Note - I generally do recaps instead of reviews so I'm getting my feet wet here. I will likely change formats throughout until I find something that works. Please let me know what you like about other reviews. Do you prefer more of an episode recap that goes over each segment of the plot? Would you rather talk about characters more? Are you more interested in writer impressions and/or theories so you can debate them in the comments section? I have perused a variety of reviews on SpoilerTV and they all are slightly different. What would you most like to see in these Graceland reviews?
Jumpstarting a brand new season when most of the loose ends have been wrapped up in the finale of the previous one is not easy, especially when the main character is all the way across the country by the end. To reunite the team and create enough mystery to get the audience involved and wanting more sometimes requires too much suspension of disbelief. For the most part, Graceland did a great job of this. It makes sense that Mike would come back to play bait after a Kaza hit is placed on him. What makes less sense is Mike's rapid ascension up the FBI corporate ladder or why the people who kidnapped him went about it in such a meandering way. Surely Mike didn't use his Marine alias when heading up the bus operation, so they know who he really is. This approach feels far too random. Still it gets the main characters reunited and by using a time jump, the aftereffects of season 1 can be keenly realized. Everyone has changed, which is startling at first. Jakes is much friendlier, Johnny more lost, and Charlie and Briggs have rekindled their relationship. The dynamics of the entire house seem less formal and there is far less tension, but things seem off and not just to Mike. There's an underlying atmosphere that feels stagnant and a little lost. Frankly, the change is the best part of the episode. The plot line worked as well leading up to the big twist that Mike will be the one in charge this season. From the reactions of the other characters, they are less than thrilled by this turn of events which should increase the tension at Graceland exponentially.
For me, the best part about the season 2 premiere was character change. With the exception of Paige, whom we never really got to know in season 1, everyone is different. By plunking Mike back into the house after a significant time jump, we see the changes as abruptly as he does and it gives the character arcs a lot of wiggle room, making for an interesting springboard into season 2. The biggest punch came in the following dialogue: Wayne: "You know Briggs. Never any time to party." Mike laughs: "Right. You're talking about Paul Briggs." Johnny: "It's a new day, son." I love how Briggs has changed the most. It makes a lot of sense given that he shot an FBI agent while drinking. Adding that little moment in which Briggs turns down the beer in favor of water subtly showed how seriously he is taking these new changes. I thought the nightmare scene was poignant as well, assuring the audience that Briggs is indeed suffering at least mentally with his actions. I look forward to exploring this new Briggs, who hesitates at putting a colleague in danger and doesn't play around with his roommates anymore. He feels like an almost new, more thoughtful character even as he looks and sounds the same. Jakes' character changes also work well in this episode. I like this new, more open façade even while he remains close to the vest. I still haven't decided if the more laid back approach is designed to keep people from prying too much into his life or if he is indeed a happier man now that his son is in his life. Adding the scene where he buys a house for his son and him was very intriguing and the best subplot of the night. Seeing how he juggles his weird hours and fatherhood will give him more storyline than all of season 1. More importantly, does this signal his intention to leave Graceland? I certainly hope not but it would solve the problem of not having enough rooms in the house now that Mike is back.
Speaking of, I really, really like how Mike's new job is not all roses and that his star is shining a bit dimmer now. I understand that the show is about the rise of the golden boy, but that storyline only makes me root against the character. By showing that Mike is eager to prove himself again, it makes the reunion storyline more plausible and makes me eye roll less with his overall douchiness. The fact that Paige calls him on it is even better. While a tiny part of the overall story, I thought that their conversation around the campfire helped build sympathy for Mike and is the best scene with Paige in a long time. I like that it was just the two of them, so they could hit the hard truths quickly. I like that they did not sleep together even more. While Briggs and Charlie sleeping together will create a massive turning point for Charlie when she finds out the truth about Briggs' involvement in Badillo's murder, I can't see any real character growth that comes from Mike and Paige shacking up. Best to leave out that distraction then.
As far as the plot is concerned, bringing the Kaza cartel back into motion was a great plan. Even though it didn't turn out to be them, it made Mike's return far more plausible. It's also a personal issue with Briggs, which gives the episode a bit more punch. To be honest, I was a little worried about how they were going to reunite Mike with the rest of the group since Jeff Eastin (show runner) doesn't always have a great track record for resolving big cliffhangers. Many times his solution to get things back on track on White Collar strained all credulity. This one made sense. Best of all, having Mike be the team leader in an 8-week operation, inspired the best reaction shots of the episode. It's hard to explain just how underwhelmed the Graceland crew feels to be working for Mike. I hope it becomes a major issue for him because it should. Having the rookie suddenly assume control ought to create a lot of tension in the house, especially since Mike seems to have little tact. I for one hope Johnny gets that swing in sometime this season. Mike's crack about them being burnouts was highly uncalled for. Other great plot points include the newbie kidnappers using the dogfight as cover to kidnap Mike and Mike subsequently head butting the kidnapper mid-torture. I can't wait to see the twist Eastin has in store for us with those 2 clowns. They were far too stupid to have organized the snatch so there are much larger conspiracies at play here and Graceland is known for its great twists.
