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: GIVE A LITTLE, TAKE A LITTLE
Original Airdate: December 7, 1984
Written by: Chuck Adamson
Directed by: Bobby Roth
Notable Guest Stars: Oh, this one is STACKED! You got – BURT YOUNG, Lenny Von Dohlen, Tony Plana, MICHAEL (FUCKIN’) MADSEN, um… Charlie Barnett and TERRY O’QUINN as Richard Cain.
TV GUIDE Summary: Gina (Saundra Santiago) infiltrates a prostitution ring and gets more than she bargained for. Meanwhile, Crockett refuses to give up the name of an informant and pays a high price. Charlie Barnett guest stars.
Give A Little, Take A Little is the EMPIRE STRIKES BACK of the “Shitty South Side Trilogy” that began with Glades and will conclude with Little Prince. You’ll notice this thematic connection right away, as this episode also begins with a musical montage that highlights Miami’s South Beach area – a place that, much like New York’s Times Square, used to be a real awesome shithole until someone came around to clean it up.
Like in Glades, we see grainy shots of pimps and ho’s (but no Johns), while hearing dynamic music on the soundtrack – in this case Tina Turner’s “Better Be Good To Me.” And we are eventually drawn to Gina and Trudy at a store, very enthusiastically trying on some whore clothes.
We don’t know it yet, but whoring will play a large part in the subject matter of this episode. Both literally and figuratively. I’m not trying to be pretentious when I say that the concept of “selling” and how far you are willing to compromise yourself plays very heavily into the episode. The sort of thing you could write a paper on, if you were so inclined.
The episode finally begins, however, with our heroes – Crockett & Tubbs – both very well dressed, taking a stroll through this area and acting very jovial and excited because they’re on their way to see Noogie.
Don’t worry, the meeting will be brief. They stumble upon him doing something or other with an electric guitar. The scene is played off like he’s messing around and acting like a rock star, crooning some song that goes something like: “I love you babyyyy….. I looooove YOUUUU!!!” But the scene is staged in such a way that he appears to be masturbating.
I’ll admit this is not the best of teasers. In particular for an episode that turns out to be as compelling as this, but stick with it. It gets better – and fast.
It isn’t long before we’re into the meat of the episode and are able to enjoy its virtues. The first of which is one of the most stellar ensembles of guest stars ever assembled for one episode. This thing is cast in such a way that, were it a 90’s gangster movie, we may have been pretty thrilled. And the episode balances this cast, and its two parallel storylines that eventually converge, very well.
First up on the roster is Lenny Von Dohlen, putting his “I talk really weird because I’m Dutch” mannerisms to good use as an unfortunate gentleman named Bob Rickert. He runs a warehouse on the docks. And, such is the fortune smiling upon him, that Crockett & Tubbs should be tipped off to the meth that is being stashed therein.
So, rather than going on to have many electric dreams as Tyrone’s boy toy over at the FSP, Rickert decides to sing about Michael Madsen and his escapades as a thug for hire. This leads to a rather enjoyable little car chase that ends with Madsen’s criminal career being put on hold by Oscar Meyer.
Meanwhile, Gina & Trudy are hitting the bricks doing what they do best – acting like a couple of hookers at Tony Plana’s nightclub; with Switek & Zito (naturally) along for the ride as their debonair Johns.
And here’s where things get interesting, as Gina meets Burt Young.
A word about Young… He’s a character actor that is not often recalled with fondness by people who aren’t Rocky fans. But I’ve always found him interesting. His participation in Once Upon A Time In America is one of the film’s highlights. And he’s interesting here as a pimp (who I assume is supposed to be Cuban) named Lupo Ramirez.
In this first scene, he speaks in an accent that I can’t quite place. Maybe he can’t quite place it either, because it all but disappears during his next scene. But, despite his weird uneven speech pattern, Young is a lot of fun to watch and he creates a memorable disgusting bad guy.
