(WARNING: SPOILER ALERT!)
The “USA Network” will most likely not have a lot of their network’s series on the pages of “Not Just Another TV Site” as the words vacuous and mediocre are reflective of most of the shows that they televise. However, just as the “CW Network” has a diamond among the cubic zirconium shows of their lineup in “Supernatural,” USA added their own gem last summer “Graceland,” a series that intrigued quite a few members of our staff including Samantha Jones. Earlier this week Samantha did an outstanding job summarizing last season’s story-arc.
Mike Warren (Aaron Tveidt) completed his assignment last year at Graceland and assigned to FBI Headquarters, the location he always desired in a very prestigious position as the Executive Assistant to the Deputy Director of the FBI. When we saw him in the final scenes of last season’s finale he was behind a desk in Virginia, and climbing towards what had been his goal of someday becoming Director of the Bureau. But the final scene of that episode his former housemate Paul Briggs (Daniel Sunjata) called Mike with some information he wanted to share with him.
This season opens with agent Mike Warren tied to a chair, being tortured by two Latinos who are covering his head and face with a clear plastic bag, cutting off his oxygen supply until he almost passes out then remove the bag. Both laughing, one spits out La Niña Gringo, while the other asks Warren did you find the line. Mike asks them why they are doing this and they put the bag back over his head.
We shift to a highway two weeks earlier according to the title card, on a ride with Paul Briggs in a Jeep. It’s a sting Briggs setting up a guy named Leon on a houseboat selling him some weapons. Johnny (Manny Montana) and a swat team are ready to invade when Briggs sees a picture of a guy. Leon asks Briggs if he knows the guy in the picture according to word on the street the Caza cartel want the dude and have a bounty on his head. The man in the picture is Mike, who killed former Caza kingpin Jangles in the first season finale.
Where is the guy with the price on his dome? Mike and another agent are interviewing two Middle-Eastern brothers in Laredo, Texas four miles north of the Mexican border about smuggling Mexicans into the States. Warren has been on a mission that he pitched to his boss, investigating bus-lines near the Mexican border, with the hopes of busting up a system that he believes is bringing massive quantities of heroin and possibly illegal aliens into the USA. Turns out the brothers are smugglers, but all they were smuggling was Cuban cigars, turning their investigation into another wasted trip.
The next scene takes place back in the office of the Deputy Director, joined by a male and female advisor to the official, who in spite of Mike’s protests terminates the mission. He tells his Executive Assistant that his time in the field is over and he is back to desk duty. This does not sit well with Warren, who believes he is incredibly close to finding the bus-line that transports the contraband cargo.
We soon find out that the female advisor Jess, and Mike are more than just co-workers as the next scene finds the couple in bed together. Jess tells Warren that she is glad that he is back in the office, but he does not share her happiness of the decision. He was hoping that another high visibility bust would help accelerate his rise in the Bureau, however Jess tells him that his accomplishments on the West Coast got him his plum assignment, but he would just have to work within the system to get any higher in the pecking order. Mike responds to her that even if his career path ends up moving at a slower pace than he’d prefer he takes comfort in their relationship. Jess seems disconcerted by the statement and replies she thought they were both just having fun.
Back in the office the next day Mike gets the phone call from Briggs that ended last season’s finale. After making their social-niceties, Paul tells Warren about the bounty that the Caza cartel has on him. Mike tells Briggs to hang up and call him right back, while Warren kicks two Bureau employees out of an office so he can take the call in privacy.
Briggs tells his former team-member that he believes that Caza is actually looking for Warren’s under-cover alter-ego, Mikey the Marine, former right-hand man to imprisoned drug dealer Jeremiah Bello. He asks Mike to come back to Graceland for a long weekend so that they can use Warren as bait and take down Caza, earning them both some major points with the Bureau. Mike expresses surprise that Paul is looking for recognition from the home-office, but Briggs reminds Mike that his reputation with their employers is in need of major reconstruction.
A very different dynamic is in play when we get our first look at the house this season, as we see one of Graceland’s strongest commandments, no guns downstairs being wantonly disregarded. Johnny, Jakes (Brandon Jay McLaren) and Paige (Serinda Swan) sitting at the kitchen table with Johnny and Jakes both blindfolded and service revolvers on the table in front of them. We soon realize that they are in the midst some sort of booze-fueled competition, being officiated by a person we have yet to meet and Charlie (Vanessa Fertilo) is there to witness the hi-jinx. After a false start Johnny and Jakes take apart the revolvers blind-folded, then run to the living room where they pick up shotguns off of the floor, put the weapons’ bases on the floor and put their foreheads on the barrel of the weapons and start spinning in place. Mike breaks up the game when he walks into the living room and yells that the rule is no guns downstairs.
Charlie and Johnny greet Mike like a returning member of the family and we meet the other guy who is the new house-mate nicknamed Bates (don’t ask.) Johnny and Charlie notice how awkwardly Mike and Paige interact (they shared a kiss in the finale of the first season) however Warren is completely off-guard by a demonstrative warm and cuddly version of Jakes who picks Mike up off the floor in a bear-hug. Johnny explains that the former taciturn room-mate has been in a non-stop good mood for months. Mike’s next surprise is when told that Briggs is upstairs and has stopped partying.
