Recap and review for Vegas – Season 1 Episode 8 – Exposure
Vegas had been doing an admirable job, in recent weeks, of developing the conflict between Sheriff Ralph Lamb (Dennis Quaid) and mobster Vincent Savino (Michael Chiklis), and while tonight’s “Exposure” doesn’t exactly undo all that progress, it keeps Ralph and Savino largely separated. The respective storylines for our leads don’t really intersect in any meaningful fashion, and while this should probably be a problem, given that the themes of the series are tied up in the rivalry between Ralph and Savino, the episode still scrapes by on the strength of Savino’s side of the equation. The reason Savino’s end of things works as well as it does is because of the sharpened focus on his marriage over the last several weeks. “Exposure” capitalizes on some of the poignancy of last week’s episode, in which Vincent was resigned to the likelihood that he would be killed by his boss, and Laura (Vinessa Shaw), playing the dutiful mob wife, allowing her husband to go out with his head held high – a moment that resonates all the stronger when Vincent comes home alive. Here, Vincent has to find a way to compromise with a former mistress without compromising his marriage vows…well, at least not compromising them further than they already have been.
As it turns out, Savino had an affair with a singer in Havana named Diane Desmond (Ivana Millicevic), an unfortunate occurrence that Laura already knows about, although she doesn’t know the specifics about who the woman was, or the depth of feelings involved, if any. The tumultuous marriage has arguably been through worse, what with last week’s episode as evidence. But that doesn’t mean that complications can’t arise. Take, for example, the reemergence of Ms. Desmond, who’s hired as a featured performer at the Savoy by Savino’s new boss, thanks to last week’s swerve, Johnny Rizzo (Michael Wiseman). Rizzo thinks Diane is all about him, failing to realize that she’s simply using him to get close to Savino. Diane wants to be with Vincent again, as it turns out, and she doesn’t seem to want to take “no” for an answer. It’s a classic “Fatal Attraction” story, with Diane growing more and more persistent, even while Vincent has matters of his own to attend to (such as a boss who’s growing increasingly paranoid about potential security breaches). When Vincent ends up needing Diane to slip a drug into Rizzo’s drink, she blackmails him for his wife’s necklace. He can’t bring himself to go through with it, although Laura catches a suspicious moment between her husband and Ms. Desmond, which causes a rift in their marriage all the same. Laura, who previously in the episode had shut down the attempts by assistant district attorney Katherine O’Connell to get her to talk, arranges a new meeting with O’Connell, prospectively hatching a plan to take down Diane, Johnny, and all the others in Vincent’s immediate sphere, so long as it leaves Vincent unscathed. If nothing else, you can’t say she isn’t loyal. And I’m all for a shake-up of the mob hierarchy, especially if it puts the show’s best character at the top of the heap sooner rather than later (because I’m a staunch Vincent Savino supporter, though much of my fondness for the character is in the way Michael Chiklis portrays him – he’s every bit as charming as he is ruthless, and is both principled and pragmatic, in equal measure).
Though not exactly a dud, Ralph’s contributions to the episode are less fruitful. The case this week involves the murder of a serviceman who knew too much suggests a cover-up over an outbreak of radiation poisoning. The storyline attempts to be a political potboiler, with far-reaching implications of a government conspiracy, but it doesn’t really work in that it relies on too many tropes of the genre (bureaucratic red tape, shadowy government agents, secret files that could contain everything or nothing at all). I’m beginning to think my difficulty in getting into any of these cases is in the hangups I have with the procedural format here, as it still doesn’t feel entirely organic to the series, even though the show is ostensibly about a lawman. The case should rarely be the least interesting thing in a given episode, yet I’m finding that to be the issue more often than not. The cases aren’t exactly bad – they’re just standard. And I know this show is capable of a far greater class of crime narrative than standard. However, I will say that the case isn’t without meaningful contributions, as it allows us to get a better handle on Ralph Lamb as a person, whether it’s through his past as a military detective or as a widower to a wife stolen away before her time.
The case places Ralph in conflict with an Air Force lieutenant looking into the murder and claiming jurisdiction over the investigation. The two are paired together for much of the episode, particularly after they’re abducted while in the desert on the outskirts of town. I doubt the lieutenant will become a recurring character, but I did enjoy how his character provided a non-Savino sounding board for Ralph’s sarcastic personality, as he often traded barbs about the military, while also poking fun at the lieutenant (cutting the tension during an escape sequence where Ralph plays prisoner by asking if he can have “a tour of the brig”). The case isn’t much, but it helps deepen Ralph as a character by giving him more of a personality beyond the stoic, introspective man to whom we’ve grown accustomed. Here, we see just how resourceful he is, as the issue of jurisdiction comes into play in the climax, when Ralph appropriates an old method for rounding up cattle to catch the perps, luring them over the county line into his jurisdiction. It’s a singularly badass moment for Ralph, and not a single punch was thrown nor shot fired from his gun. Ingenuity is a hell of a resource for protagonists who are looking to be accepted by wider audiences. Not that I’ve ever felt Ralph was off-putting (he’s actually one of my favorite characters of the new fall season), but his rougher ways means he’s not nearly as charming as Savino, which means he tends to come off as less likable. However, “Exposure” has gone a long way in rounding the edges without dulling his personality. He has a great exchange with Savino at the top of the episode, in which Vincent brings him a bottle of scotch to thank him for saving him last week, and Ralph gets snarky in that irascible way that makes his dialogues with Savino come across like lost Abbott & Costello routines.
The scotch comes back into play towards the end, as Ralph, after the case is settled and the status quo is more or less restored, discovers the file on his wife’s death. He needs a sizable serving of the scotch to steel himself for the gruesome details. Ralph’s drive toward justice in his role as Sheriff is, in many ways, motivated not simply by the facet of his character that refuses to allow injustice to stand, but also by his desire to attain some measure of justice for his wife’s memory. The car accident that killed her involved foul play, and it’s hard to imagine that this is something Ralph Lamb, as we know him, will ever let go. Though he’s presented as a force of incorruptible good, I’d be interested if the show were to explore just how far Ralph would be willing to go in the name of his wife’s memory, mainly because it’s not altogether unreasonable that, in such a circumstance, he might turn to Savino for help. And that would just be fantastic. Seriously.
“Exposure” returns Vegas to the grind of the procedural aspects, but that’s okay, since the thematic elements and the pathos of the various characters have been established. It’s easier to craft an engaging story now, ten episodes in, than it was even two weeks ago, and it’s heartening to see the series managing so well. I’m not entirely certain what the overarching narrative of the season is purporting to be, really, other than that there is perhaps a collision between Ralph and Savino forthcoming, along with Savino potentially heading the Vegas wing of the mob (or perhaps Vincent even starting his own “family”). Of course, these could also just be my own ridiculous misreadings. Either way, the show has finally found its footing in a significant way, to where I’m pretty sure I feel confident enough in the show’s abilities to follow whichever direction they ultimately choose to go.