Miami Vice was one of the most groundbreaking television shows and blah blah blah… Michael Mann brought his electrifying vision to yadda yadda yadda… Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas and so on… Edward James Olmos etceteras…
I’m not going to waste any more time. I have decided to watch EVERY SINGLE EPISODE of Miami Vice and I want you to come along for the ride. The rules are simple: Look sharp and keep cool. The rest you’ll pick up as we go along.
Tonight’s Episode: GLADES
Original Airdate: November 30, 1984
Written by: Rex Weiner and Allan Weisbecker
Directed by: Stan Lathan
Notable Guest Stars: Margaret Whitton, JOHN PANKOW, Jay Patterson, Keith Szarabajka.
TV GUIDE Summary: Crockett & Tubbs must venture into the Florida Everglades to help a valuable witness rescue his kidnapped daughter.
Glades seems like the title of a horror movie or tense thriller about alligators or some other sinister and suspicious goings on in Florida. So, it’s a little startling to discover that it’s actually the title for one of the most innocuous and uneventful episodes of Miami Vice.
Which is not to say that there isn’t some decent entertainment value, but it’s not the right kind of value.
What I mean is: It seldom feels like you’re watching Miami Vice. It feels like Magnum PI or The A-Team. It feels like…gasp…TELEVISION. Stylistically and tonally it’s just so off, that you can never quite get a grasp on what their intention was.
It starts out like a Miami Vice episode, we’ll give it that. In fact, it starts exactly like another Miami Vice episode: The opening shot, post credits, is the same establishing shot of the courthouse that was used in HEART OF DARKNESS. This repurposing of previous footage is, perhaps, an unintentional omen that we are entering into the land of cliché.
The story is set up well enough. Crockett & Tubbs leave Switek & Zito in charge of Keith Szarabajka, who is a star witness in the trial of a drug kingpin. And, because they leave him in the care of Switek & Zito, something inevitably goes wrong.
Basically, he receives a letter informing him that he better not testify – lest he his cute little daughter ends up like that guy who parachuted into the Everglades in Faces Of Death II.
Switek & Zito are rather occupied with a soap opera when Mr. Szarabajka decides “fuck this,” and bolts out the back door.
And so, Crockett & Tubbs must once again fix a fuck up. Which they accomplish by driving to the Everglades and sorting this mess out. And that’s when the episode becomes…what it becomes.
And what is that exactly? I’m at a bit of a loss here. In some ways, I guess you could call this Deliverance minus the exploration of Ned Beatty’s anal canal. Though you almost wonder if the only thing keeping them from that was the limitations of the medium.
It’s a shame, really. The set up has potential. Because, off the bat, we meet John Pankow – in a terrific role – as a hillbilly asshole.
He has genuine screen presence and commands attention right away. Crockett & Tubbs go in there asking around about Keith Szarabajka (I keep wanting to write the character’s name but I am compelled to keep referring to him by the spectacularly Hungarian moniker of the actor) and Pankow decides, very gratiously, to offer them a ride into the woods so they can find him.
Which turns out, of course, to not be a very good idea.
I don’t know if I can accurately describe the odd pleasure you get from watching John Pankow kick the shit out of Crockett & Tubbs. But it is rather thrilling.
A word about Pankow… The guy didn’t get a fair shake. I think we all expected him to explode after To Live And Die In LA. But Monkey Shines: An Experiment In Fear was not the horror juggernaut everyone was seemingly expecting it to be (this despite a Stanley Tucci/Janine Turner sex scene) and so the poor guy had to be forever remembered as Paul Reiser’s stupid horny brother named Ira.
But, at the very least, we have Glades to remind us that he could have been a contender.
And… Fuckin’ UUUUHHHHH!!!!
Nothing much of note happens for the remainder of the episode. Crockett & Tubbs wander around the woods some more, begging the question of why Pankow didn’t just fucking kill them in the first place. And they run into a couple of more hillbillies.
Etceteras, basically, until they finally stumble upon Keith Szarabajka and the exciting plot to rescue his baby daughter.
I know she needs rescuing.
After all, an earlier scene shows one of the bad guys (the same bad guy that gave Crockett what for a few minutes earlier) walk in on where she’s being held and toss a grilled cheese sandwich (it’s either grilled cheese or tuna), and a can of what I presume must be Florida’s finest trailer trash swill, over to the corner where she is curled up in the fetal position. The can lands straight up (good throw, man!) and some of the suds splash out on the wall and on the sandwich.
What manner of monsters are these?!
The episode tries to keep our interest with colorful Coen Brothers characters.
Like Szarabajka’s zombie wife…
…and the miserable old man with no teeth…
…who turns out to be a badass.
Okay, that’s not entirely true. His badassness is kind of called into question because he spends about 45 minutes trying to get that weird elephant gun to work. Thankfully he is able to use it in much the same way Reginald Veljohnson fired his shot of glory at the end of Die Hard.
That last shootout is really weird, by the way. Lots of strange things happen. Like Crockett magically shooting two bad guys through a window that never shatters. Or the guy that falls through an opening and we hear something break…even though there is nothing there!
I also like Tubbs and his POWERFUL PUNCH OF DESTRUCTION THAT IS FASTER THAN THE SPEED OF SOUND. He uses this to put Pankow out of commission during the anti-climactic confrontation. He grabs Pankow from behind – strange choice – and punches him on the face. And, once Pankow’s face has recoiled, we hear the thunderous boom of Tubbs’s fist. Truly remarkable.
Maybe there is something supernatural going on in those Everglades after all.
And now… On with the specifics
THE CASTILLO STARE
“[Switek and I] lost him… we’ll find him!”
DOES TUBBS WHIP OUT THE SHOTGUN?
No… But this rifle proves very ineffective during the final shootout.
Thankfully, he still has that powerful fist of death I was talking about earlier.
ICONIC USE OF MUSIC
Oh, we’re reaching here fellas. The closest is “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” which comes right at the beginning, over grainy footage of shitty Miami streets, trying to establish a tone by lingering on shots of pimps and ugly hookers who look like men. It’s like they want to dare you not to change the channel.
THE FASHION THAT KICKS YOUR ASS
Oh, God no! Need I remind you that we spend 99% of the episode in the Everglades with a bunch of hillbillies?
Okay… But you gotta admit he makes it work.
THE SWITEK & ZITO VARIETY HOUR
I think I am not alone in thinking that it would have been delightful to see them join Crockett & Tubbs for some SQUEAL LIKE A PIG! action in the woods.
Alas, it was not to be. But Switek nearly gets his head blown off when he tries to storm into the safehouse like an asshole.
OH YES… THIS IS DEFINITELY MICHAEL MANN’S PENMANSHIP
Most traces of Mann are oddly absent. But, early in the episode, Crockett & Tubbs go to a nice underground boxing match to get some info. The sequence has a nice sense of color to it… And much appreciated girl on girl action, of course.
All these inconsistencies and glitches should result in an awful episode. But all this remains thoroughly watchable. Not so much like a train wreck, but like an embarrassing uncle that gets drunk and you want to see how far he goes. Then, he just falls asleep.