A lot happened on this episode of Vegas, but for me, the high point came right at the opening: Hank Williams, Sr.‘s “Honky Tonkin’” on the radio in Ralph Lamb’s truck as Ralph drives through Vegas at nightfall. Ralph is headed to the bank, but before he gets to the door, he’s ambushed and kidnapped. The next thing we see are the words “58 Hours Earlier”, as we go back in time to see what led up to this. It’s a rather overworked TV device these days1, but the upside, I realized, was that they’d have to play Hank Williams again to set the scene when the flashbacks finally ended.
In between repetitions of “Honky Tonkin’”, two crime plots play out, one involving brothers on a crime spree, the other involving a high roller who’s not what he seems. Laura Savino, acting as Katherine O’Connell’s confidential informant, seeks proof that Rizzo murdered his fiancée, Diane Desmond. Rizzo discovers that the locals, pushed hard enough, are perfectly capable of pushing back, and it becomes painfully obvious that he and Savino are no longer using the same playbook.
58 hours before Ralph’s abduction, Dixon is flirting with Yvonne Sanchez, who reminds him that the last time Dixon asked her for a favor, he wanted money from petty cash to paint racing stripes on his cruiser. They’re interrupted by a man with a shotgun, followed by his anxious wife, who is evidently a close personal friend of Dixon. In the scene that follows, Ralph talks the man into surrendering his gun and forgiving his wife, then sends Dixon to drive them home and talk things out. I believe the point here is to showcase the new, more Dennis-Quaid-like version of Sheriff Ralph Lamb, who’s willing to try defusing a situation with charm before busting out the big guns.
Jack is not at the police station for this encounter, he’s awoken late, in the bed of Mia Rizzo (which has a seriously Vegas headboard, all over-scaled gilt swirls or flames or something). Mia’s chief worry is a mysterious man from Providence, Rhode Island, who’s hosting private poker parties in his room for all the highest rollers in town, and taking them to the cleaners. As Mia points out, if they feel they’re getting swindled at the Savoy, they’re not going to care that it was a private guest, not the house, that swindled them.
Savino discovers he has an even bigger problem, when his banker storms in to inform him that the accounts holding the loan money for the Tumbleweed have been cleaned out. It seems that Rizzo has done with the money what he’d do with any other windfall – sent half back to the boys in Chicago and put the rest to work on the street. He can’t fathom why Savino expects him to handle this money any differently. And if the banker acts up, Rizzo will handle him, too. “We’re not doing things that way,” says Savino. “What way?” says Rizzo.
Laura Savino meets with Katherine O’Connell, and Katherine explains that Diane Desmond was an FBI informant and the agency finds her death suspicious. The only way to head off a federal investigation of the Savoy is for Katherine to nail the killer first. Laura later confronts Vincent about Diane’s death; he says as obliquely as possible that he thinks Rizzo probably killed her with a “hot dose” – two-thirds heroin to one-third strychnine. After Laura reports back to Katherine, the latter starts trying to get permission to tap the Savoy’s phones.
Meanwhile, a hostage situation has developed at a place called Monty’s Turf Club after Ralph sends a deputy out to investigate a mysterious call for help from the owner. Frankly, I think the situation sounded like it needed more than a deputy form the beginning, but presumably Sheriff Lamb was distracted by the intricacies of his son’s and brother’s love lives. The situation quickly gets even nastier; the two young men involved, who have an In Cold Blood sort of vibe to them, release the bloody, beaten deputy, but set the owner of the club on fire before making their escape.
The Lamb men manage to identify one of the men and, when questioning his mother, realize that the second man is his younger brother. Monty’s Turf Club is one of the places their father would blow his paycheck. Their mother also overheard them planning to rob a bar. (The two men’s first names are Nathan and Russ, but I’m afraid I missed their last name). By the time the Lamb men speak to the owner of the bar where Nathan & Russ’s dad usually blew the rest of his paycheck, they learn he’s already been robbed and roughed up. Apparently Nathan, the mastermind, is dressing up their fraternal crime spree as vengeance against the men who exploited the weaknesses of their dead father. The next likely target? The cement company which fired their dad shortly before his death. The two show up as the payroll is delivered. But Ralph’s there, too, and the ensuing gun battle ends with the older brother, Nathan, on the ground, wounded. When he refuses to drop his gun, and instead tries to keep on fighting, Ralph kills him.
