Perhaps shamed by the example set by Ralph Lamb into wanting to do some kind of job and earn its place on the network schedule, Vegas rallies a bit tonight. It’s still not the show that some mad dreamers hoped it might become, but after last week’s episode, which couldn’t have shown less commitment if it had been directed by Pontius Pilate, tonight it manages to rise to the level of a competent procedural. Parts of “Solid Citizens” are exciting and fun. If the whole thing still leaves a slightly disappointing aftertaste, that’s mainly because there are still scattered traces of an ambition to be something more. But those bits and pieces don’t really connect to anything.
If there’s one clear reason for rejoicing, it’s that Dennis Quaid is finally starting to loosen up. His grin has thawed out, and he manages to make it through the entire episode without once suggesting an Old Testament prophet in custom-fit jeans. This makes it easier to deal with those moments when the show stops cold so that others can testify to what a noble badass Ralph is. Michael O’Neill’s mayor, who hasn’t been seen hide nor hair of since he tossed Ralph a badge in the pilot, stops by the sheriff’s office just to lecture Ralph on his responsibilities as one of those people whose cast-iron righteousness single them out as shepherds walking among us wolves and sheep. “It eats at you,” says the Mayor, “when somebody’s doing somebody wrong. Not all of us are built like that. Most of us turn in at night, leave the bad stuff behind.” With his humble silence, Ralph shows that he assents to the sad truth of the Mayor’s character analysis.
Ralph also has a couple of crisp moments with Vincent Savino, who is allowed to score a point or two off his granite countenance. “I’d exchange pleasantries,” Savino says when Ralph comes busting into his office, “but that’s always a one-way street.” Ralph has come calling because somebody has abducted the 9-year-old son of a big wheel on the gaming commission, Milton Larson (Alias and Heroes’ Greg Grunberg, auditioning for the lead in The Chris Christie Story.) Naturally, Ralph’s instinct is to investigate the matter by demanding that Savino tell him which gangsters are most likely to be into taking children prisoner in order to influence Larson’s vote. This is so insulting that Savino dispenses with the customary beating around the bush: “No one’s gonna grab a commissioner’s kid when all they’ve gotta do is hand him a suitcase full of cash. You’re welcome.” It’s to the show’s credit that, rather than trying to find a way to escalate this pissing match, it simply shows Ralph appearing to think, Damn, I’m the sheriff, I should have been able to figure that much out for myself.
Ralph still doesn’t have the way with words he thinks he has. Interrogating a suspect, he barks, “If I don’t believe the next words that come out of your mouth, I’m gonna reach up inside you and rip out the truth.” He also dispenses advice to his deputies that can only be categorized as patronizing. “Find some evidence!” could happen to any lawman trying to cut to the chase on a hot day. But when he dispatches a man to talk to the kidnapped boy’s parents, does he really have to say to “use the boy’s name, but not in the past tense.” Oh, well. There is a pretty effective shootout in the parking lot of a motel, and there’s an amusing scene when Ralph goes to the ransom drop-off, pretending to be the boy’s uncle, who the kidnappers have never met. (“You sounded younger on the phone.” Ralph: “You sounded prettier.”) He overdoes the loser’s shifty, defeated body language, as if he had to overdo it to be seen for credible at all, but is it Ralph who’s overacting here, or is it Quaid?
A couple of promising new characters make their first bows in the Savino half of the story. Damon Herriman, who played Dewey Crowe on Justified, is an icy enforcer and David Patrick Kelly wannabe who rolls in from Minnesota, searching for the fellow Vincent had killed last week. Vincent decides to trick him into thinking that the dead man is alive and has fled the jurisdiction, a trick that requires reassembling his car, which has already been stripped for parts. Surprisingly, Herriman’s character falls for this, but with any luck, he will be back. And Vinessa Shaw (of the movie Two Lovers) shows up in town as Vincent’s wife, Laura, who responds to his suggestion that she join him in Vegas personally by asking, “Why fix what’s not broken?” (She adds, “There are things you have to do, and things I don’t want to see.”)
The whole episode seems to be building toward the big country-club dinner where Vincent hopes to get in solid with the Mormon banker with whom he’s plotting to take over the Tumbleweed Club. It seems likely that we’ll either get to see a train wreck take place, or a double-barreled demonstration of the wiles and charm that must have helped Vincent get ahead, and that have turned him and his wife into an effective power couple. But instead of actually letting us see what happens, the show cuts ahead to the morning after, with Vincent crowing and complimenting his wife on having done such a brilliant job. It’s not hard to understand why this scene is missing: It’s the sort of thing that would be harder to write and stage than gunfights or monologues telling the audience what they should think of the hero. But Vegas is already at a stage where it would behoove it to work a little harder,
- Working the kidnapping confirms for Ralph that he no longer wants to put his son, Dixon, “in the line of fire.” He actually tells Dixon this at the end of the episode, which is a bit of a shame, since it’s perfectly obvious what he’s thinking before he expresses it directly, making this a rare example of the character of Ralph working just the way the show wants it to. Dixon is very unhappy about this, since he’s begun thinking that being a lawman is what he was cut out to do. The scene underlines the fact that the show seems to be trying to do a complete overhaul of Dixon’s character; he no longer comes across as a callow horn dog, and is now kind of boring, which is a big improvement on how obnoxious he was in the first few episodes.
- “A”s for the budding romantic triangle between Jack, Mia Rizzo, and the D.A., there’s no indication tonight that it hasn’t been taken out to the desert and buried next to the guy the man from Minnesota is looking for.