What Didn't Work:
For a large part, Mike did not work for me. While I get that he wants to stay the FBI's shining star, he is far too douchey and demanding for the dynamics of the house. I know that this will be used to create conflict, but generally it's nice not to hate the main character. They need to tone him down and humble him a bit sooner rather than later. Here's hoping that Briggs and Johnny are the ones to do it. I'm not sure that making Mike more like Briggs and Briggs more like FBI leadership is a sustainable switch. I'm also not a fan of Johnny in his current state. It feels like he has devolved instead of evolved at this juncture. Since he was my favorite character by the end of last season, I was hoping for a bit more of his family first attitude and less woe is me. I look forward to seeing an episode where he can shine as well. As for Charlie, she was largely absent in the main plot points, which is always a mistake. I'd like to see more of her hunting down the truth, even if I will not like the end result of it. Still the most irksome part of the episode was the new guy's background. I really, really did not need to know about how he got his nickname. In fact, it makes me wonder if this guy is qualified to be in Graceland at all. Overall I thought the character was a bit bland but harmless. Time will tell whether he ends up being important or just another red shirt. The other thing that bothered me was the guns downstairs. It wasn't because of the atmosphere shock like it was for Mike. More that it made the group look inept and that's not allowed. Here they are on the beachfront with a million windows around them and they're showing off their weaponry. Not a great way to stay inconspicuous, guys. I get what the writers were trying to do, but it fell flat and I cannot follow still another set of incompetent professionals on TV. There are far too many of them already.
Hopes for the New Season:
1. I would like to learn more about Charlie's undercover job as a tattoo artist. She's bound to hear a lot of pertinent information and those cases might actually be more interesting than passenger bus activities.
2. Paige and Jakes need to have actual storylines. While we have a hint of where Jakes' character arc is going, it feels like Paige still has nothing really to do than be the second female. She deserves better than that so I would like to see her take a key position in this sting. I'd also like to see Jakes interact with his son and perhaps get some back story on how he got visiting rights. His job is dangerous so I can see some hesitation in allowing his son to visit him. What I absolutely DO NOT want though is another tiresome cliffhanger where the bad guys take the cop's son as leverage. That's stale police procedural stuff that has no business in the Graceland mytharc.
3. Johnny needs to take Mike down a notch. He just does.
4. The season itself will be as full of plausible twists as the first season was. This show knows how to end well each episode and that got me through some of the leaner times last season. Now it's time to show exactly what kind of twisty, suspenseful writing they have proven they can do. Basically I hope this season is as tight as the last one because it rocked.
Grade and Episode Awards:
Best Scene - Paige and Mike talk by the campfire about why he's being such a douche
Best Quote - Mike: "We still going to be surfing by noon?" Briggs: "Probably not."
Best Twist - how everyone is reunited
Best Reason to Watch- seeing how all the Graceland residents have changed in the fallout
Smartest Plan - newbie kidnappers, who didn't just surprise me. Mixing a kidnapping with the dog fighting raid is brilliant.
Most Accurate Contact List - Leon lists the assassins under Kill Boys. At least it's clear.
Most Interesting Sub-Story - Jakes buys a house so he can be with his son
Biggest Promotion - Mike, who went from rookie to Special Assistant to the Director to Graceland lead in a few short months. Kind of stretches credibility.
Best Gesture - Briggs does a sarcastic salute to the criminal that blew his plan. I didn't even know sarcastic salute existed.
Motto - Find the Line, proving that Mike's hunch was right
Most Brutal - dry boarding interrogation
Best Return to TV - Mike's new girlfriend, Jessica, is Audrey on Haven
The "What the Heck?" Award - When Leon pulls a gun on Briggs, Mike looks incredibly nonchalant about it. If he were a real arms dealer, he would have brought out a gun immediately and asked what's going on. Waiting so long should be highly suspicious to Leon.
Best Foreshadowing - Charlie watches over Juan Badillo's family and is obviously not done with the case
Most Likely to Go South Quickly - Charlie and Briggs' relationship, which is based partly on lies and guilt
Best Reaction - everyone's lack of enthusiasm when Mike says he's their boss for 8 weeks
Other Great Quotes:
Jakes: "You choose to greet Levi. I choose to be a champion. Another poor life choice John boy."
Mike: "What the hell happened to you man?" Jakes: "What? A man can't be happy?" Johnny: "He's been like this for a couple months. It's weird, huh?"
Briggs: "You know today should go well. We stage at 9, meet Leon at 10, bad guys go to jail at 11. We should be riding the waves by noon." Charlie: "Got to respect that confidence."
Briggs: "If we don't control the time or place of the meet, I can't guarantee your safety, Mike." Mike: "My safety?" Briggs: "Yeah." Mike: "Since when are you concerned about my safety? Used to be you'd march me to the gates of hell if it meant a shot at the Kaza cartel."
Johnny: "Can I hit him?" Briggs: "No Johnny, you can't. I'm calling the operation, Mike. It's off. I'm sorry you wasted a first class ticket out here. I hope you didn't wrinkle your suit."
Paige: "So DC kind of turned you into an a**hole, huh?"
Paige: "Ah, so you're back here to try to make yourself a rock star again. This world has enough dead rock stars, Mike. Briggs is just trying to make sure you're not one of them."
Briggs: "Hmm. Looks like Kaza's got a new interrogation method. Cheaper than water boarding without all the mess."
Briggs: "These guys are late." Mike: "I expect a certain level of professionalism in my professional assassins."