Meanwhile, Mia has called on Jack to help her figure out how the man from Providence is cheating her high rollers. Jack persuades her to let him in on the game, but when he wins big, Mia insists it’s because the man figured out he was planted, not because of Jack’s superior skill. Jack learns in passing that the man’s parents own a ranch nearby – this will be important. It turns out the man has a spy watching the game from the room upstairs, through holes in the ceiling, and sending him signals in Morse code via a buzzer taped to his chest.
Mia’s dad decides to get to know his colleagues and neighbors better. Savino’s banker and his family are out for a drive in the country when one of the tires on their fancy white sedan suddenly goes flat. Rizzo, who happens to be following closely, pulls up behind their car, blocking them in, and introduces himself; he makes it clear that he already knows the banker’s wife and son by name and by sight. Rizzo also just happens to have a spare tire of the right kind with him. He tells the banker that, in the future, any questions about the Savoy’s accounting practices should be brought directly to him, not to Savino. Shortly after this little meeting, the banker calls Savino and asks him and Rizzo out to his house to meet his board of directors and get everything straightened out.
The Lamb men have the poker cheat from Providence under arrest. They can’t hold him long, but Lamb confiscates his winnings, which will go to the bank until the investigation is complete. Before leaving, Lamb gets a threatening phone call from Russ, the surviving brother. So when Ralph heads to the bank, and Hank Williams comes on the radio, we’re primed to believe that it’s Russ who ambushes and chloroforms him.
That’s what Jack and Dixon believe, and they’re busily trying to figure out where Russ may have called from when Mia comes by (in a stunning leopard coat) and tells them that her poker cheat did the same thing in Reno months before, and that the security guard the casino there sent after him disappeared. He’s the one who’s taken Lamb; poor Russ is just red herring. Jack, fortunately, remembers the nearby ranch the man mentioned.
Meanwhile, Savino and Rizzo have gone out to the banker’s house, only to find themselves confronted by a group of locals, heavily armed and in dark clothing. Once they’ve knocked the two men around and tied them up in the barn, the leader explains that they are a local vigilante group, originally formed one hundred years before to protect settlers from the local Paiute. I’m assuming this is an allusion to the half-legendary history of Mormon vigilante groups such as the mysterious Danites, notorious enough in the nineteenth century to show up in thrillers by Robert Louis Stevenson and Arthur Conan Doyle.
Savino has always preferred to talk his way out of conflict, and he points out that the settler’s descendants need him and his kind, because the valley’s other resources are all tapped out, and it’s Savino and his like who know how to make money out of the casino industry. To Rizzo’s disgust, he offers to sign the Tumbleweed over to the vigilantes if they let him and Rizzo go.
Ralph finds himself at the bottom of what appears to be his own grave, with dirt being dirt beging shoveled onto to him from above. He cuts his bonds, and climbs to the top of what looked to me more like a mine shaft than a grave – it’s a very big hole, and filling it in by hand with a little shovel, as the card shark from Providence is doing, seems like a very labor-intensive way to kill someone. (Also — fire, heroin laced with strychnine, burial alive? This episode is like a catalog of really unpleasant ways to die.)
Anyway, Lamb crawls out and is engaged in hand-to-hand combat with his attacker when Jack shows up and shoots the man. The next time we see Ralph, he’s recovering in the hospital, something tough guys are almost never shown doing. Is this another strategy to make him seem less remote and superhuman? Dixon and Jack show up, along with Katherine, who has a bit of a moment with Ralph. Mia comes by as well, but demurs when Jack wants to bring her in. “My family doesn’t bite,” he says. “Mine does,” she replies.
Speaking of which, back at the Savoy, Rizzo contemptuously compares the speed of Savino’s surrender to that of the French in World War II. Savino is crushed by the loss of the Tumbleweed, but Rizzo points out angrily that it was never really Savino’s in the first place; “None of this is yours.” Savino is an outsider, one quarter Irish, and therefore can never be a made man. Savino just talks wistfully about what a gold mine the Tumbleweed could have been. It’s clear the two are no longer speaking the same language.
That’s it for this week. Next week: the “women of Vegas” take center stage, or so the promos say.
1 In the past week I happened to see an episode of Battlestar Galactica, “Scar,” which uses the exact same device.