Part of that probably has to do with the ultimate payoff of the story. Some Miami Vice fans are known to complain that “the Gina episodes suck.” I guess we’ll be discussing future ones in due time, but that’s certainly not the case here. You get kind of caught up in the drama and subsequent pickle Gina finds herself in. Because, of course, she goes IN TOO DEEP. And, in order to preserve her cover, she must allow Burt Young to bonk her senseless – an experience she doesn’t necessarily relish.
Which leads me to the earlier comment about a running theme of “selling out” and “compromising your integrity.”
Enter slick scumbag lawyer Terry O’Quinn.
In the episode’s best scene, O’Quinn informs Crockett that he will have to give up his informant as part of Michael Madsen’s defense. Something that, naturally, Crockett is not willing to do. This allows for some great histrionic acting from Don Johnson at the courtroom. So flabbergasted is he at judge Jaqueline Brookes and her insistence that he give up Lenny Von Dohlen, that he can think of nothing more than to exclaim that he is “A POLICE OFFICER! A POLICE OFFICER!” as the bailiffs cart him off to jail so he can smoke and brood some more.
Crockett is unwilling to compromise his integrity as a POLICE OFFICER! POLICE OFFICER! and pays a price for that. While Gina pays the ultimate price of enjoying Burt Young’s sweaty company for the evening, when she completely compromises hers. I guess, any way you slice it, it’s tough being a top cop in Miami.
The episode weaves these two dramas very tightly together, and keeps the suspense pretty high. All of it coming full circle in a great ticking clock climax, where Crockett & Tubbs must race to Gina’s house before Tony Plana can terminate her hooking contract.
A word about that…
It seems odd that Burt Young would send Plana out to do this particular assignment. Earlier on, it is established that he runs the nightclub. And we know that Young’s usual whorekiller, Michael Madsen, is free. My only guess is that Plana must really enjoy doing cartwheels through windows.
All in a day’s work, I guess.
And now… On with the specifics
THE TACKED ON TRAGEDY
THE CASTILLO STARE
“We’ll blow the case if I name the informant… They’ll attack the affidavit for lack of warrants!”
DOES TUBBS WHIP OUT THE SHOTGUN?
No. And he almost gets taken out like a punk by Tony Plana.
Thank goodness Plana’s such a lousy shot. Or for the miracle of conveniently placed support beams.
ICONIC USE OF MUSIC
Brian Ray’s “Today’s A New Beginning” plays during the TACKED ON TRAGEDY and I suppose that’s appropriate.
But I’m even more fond of Etta James crooning “You Want More” during the passionate encounter between Gina and Burt Young.
You almost want to rename it LOVE THEME FROM MIAMI VICE
The terrific Jan Hammer composition makes its second appearance here. During a lovely scene where Don Johnson threatens to throw Lenny Von Dohlen into the drink if he doesn’t start saying what has to be said.
He then proceeds to ask Von Dohlen if he’s gay, while Tubbs laughs like an asshole in the background.
THE FASHION THAT KICKS YOUR ASS
Mr. Tony Plana is on the catwalk tonight…
First, with this lovely ensemble that suggests enthusiastic Telemundo game show host.
And later, rocking that open shirt and gold chains style I find so enchanting.
Seriously… I NEED to shave my chest.
THE SWITEK & ZITO VARIETY HOUR
Switek is so enamored of Tony Plana’s hooker-filled nightclub, he decides to try his hand at stand-up comedy.
“Where are you guys from? …. Oh – COLOMBIA! … (snort) sound familiar?”
I guess you had to be there.
OH YES… THIS IS DEFINITELY MICHAEL MANN’S PENMANSHIP
As mentioned, the scene in which Crockett & Tubbs meet with Terry O’Quinn is the best in the episode. It’s very well-written and acted. For a minute, you think you’re watching Thief or The Insider.
A shaky, Noogie-infested start is quickly forgotten as the episode grows into a very solid and compelling outing. Vice is really at its best when it balances storylines as tightly as this.