Recap: Vinyl 1.5, "He in Racist Fire"

Mar 13, 2016 by Alex Castle

Four episodes into this freshman season of Vinyl, it would have been hard to argue that the show was missing anything. It had drama, it had comedy, it had music, rock stars both real and fictional, it had drugs, it had sex – it even had a murder plot.

But with this fifth episode, “He in Racist Fire,” the show both reveals and provides what the show has been missing all along: a strong foil for Richie Finestra. Zak, Skip, and Julie are all great characters, but they are clearly junior partners at best. If their votes counted, the PolyGram deal would have gone through. They might complain, they might not like what Richie’s doing, but as we saw last week as they commiserated about the deal falling through, mostly they just keep it to themselves.

The return of prodigal American Century staffer Andrea (Andi) Zito, glimpsed briefly last week but given a full throat-clearing introduction in this episode, feels like the last missing piece of Vinyl’s puzzle. She’s an interesting character, a former secretary who resented the chauvinism inherent to the position (in the era) and bursting with unused ideas about how to run the business – and, as we come to learn toward the end of the episode, the other love of Richie’s life – she jumped ship to work with Jackie Jervis.

Her effort in helping Jackie poach Hannibal away from American Century – an effort that eventually succeeds – leads Richie to come to her, tail firmly between legs, to beg her to come back and help him run the company. She’s smart enough to set firm boundaries at the outset (“Don’t call me at home ever”) and to hold out for a partnership, so it looks like we have a new main character, one who will not hesitate to put Richie in his place and who may serve to amp up the tension between Richie and Devon, the woman he chose over Andi because “she never calls you on your shit” (Andi’s version) and “she was more beautiful than you” (Richie’s version).

At the time that Richie threw Andi over for Devon, it may well have been true that Devon didn’t call Richie on his shit. But with the end of the PolyGram deal and Richie’s increasingly erratic behavior – including reneging on their deal to both stay sober, she’s been losing patience with him for the run of the series. His last-ditch play to keep Hannibal on the label – using Devon as bait – goes badly: instructed to “wear something sexy,” she does what she thinks he wants her to do. She dances with Hannibal in a way that, shall we say, draws his full attention. Overcome with possessiveness, Richie cuts the party short, drags Devon out, and begins to reassert himself in the elevator, but decides Hannibal got her a little too excited, says some awful things, and she runs off in a huff to the Chelsea Hotel while he goes to beg Andi to come back to the company.

So what’s she gonna do at the Chelsea Hotel? Did she have an even bigger drug problem than Richie, and is that why the both sobered up? Devon’s plot to this point in the series has been frustrating. Olivia Wilde is the kind of actor who can’t hide her fierce intelligence no matter what she does, so it’s been hard to watch her suffer through a stock neglected wife plot. The show keeps hinting at her rich inner life and what a vibrant world she left behind when she hooked up with Richie, but other than bashing in her kitchen window and making an empty threat about divorce, she hasn’t actually done anything in this series, so let’s hope this is the moment that she asserts herself and becomes an actual character, rather than part of the scenery.

Elsewhere, Richie and Zak inform the Nasty Bitz that they’re going to have to get a better lead guitarist before they can cut their album, a decision that Kip (the lead singer) resists out of loyalty to his friend and not a little trepidation at being the sole focus of the band. Whatever his feelings about screwing over his friend, he does the deed in just about the most callous way imaginable, first criticizing him during a rehearsal (at Electric Lady Studios, rock nerds) and then just leaving to shoot up and bang Jamie while Lester delivers the bad news. All of Richie’s high-minded talk to Andi about the label’s new direction, and his desire not to put his bands “through the machine” that squashes all the originality out of them seems to be just talk when the rubber meets the road, at least as it pertains to the Nasty Bitz, and it will be interesting to see if Andi can help him to curb his own worst impulses – or if she even wants to.

Random Notes:
*Viewers could have been forgiven for thinking there was a mix-up at the HBO Command Center, and the season 6 premiere of Game of Thrones was accidentally being shown in Vinyl’s place, thanks to the Wizard Rock stylings of Clark’s big A&R find.

*Oh, Clark. Demoted to Sandwich Boy, Clark inquires about the illicit side of Jamie’s gofer duties. The only thing worse than Clark would be coked-up Clark.

*At the episode’s end, it sure looked like Richie might avenge Devon’s perceived infidelity with some actual infidelity of his own.

*Not only are the cops looking at Richie for Buck’s murder, they seem to have enlisted his dad to wear a wire and get him to confess. Which suggests that the cops already had some leverage on Dad, which begs the question, if you have 150 employees groveling for your favor, couldn’t one of them have supplied your alibi? Why go to your estranged alcoholic father? Richie’s decision-making has really suffered from his tumble off the wagon.

Episode playlist:
Rosco Gordon – “Honey Let’s Get High”
Billy Preston – “Will It Go ‘Round In Circles”
Santana – “Watch Your Step”
Jimmy Reed – “I Ain’t Got You”
Little Richard – “Rip It Up”
Big Star – “Thirteen”
Sylvia – “Pillow Talk”
The Doors – “The Crystal Ship”
Aretha Franklin – “Rock Steady”
Lou Reed – “White Light/White Heat”

New episodes of Vinyl premiere at 9pm ET Sundays on HBO; past episodes are available on-demand.

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