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Graceland: “Pizza Box”

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This week’s episode–Graceland's most confident yet, like a developing Polaroid in which a good party’s taking shape–begins and ends with homemade pasta sauce. It’s part of the domestic camaraderie that Mike’s been taking as a symptom of their success. In three days, Charlie promises, the recipe of her ancestors will be ready for family dinner night at Delta Sigma Fed. A lot changes in three days.


“Pizza Box” is divided, both in plot and tone, into the bust of the week and the more serial Briggs and Mike arc. The B-plot, in which Paige, Johnny, and Jakes take a road trip to bust one of Jakes’ old contacts (Mia Kirshner, seemingly unsure why she’s here but committing to her oolong entendres anyway), is determinedly light. Sure, Paige has to drive a truck through a barn door for a shootout, but largely it serves to highlight the bickery-sibling tension of the supporting cast. This week it's Johnny (who successfully flirts up a storm with their target, the better to accidentally smear his fake tattoos with) and Jakes (who could not be more over it).

This week, it serves largely as a cut-to palate cleanser, maintaining a quota of summery shenanigans in the face of what Mike gets up to, which is, smartly, the opposite of fun.

So far, things have mostly been sunshine for Mike. As moving pieces got lined up in earlier episodes, Mike’s breezed through his covers, and his main issue with Briggs was getting close enough to spy on him. This episode is an efficient one-two punch to all that, as Mike finds himself engaging Bello’s attention away from a jealous Briggs; Bello hires Mike to train his men in marksmanship fundamentals (denoted by the “pizza box” medal in the Corps) and cuts Briggs and his own lieutenant Eddie right out of negotiations.

Briggs does not take it well; when he comes home nominally concerned about Mike, Charlie points out he ditched the on-site surveillance team to lick his wounds. She calls it Quarterback Syndrome (a benign term for whatever makes you wander away from an undercover agent having lunch with armed drug dealers), and asks whether his pride or the Bello takedown is more important. Briggs looks like he knows those are pretty even odds.


This week, at least, he doesn’t have to make that call. Eddie, who’s already lost an eye to Bello’s suspicions, goes rogue and tries to ambush the truth out of Mike. Briggs takes advantage of the chaos in the ranks to try to flip Eddie. When that doesn’t work (Eddie, looking doomed, smells the setup a mile away), they give him a bus ticket out of state that will make him look guilty to Bello regardless. Mike, more agitated by the implications here than he was with Eddie’s gun in his mouth, is surprised by Briggs strong-arming the outcome he wants. How fast Lauren’s object lesson fades!

Speaking of domestic, Sauce Night is interrupted by a phone call from Bello, summoning Mike to a standoff with Eddie. Eddie’s been worked over, and though he’s figured out that his flip was Mike’s doing, his revelation falls on deaf ears. Bello delivers Eddie a handgun and some whispered instructions, and after a moment of consideration, Eddie shoots himself.


It’s a testament to McKinney that Eddie’s death feels as resonant as it does after essentially a single-episode arc; it’s not at all surprising that Mike, bullshit savant, has to bail on his date with Abby after that because he can’t hold it together, and that he ends up at the sink trying to hide tears from Briggs, who suggests he deal with the leftovers in the morning. It’s just sauce, man,” Briggs offers as a parting shot, but as Mike starts scouring, it’s clear that veiled halfpology isn’t going to hold up long.

“Pizza Box” makes the most of the action-comedy/beach-noir framework this week; it has moments of feeling unbalanced, but paring it back to two threads deploys the supporting cast to their strong suit as the bigger arc gets much-needed breathing room. Sunjata and Tveit both get to shade their characters with more than lip service, in ways that bode well for the season arc.


They have a worthy foil; Gbenga Akinnagbe is as polished and dangerous as Bello, and the swift deterioration of his relationship with Eddie (Sheaun McKinney) neatly parallels fears about Briggs Mike didn’t even know he had–an underling who knows too much gets caught between a rock and a hard place, with a boss out to eliminate the danger to solidify his power. They’re not there yet, but there are reasons beyond the practical why Mike does so much apologetic damage control on Briggs this week.

And so, in “Pizza Box,” Mike suffers a pair of casualties; Eddie’s death, for which he clearly feels some responsibility, and his own freshman confidence: after weeks of acing Hail Mary passes, the golden boy realizes, while staring at the remains of the house’s blithe familias, he’s finally in over his head.


Stray observations:

  • Mentions of burnout Lauren this week, even amid ethically-iffy procedures from Briggs and a domestic ritual that clearly involves the entire house: zero.
  • When Johnny’s defending his over-the-top performance, Jakes’ withering “You’re a federal agent with a henna tattoo” is every inch the big brother who’s come to pick someone up from detention.
  • Mike, under orders to tread water on the marksmanship training, makes a damn good case for gun maintenance by showing how cool it looks to field-strip your weapon and monologue at the same time.

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