By Cory Barker
Season 1, Episode 12: “Milk Run”
Original airdate: Jan. 4, 1985
Previously on Miami Vice: Gina went undercover as a prostitute, to somewhat disastrous results. Tubbs felt really strongly about the sadness that comes with drug use. Rich white people.
A bit of housekeeping before we get started today: I watched “Milk Run” and then noticed that the next episode “Golden Triangle” was a two-parter. Instead of splitting up the first and second halves of that episode, I figured I’d just discuss “Milk Run” today and then come back with “Golden Triangle” the following week. Daglas says that I’m an idiot for not embracing cliffhangers in my writing and he’s probably correct. So, either you’re welcome or I’m sorry, you choose. [Ed. note: You're sorry. -Noel]
Although the realities of television production are regularly hectic, confusing, and disorganized, it does seem that shows often attempt to come back after the holiday break with an episode that really embodies the kinds of things they do best. This is far from an exact science and more like something that I have barely-more-than-casually observed, but go with me.
With that in mind, one might expect a “typical” episode of Miami Vice would feature certain things: shoot-outs (typically on the docks), extended sequences of driving (car or GO FAST BOAT), and some popular music. I for one love it when the show brings all those things to the table, which is most weeks, but I have been very surprised at some of the other things Vice has accomplished in these first dozen episodes. While Vice isn’t Hill Street Blues in its approach to character complexity and development, the show is very willing and interested in exploring certain matters with a more finessed hand than I would have expected or than popular perceptions of the series would lead one to believe. It’s just not all GO FAST BOATS and Phil Collins, folks.
The show takes most characters’ emotions and psychology pretty seriously, which sometimes doesn’t work because it is tough to feel sympathetic for a rich white kid hooked on drugs, but often does work because the circumstances and awareness isn’t as silly as that one dumb example. The show handled Crockett’s divorce proceedings with a steady hand and, as I discussed last week, did some great work with Gina’s undercover operation. Basically, as long as Vice isn’t trying to convince me that a woman could fall in love with Tubbs in 20 minutes or telling me that yuppies need rehab because they’re sad, the show reaches a level of emotional depth I never thought it would.
This is all to say that as the first episode of 1985, “Milk Run” is both typical and atypical for the show. This is an episode about drug runners, drug addicts, and international drug rings, all topics Vice feels well-versed in even a dozen episodes into the first season. But it’s also a fairly powerful personal story about how younger people can get wrapped up in the drug trade and why once they do, the danger never stops. It’s also a story about how Crockett really cares a lot about his job and the people he’s ultimately trying to protect, which isn’t original at all, but damn if it doesn’t work because of Don Johnson’s low-key performance.
Altogether, this episode reinforces one of the big themes I’ve noticed throughout the first half of this first season and that is the inevitability of terrible things. Crockett and Tubbs often do great work to save people or stop the baddies, but pretty regularly those successes come at the cost of other failures, or something/someone just gets away from them. There’s a sense here that no matter what the police do, no matter how heroic and cool they are, these larger criminal organizations and institutions are simply too powerful. As a whole, Vice is less celebratory of police and justice than many similar shows, and I appreciate that.
What I like about “Milk Run” is that it goes to pretty great lengths to show the audience how the drug trade of the time worked, especially when it comes to Americans transporting the drugs from foreign countries back into the States. Moreover, the episode does this smart thing where Crockett and Tubbs meet Eddie and Louis, the young guys hoping to make some quick cash, at the airport and explicitly describe what kind of terrible things are going to happen to them if they get involved with the drug trade, only to have Eddie and Louis more or less ignore said advice and then need Crockett and Tubbs to protect them from a bunch of powerful sons of bitches. Not only does that opening scene reinforce Crockett and Tubbs’s expertise, but it also sketches out Eddie and Louis’s story a bit more.
While Crockett and Tubbs work the case in Miami after a house they’re watching blows up, Eddie goes down to Bogota to transport the drugs back to Miami. The show always finds a way to make the cases bigger and more complex (or perhaps more convoluted) than they need to be, but this time I liked the choice because it allowed us to spend more time with Eddie and Louis. The scene with Eddie getting trained on how the operation hides the drugs in statues was silly but entertaining. After Eddie returns and Crockett and Tubbs put the pressure on them to flip (as they always do), Vice’s best set up the deal between the kids and the Moya (one of the bad mofos). That’s where they realize that—shockingly—the drug operation was planning to kill the naive transporters the whole time. Which is, of course, exactly what Crockett and Tubbs predicted would happen.
Even after Crockett and Tubbs take out of one of the Moya brothers and escort Eddie and Louis to the airport, there’s a sense that this isn’t over. Lieutenant Castillo is worried about retribution, and despite everything that Crockett does to protect these misguided and young criminals, he’s ultimately proven correct. Eddie gets a shotgun blast to the chest while at the airport gift shop, leaving Crockett a silent, legitimately destroyed mess of a man by the end of the episode.
And who can blame him? He did literally everything he could. He stopped Eddie and Louis before they even did anything wrong and told them exactly what was going to happen if they got involved in drug transportation. They didn’t listen. And when he got them a good deal and saved their asses from being killed the first time (again, exactly as he’d warned), it still wasn’t enough. He knows how this works but has to, every single time, convince himself otherwise—that this time, he will stop it all before people get killed. That rarely happens. People always get killed.
Now, I wish that Vice would carry this sort of emotional break of Crockett’s across another episode or two, because that would put the show on another level. As it stands, episodes like “Milk Run” are still quite individually powerful.