Recap and review for Vegas – Season 1 Episode 6 – The Real Thing
This week’s Vegas utilizes its procedural elements to make the problems of Sheriff Ralph Lamb (Dennis Quaid) the problems of Vincent Savino (Michael Chiklis). “The Real Thing” is an episode that toys with the idea of counterfeits, in more ways than in simply the casino chips being forged. As much as Ralph Lamb is presented as an authentic cowboy of the Old West mold, a figure plucked from a distant era of the American frontier, he’s very much a counterfeit Sheriff, in the sense that while he’s good at the job, he doesn’t exactly do things by the book. He’s a man out of his element, struggling to fit into his new context by playing by his own rules, whether that’s what the situation calls for or not. Savino, meanwhile, is a false businessman, a counterfeit of legitimacy, having the appearance, the decorum, and the air of respect, but not the authenticity. He’s still a gangster who, much like Ralph, is struggling to establish himself in his new circumstances. This is why, for once, the case of the week doesn’t feel so immaterial to the rest of the episode. It’s a springboard for the broader conflict between Vincent and Ralph, providing us with one of the better episodes of the season so far.
Ralph, along with his son, Dixon (Taylor Handley), catch three thieves on the outskirts of town, and this is where Ralph decides to play cowboy, with regards to the law. He teasingly threatens to shoot the three young men, claiming that no one would ever know, all the way out here in the desert. But he eventually comes around to arguing that perhaps he wouldn’t have to shoot the men if they simply returned the money they stole. As he says to Dixon later, justice and the law are often at odds with each other, and sometimes it is more effective to bypass the complicated and ineffective legality of it all. Although his morality isn’t changeable, from what we’ve seen, this moment speaks to Lamb’s malleability in how he executes the office of Sheriff. If nothing else, this decision here is motivated as much by a desire to avoid the paper work of an arrest of suspects from multiple jurisdictions as it is by the idea that it can occasionally be a better boon to society to take the law on a case by case basis. This indicates a gradual slide towards Savino territory, as Ralph consults his own best instincts when deciding to do what needs to be done. It’s a tiny bit of a foreshadowing in the storyline to come with Savino, which issues from the overarching case this week.
A dentist puts a young showgirl under, in order to operate. When the girl comes to, she finds the doctor missing. After wandering the halls of the building, she comes across the dentist, dead on the floor. The investigation leads Ralph to a lab where it’s revealed that the victim had been making counterfeit chips of the Savoy. Mia (Sarah Jones) discovered the false chip when she accidentally tipped over a sick colleague’s glass of alka seltzer on the chip, stripping away its facade and revealing the fake chip underneath. Savino intended to conduct his own internal investigation, but Ralph’s investigation crosses with Savino’s, and they have little recourse but to team up to see the matter through. The conflict culminates in the revelation that the dentist had been working with one of the dealers at the casino, a young woman who dealt in the fake chips the dentist would make, using dentistry materials that are hard to come by for those outside of the profession. When the young woman’s boyfriend, a man named Jesse Lynch, wanted one last big score, the dentist panicked, and Jesse murdered him for the money. Savino, furious that something of his was taken, confronts Jesse out in his trailer. Holding him at gunpoint, Vincent marches Jesse out into the desert to finish the job, when Ralph rolls up. What follows is a standoff that illustrates the conflict at the heart of the series.
Savino argues that occasionally, a bit of lawlessness is necessary. Ralph isn’t above circumventing the by-the-book process required of a Sheriff, but he’s beholden to the law, and to a moral code that Savino isn’t. Savino’s code doesn’t extend far beyond the mercenary concerns of business and greed, and his only real concern beyond that is for his wife and their children. This is the card he chooses to play with Lamb, arguing that Ralph would do the same thing if it was his kid’s plate that Jesse was stealing food off of. He’d shoot a mountain lion if it killed his cattle. On this latter point, Ralph agrees. He would kill the mountain lion, because he’d be within his lawful rights to do so. But killing a man wouldn’t be. Even though we saw a slice of ambiguity in the opening, with regards to how Ralph executes the duties of his office, he’s hardly a rogue figure. Ralph Lamb is staggeringly moral, in an old world sort of way, which naturally brings him into conflict with the expansionist, new wave, instant gratification ideology of Savino. Ralph is able to talk Savino down, but this conflict is far from over.
Also far from over, Savino’s conflict with Mayor Ted Bennett (Michael O’Neill). Savino needs to get mob-opposing Bennett out of office in order to keep the Savino operating, and so he sets up a puppet candidate in George Grady (Gil Bellows), a good-looking, younger politician who, while not particularly charismatic, is at least well-spoken. Savino has doubts that Grady can win the election, until his wife, Laura (Vinessa Shaw), who wants to be more involved in Vincent’s affairs, suggests to her husband that Grady could attempt to secure the female vote, given that Bennett polled poorly with women in the last election.
This gets Vincent’s wheels turning, and he eventually comes up with a series of schemes to maximize public opinion of Grady. It’s essentially a recreation of the famous Kennedy-Nixon Debate, in which it was theorized that Kennedy pulled ahead with voters because Nixon looked tired and sickly on TV. Nixon, for his part, was recovering from a hospital stay, but he also refused to wear makeup, which might have alleviated the damage of his poor appearance. Here, Bennett refuses makeup, arguing that “men don’t wear makeup.” He proceeds to look winded, tired, and sickly on the air, while Grady looks vibrant, warm, and authoritative in equal measure. Following a particularly salient answer from Grady, Savino ensures that the debate feed is cut out, so that the last thing voters see is Grady’s big triumphant moment over a sickly, old, ineffectual Mayor. Whether Grady is cut out for the job or if he’s simply another in a long line of the episode’s counterfeits, remains to be seen. But he’s established almost immediately as a figurehead for Savino’s ambitions.
There are other minor subplots in the episode, such as the continued flirtation between Mia and Jack Lamb (Jason O’Mara), Katherine O’Connell’s involvement in the Mayor’s side of the political divide, and Dixon’s consternation at being assigned to desk work, even though it was his own tacit endorsement of desk work that got him put there in the first place. These are minor issues and mainly meant to serve as worldbuilding elements, giving color and depth to the ensemble and the stories that surround them. In this sense, the episode works. “The Real Thing” asks the audience to question just how authentic Sheriff Lamb and Savino are in their roles, and to what extent either one of them is a counterfeit; because it’s impossible to be the real thing all of the time. Every role requires a little artifice here and there.