Mike brings two beers upstairs to a very subdued Paul Briggs, who refuses the bottle and wants to get right down to the assignment. He informs Mike that he has a sting operation in place, the two will meet with Leon the next day with Mike in his guise of the former Marine and Briggs. Mike will supposedly be there to sell weapons to Leon, who after identifying Warren as the guy in the picture will call the Caza cartel to arrange for the hit and Leon and Paul will split the bounty. What Leon is unaware of is that Johnny and a SWAT team will be there to take Leon and the Caza people down.
Although the Bureau cleared Briggs of shooting FBI Agent Juan Badillo, when Paul planted the dead agent’s house key on Jangles collection of keys, he is still haunted by the act. He has nightmares of burying the agent who died in a scuffle last season, when Badillo disguised as Jangles confronted a drunken Briggs last season in trying to get Briggs to confess that he and Jangles were working together. Badillo pulled his revolver, the two of them tried to get control of the weapon and it went off killing the Fed. Paul buried the agent’s remains and was able to get off the hook by planting the evidence on the dead bad guy. When he wakes up we find out that he and Charlie are sleeping together as she tries to comfort him after screaming in his sleep.
The mission goes awry the next day, when Leon attempts to double-cross Paul so he can keep all the bounty for himself. After trying to salvage the mission, Briggs tells Johnny to shoot Leon in the hand from his sniper position. Leon proving that he is dumber than he looks asks Briggs how he did that, before he tells the MENSA candidate that he is a Fed. Still trying to salvage the mission Paul grabs Leon’s cellphone to contact the cartel, who Leon has programmed into his phone as Kill-Boys. The man who answers the phone asks what is taking so long and Paul replies that since Leon tried to cut him out, he returned the favor and now he is the middle-man. The man says he will call back to re-schedule and Briggs decides to abort the mission to the dismay of Warren, who calls Johnny and Briggs burnouts and not the same agents he had worked with.
When they return to the house Mike pulls rank on Briggs and announces the mission is back on and will progress whether Briggs joins him or not, although Warren hopes he’s there. Briggs sarcastically tells Mike that he acknowledges his wishes and he will think on the matter.
Paige finds Mike on the beach in front of a bonfire and tells her former housemate that word is working at Bureau headquarters has turned Warren into a less than desirable person and berates him for calling the Graceland crew burnouts. After telling her that he was not including her in that assessment, he lets down his guard and tells Paige about his internal conflict. Although his dream had always been working in the Bureau’s headquarters he feels unsatisfied and misses his time at the house. Paige empathizes stating that after being part of the crew at Graceland, everything else feels like ”real-life.” Mike then tells her that he came into Bureau headquarters as a rock-star, but he blew all his cache on the bus-line mission that had recently been shut-down. He was hoping that by taking out the Caza cartel he would gain back his golden-boy status.
Mike and Charlie finally get some alone-time and they sit down for a heart-to-heart discussion. Warren asks her how Briggs really is doing and reminds her that they both suspected him of being Crime-Lord Odin. Charlie, tells Mike not to go there, that Paul is in a good place now and wants to leave the past behind. Mike then sees her panties on the floor of Briggs’ room where the conversation is taking place and expresses surprise that she and Briggs are sleeping together. She tries to imply that he and Paige had done the same thing, but just as Warren tries to correct her, Briggs comes into the room and tells Mike he will be part of the mission. He had heard from the contact and the setup will occur the following day.
That evening Charlie takes a drive and she ends up in front of a home watching a mother and a daughter head inside. The name on the mailbox is Badillo and Charlie is holding a copy of the woman’s driver’s license, she is Kelly Badillo apparently the widow of agent Juan. She comes back to the house and meets Briggs in their room and tells him she was out walking to clear her head. Could Briggs be yelling Badillo’s name in his sleep?
Things seem hinky when the crew arrive at the designated location for the setup. No sign of the Caza cartel and there is loud barking from dogs nearby that seems to increase in volume the longer they are there. Just as Mike and Paul are ready to walk away, a cruiser pulls up, the officers tell the pair to stay where they are and proceed to cave in the door of the building behind them in which a largely attended dogfight is taking place. As the officers enter the building chaos erupts as all the attendees start rushing out and running away. Leon who is in the control room with Johnny to identify the contacts, sees the pair in the crowd, unfortunately not quickly enough to apprehend them as they abduct Mike and take him to their hideout.
Briggs and Johnny determine that the bad guys took Mike out of the garage in a vehicle parked there. Twenty dollars later they find out that the pair took Warren in an old red car, which they can identify by the parking lot cam. The pair hope to get to Mike before he is badly hurt.
The following scene is the one that opened the episode, as the pair keep asking Warren if he found the line and Mike is clueless about what they are referring to. Finally one of the Latinos asks if he found the bus-line and then everything makes sense to him. He head butts one of the pair and they put the bag over his head again. With things looking dark, Briggs and Johnny burst into the room and blow the pair away.
Mike then calls Jess and tells her that the hit was not setup by the Caza cartel and they were not looking for his alter-ego. He realizes that they have come too close for somebody’s comfort and asks Jess to request that the mission be put back into effect and that he be provided with a team. The Bureau grants both wishes and in the final scene of the episode Warren tells the Graceland crew that they are the members of his new team. Mike will be back at Graceland for at least the next eight weeks.
Graceland can be seen Wednesday nights on the USA Network.