamb has given up the mob-hit hypothesis anyway – Merrick’s killing was too messy and amateurish to be the work of a professional. They also find a recently healed knife wound across his chest. Merrick’s wife comes by, in mink stole and pearls, and is twitchy enough for me to peg her as suspect number two. She says the wound on his chest was a from a construction accident on a site in Arizona; Merrick was hospitalized there but called her every night.
Meanwhile, the Lamb men have found a death threat sent to Merrick by a man named Watanabe, a janitor on a nearby college campus. It turns out that Watanabe and his family were interned in a camp built by Merrick, and he blames Merrick for his young daughter’s death from pneumonia. He admits attacking Merrick with a knife – in Vegas, not Phoenix — but says he couldn’t go through with murder. Instead, he drove Merrick to the hospital, and the two had a long talk ending in mutual forgiveness. The last time he saw Merrick, he was being picked up from the hospital by his pretty, red-headed wife.
Back at the Savoy, Dixon has gone undercover to the catch the thief, and Savino and Rizzo are upset to learn that Diane has been denied a work permit due to a narcotics conviction. Diane brushes this off as a misunderstanding in Miami about some pills her doctor in Havana had given her. She makes a call to her lawyer, who makes the problem go away with suspicious ease.
Searching for the mystery redhead, Jack and Lamb go to an address to which Merrick sent jewelry. They’re met with a hail of gunfire through the door, fired at the time by the redhead, who’s racing around the house clutching a packed suitcase. She’s the wife of one of Savino’s men; she’s convinced he found out, killed Merrick, and has now sent Lamb and Jack to kill her. Her husband, questioned later, denies all of this; he says he knew about his wife’s affair, but hardly sees it as worth disrupting his boss’s construction project over. The affair was over anyway, says the wife; Merrick had left her for a candy striper he met in the hospital.
The candy striper was a woman named Amy Seeger, with her own string of drug charges behind her. Lamb and Jack are surprised when the contact information they have for her leads them to a small church outside the city in which a swinging gospel service is underway; they’re even more surprised when Amy is pointed out to them as the pastor leading the congregation.
The name “Amy Seeger” seems not all that far with from “Aimee Semple McPherson,” perhaps with “seeker” thrown into the mix. Amy tells the Lamb men that she was the daughter of a junkie clarinetist, and her own habit started with her mother putting dope in her bottle to keep her quiet. (A few years earlier, mom could have bought the same mixture over the counter.) But she was “born again”; Merrick, she says, was also born again, after she met him at the hospital. He was going to shut down his business, leave his wife, and build a church with Amy. She also notes that Merrick was brought west as a boy with tuberculosis, one of the many “lungers” seeking a cure in the dry, sunny west; in addition to his remorse over building the internment camp, and working for the casino industry, he apparently also felt guilty about despoiling the environment that had saved him.
Meanwhile, Savino is dealing with a bombshell; the corrupt DA informs him that Diane is a government informer, and that’s why she was able to make her legal problems go away so quickly. Clearly, she’s in Vegas to bring down Rizzo, Savino, and the entire operation. In a rather creepy scene, Savino confronts Diane in her dressing room, turning up the radio and letting her think their old affair is back on; really, he just wants to get his hands under her clothing to see if she’s a wearing a wire. She’s not, but he still tells her to get out of town.
Armed with the knowledge that Merrick was pulling the plug on his old life, Lamb re-interviews the wife while Jack talks to his manager. Each comes away convinced they’ve spotted the killer; the resulting clash turns into a fight over Jack pursuing Mia as well as Jack’s resentment over managing Ralph’s ranch and raising his son while he was busy elsewhere. Finally they realize they could both be right, and that the two committed the murder together.
Dixon has discovered the burglaries at the Savoy were the work of a locksmith who kept a double, and Savino rewards him with the use of the luxury suite. Dixon struggles to turn down the offer, but after Savino leaves him to “enjoy the view,” he throws the Christmas party he was forbidden to throw at the station (Lamb family Christmases, he tells Sanchez, were fairly subdued). There’s an awkward moment when he runs into Jack, who’s on his way to see Mia. Mia does her best to put an end to things before they begin, but the two are last seen pulling each other’s clothes off.
Everyone seems to be getting what they want for Christmas, except for Diane, who’s found dead with a needle still in her arm. “Once a junkie, always a junkie,” Rizzo tells Savino, a little too emphatically (and did she ever do anything but pop pills?). Savino looks genuinely appalled by this turn of events. So it seems Rizzo has just “extinguished” his own fiancée, who was once Savino’s lover too. Later, while his wife and daughters open presents under a gold tinsel tree that looks like one of the ones Charlie Brown’s friends wanted him to buy, Savino drinks and stares moodily into the distance.
At this point, we’re roughly half way through the first season of Vegas. Things have brightened up considerably over the last couple of episodes, and Dennis Quaid, as I noted , is finally turning on the charm. The gaze he turns on Carrie-Anne Moss as they exchange cookies and horse shampoo is a nice reminder of why he became a star in the first place.