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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Vegas: “Masquerade”

Illustration for article titled Vegas: “Masquerade”
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Playing an asshole is a tricky business. An actor named JB Blanc gives a master class in the art of being a stylish, entertaining dickweed in tonight’s episode, playing the director of the kind of Vegas theatrical revue that Lenny Bruce once summed up with the telegraphic phrase “tits ‘n ass.” When we first see him, he’s screaming at the chorus girls, and when we see him after one of the women has been raped, murdered, and laid out on the runway, he’s doing his best to be polite while asking Deputy Jack how much longer it might be before somebody hauls the corpse off his stage so he can get on with his rehearsing. (“When we solve this murder,” snaps Jack.) He’s a large man with a bulldozing manner that he tries to cloak in suavity, but when he’s treated as a murder suspect, he pulls back just enough to show that, like all great bullies, he’s a coward deep down. I could have watched his craven, crazy ass all night.

David Denman isn’t as lucky. He plays a swaggering Texas oilman named Clay Stinson, whom Vincent has enticed to visit the casino, so that he can lure him to the gaming tables and sap his bank account like a tree while Ralph and his family are running around on the other end of the show, trying to solve the showgirls’ murder. Clay Stinson is a loud-mouthed oaf, and Denman has been directed to never let up with the too-broad, shit-eating grin and the back-slapping manner. At first, I was hoping he’d turn out to be a fraud who’d run up a huge gambling debt that he had no hope of repaying, just so I could see Vincent and Red take him in a back room and negotiate a payment plan with a couple of tire irons, but no such luck: He goads Vincent into agreeing that there’ll be no limit on the bet he wants to place, places a couple of bets amounting to a million dollars on the table, wins, and walks away.

Red is incredulous. Vincent thought that bringing this guy in for the weekend would automatically help them make their nut, and now he’s cleaned them out. And now he’s certain to waltz off, since why would he risk the money he’s already won. Red must not have seen many movies or TV shows about gambling, but Vincent has, and he makes a little speech that all the viewers who have seen any movies or TV shows about gambling can move them lips to. “It’s not about the money,” Vincent says, just like every other “expert” analyzing the behavior of a gambler, “it’s about the rush.” Then Clay packs his bags and leaves, explaining as he goes that he once went on safari and shot a rhino his first day out and then was bored the rest of the trip: “Lesson learned. You gotta go before the thrill wears off.” It’s like one of Mad magazine’s “Scenes We’d Like To See.” Of course, Vincent has to get his money back from him somehow, so Clay will be back, just as the peasants had begun dancing in the streets in celebration of his departure.

The clichés that have everyone scratching their heads in the murder storyline are more of the serial killer variety. Whoever killed the dead woman dressed her corpse before posing it meticulously. Why did he do that, wonders Deputy Dixon. “She’s being presented,” says Carrie-Ann Moss as the ADA. “She’s a trophy,” says Ralph. Dixon seems even more confused, which may have something to do with the way the two of them are throwing around CSI-style terminology about serial killers a decade before the term “serial killer” was even in use among law enforcement personnel. Other lapses make it hard to stop thinking “Wait a minute…” long enough to lose yourself in the story. Ralph and the ADA barge into the murdered woman’s apartment and discover that she had posed for girlie magazine photos. “Our girl had her secrets,” says Carrie-Ann Moss. Which is a strange conclusion to draw, because, unlikely as it sounds, the girlie magazine is lying right there on the coffee table, as if it were the latest issue of Life. Ralph later learns that the woman felt badly enough about having posed for the pictures that she begged $300 from the director so she could buy the negatives. But still, she must have felt that leaving the magazine around her place in place sight would make it look homey. Give visitors something to read.

In the end, the ADA goes to talk to the pianist who was helping the dancer work up her own act. In what’s becoming a Vegas mini-tradition, this colorless minor character is the killer and, to prove it, suddenly blossoms into a shrill, eye-popping psycho during the last minutes of the episode, threatening and scaring the ADA until Ralph shows up in the nick of time. There are grounds for suspicion that this whole episode is meant to demonstrate why Carrie-Anne Moss never has anything to do on the show: If she tried to help out with the murder cases, some nut might kill her. Best that she just collect her paycheck for sticking her head in the police station once or twice an episode and warning Ralph not to step on toes. Meanwhile, Mia Rizzo takes matters in her own hands at the casino and tames the wild Texan by allowing him to bid for her favors.  She wins, which, given the competition, makes her the closest thing this episode has to a feminist role model.