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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Graceland: “Heat Run”

Illustration for article titled Graceland: “Heat Run”
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Californiaaaaaaa, here we… no, I’m sorry, there's no call for that, sorry. It’s just what all this sun-soaked television does to you, especially in an episode like “Heat Run,” where a lot happens, but it all has the distinct low-stakes lull of a filler episode, leaving its characters wandering toward new plots under the buttery Pacific Coast dawn. It could be fitting. After all, a heat run is an unpredictable route meant to evade any tails. But despite the promising title, there’s no real payoff this week.

Plotwise, there are some shenanigans. DEA agent Lauren, on a faulty premise of restoring her ex-partner, does the worst heat run ever when she screws up a bust, then tries to fix it by screwing up even harder (and faking an assault to drum up Briggs’ sympathy, yikes), then by lying about her fix and endangering the other agents, until finally Briggs sets her up to get kicked out because she is so super bad at this. Meanwhile, Charlie spends her plot minutes getting too emotionally involved with her unreliable informant Whistler (though at least she gets her sting). And Paige, who attempts nothing more ambitious this week than hooking up on bar night, doesn’t even manage that. Rough week, ladies!

Obviously with Mike and Briggs as the show’s leading couple, there’s always going to be weight on the scales in favor of their action, so it’s not as though a tip toward the dudebro is unexpected or even inherently bad in the context of the show. Still, there’s a stark contrast in the women’s plots when set against the Graceland gents this week, all of whom succeed handily at everything they try and are always right. Mike and Briggs nail their undercover work and suss out a setup Lauren refuses to believe; during the warehouse bust, Johnny shakes off a knife wound with the jokey gusto of a basic-cable Bruce Willis. For an episode that gets lip service about Tough Choices You Can’t Win, the guys get the long end of the stick this time around.

Except if you’re Mike, of course, who’s so uneasy about being himself that he seems to resist his off-duty clothes from the skeleton out, and things aren’t getting any simpler for him. He’s not happy about getting side-eye from the Bureau on his slow progress in spying on Briggs’ financials, he’s not happy that Briggs frames Lauren, and he’s even less happy about his dating initiation at the local dive as he’s warned to be undercover when hitting on ladies. With Paige as wingman, Mike reluctantly charms young Abby. What did Paige say? Abby spills: “’Of all the guys in the bar, he's real.’ Are you real, Mike?” How thematically relevant of you, Paige!

In an almost cruel tease, the episode delivers one sharp scene–in the cold open. It backs up to 10 seconds before last week’s cliffhanger to reveal that Briggs drawing on Mike was for the benefit of big-time dealer Bello, waiting in the shadows of the warehouse with guns pointed at them. Briggs pulled the gun to preserve his cover; Mike has to talk his way out of being shot as a double-crosser. This show truly loves spinning undercover scenarios that are one beat away from unraveling; it works well here, without any expository lead-up, forcing Briggs and Mike navigate the real-time tension and uncertainty until the last second.

After they get away clean, Briggs drives them home on a serious adrenaline bender, praising Mike to the skies in a way that literally makes Mike sick to his stomach and won't come back to haunt him at all. It's just that Mike is so good at undercover! He’s super good! It's like he’s suspiciously good at deceiving people! Remember when Mike had that gun pointed right at him? Boy, it’s a good thing he’s so good at lying only to one set of people! Same team forever, right, Mike? I mean, it’s seriously a relief to have you on the team, though. Otherwise Briggs would be super, super betrayed and vindictive, know what I mean, Mike? Anyway, sleep tight.


Stray observations:

  • In L.A., no one at a table of federal agents notices you taking a picture of your own hand with someone’s credit card imprint on it, so that’s good news.
  • Daniel Sunjata is doing thankless work as a carefully-constructed Zen blank slate, but this week’s cold open begs for a glimpse into the dark side soon.
  • When Mike calls Briggs out for framing Lauren with the GPS transmitter, Briggs makes clear anything’s fair game to protect Graceland. “What I did to Lauren, I’d do again,” he says, and to make sure no one’s missing the implications, adds, “I’d do it to you.” And Mike’s ambivalence about spying on him shrank three sizes that day!
  • Given that people in their local bar clearly know them, changing cover professions has to get tricky. What do the regulars think of the pharmaceutical rep/photographer/astronaut/PGA hopeful/bass player table of roomies? Do they just assume it’s a houseful of compulsive liars?