By Cory Barker
Season 1, Episodes 4 and 5: “Calderone’s Return” Parts I and II
Original airdate: Oct. 19, 1984 and Oct. 26, 1984
Previously on Miami Vice: Sonny Crockett received some bad news when his wife officially filed for divorce and informed him that she would be moving to Atlanta. Sonny received even worse news when his alligator ate some of his Buddy Holly records. People were killed.
When Miami Vice‘s two-part pilot episode ended with the evil villain Esteban Calderone getting away, it was obvious that the show was going to come back to the story, and the character. Calderone had a vendetta against Crockett, the man who (temporarily) arrested him and Tubbs was still looking for revenge in the name of his brother. The tension was too strong, too easy. I knew that Calderone would return and knew that it wouldn’t be pretty.
However, what surprised me is just how quickly Miami Vice brought Calderone back into the fold. After two rock-solid standalone episodes that established a certain level of rhythm and formula to the show’s episodic endeavors, Vice spends two more here re-opening and extending the Calderone wounds. For a presumed procedural, it’s a bit odd to see four of the first six hours dedicated to one story and while Vice tries to wrench as much intrigue out of the story as it can, by the end of this second two-parter, it’s clear that there simply wasn’t enough here to warrant a full double-shot of time.
What is curious about “Calderone’s Return” is that the first hour is quite strong, but mostly because it doesn’t directly involve Calderone in any tactile away. If it weren’t for the show’s aesthetic choice to introduce the title of the episode at the beginning of each one, the show could have built to a nice little surprise around the half-way mark. In any event, part one begins with the crew working surveillance on Castranova, a mid-level drug dealer and unsurprisingly, things get out of control as soon as Sonny and Rico take a load off–I kind of love how it’s becoming a running thing that everyone else working in vice is incompetent–when Castranova and his crew are brutally murdered by an Argentinean assassin. I mean brutally. It’s weirdly reminiscent of something out of Terminator, only much brighter.
In any event, what appears to be a standalone story about this assassin quickly turns into a much larger story once they find that he has a hit-list…and Crockett’s on it. The target on Crockett’s back coalesces with a moving but convenient thread with he and his wife reconciling despite previously agreeing that a separation was for the best. So of course, Crockett’s in danger and his wife and kid go into witness protection, only further intensifying the idea that being married to a vice officer is probably a horrible idea.
Devoid of context, the scenes between Crockett and his wife were really strong. Don Johnson and Belinda Montgomery have good, lived-in chemistry, which makes it believable that they might actually fall back into each other despite all logical evidence to the contrary. Unfortunately, in context, the story is a bit silly. The two start the episode separated, reconcile in the early going and then after the assassin shoots up the Crockett household, she changes her mind again. I get that the episode needs that story construction so that there’s an additional tension and stakes there for Crockett. Nevertheless, like so many things in this two-parter, it seems like the show took an additional step to make things more complicated than it should have simply to reach a conclusion it had already built towards before this one began. It’s emotionally powerful but unnecessary.
“Emotionally powerful but unnecessary” is a good way to describe much of everything that happens in part one. On top of the target on Crockett’s back and the “final” nail in the coffin of his marriage, part one also kills off Chief Rodriguez, who dies while trying to protect Crockett from being sniped from a long distance. Shows often like to shake things up in the early-going by killing a supporting character (again, raising the stakes and the like), so I wasn’t really surprised to see Rodriguez go. However, his death isn’t handled that well after the initial shooting. Rodriguez goes into the ER off-screen and then at the end of the episode, dies off-screen. Crockett is barely even that upset after the character dies at the end of part one, even though he’s just found out that Calderone is actually behind the whole thing. So, the show gets to present the illusion of major drama as a way to make the feud with Calderone even more of a blood feud, but that’s all it really is, an illusion. We already assumed that Crockett’s marriage was a bust and Rodriguez was a non-entity as a character. The end of the former and the death of the latter don’t have much of an impact.
The second half of “Calderone’s Return” shifts focus from Crockett to Tubbs, a welcome shift in perspective after sliding Tubbs into CLEAR second banana duty pretty quickly in the first two post-pilot offerings. Plus, I figured this move would be especially useful because Tubbs was the one that wanted to kill Calderone so badly to begin with — even though Crockett stole that thunder a little bit (he tends to do that). And while I appreciate the attempt to make Tubbs a well-rounded character (as opposed to a bad sidekick who mostly just stands around and says “man” really maniacally), the shoddy execution again overtakes the solid in-theory idea.
For whatever reason, the Vice team thought it’d be a good dramatic idea to have Tubbs fall in love with Calderone’s daughter, despite the fact that A.) This love appears to develop in under 48 hours and after two short conversations and B.) The show had to age-up Calderone to make it believable that he could have a daughter to begin with. Anytime you have to randomly make someone 20 years older and give them a bad grey dye job just to concoct a hackneyed love story, it’s probably time to go back to the whiteboard.
I’ll give Philip Michael Thomas credit: He does his damnedest to make the story work. He has the tendency to over-act when the better choice would be to calm down, but the show’s heightened intensity fits his style well enough. While it’s hard to believe Tubbs when he starts talking about how deep in love he is with Calderone’s daughter, the silly construct does allow for a nice final 10-15 minutes or so, where he meets Angelina at a crazy party (check out the mask) before everything blows up in his face and Crockett is kidnapped. The climax peters out a bit once the duo actually faces off with Calderone, because by “face off” I really mean that Tubbs walks in with a shotgun, Crockett breaks free and then takes Calderone out. After almost four full hours, a handful of intense conversations about the pros and cons of revenge, multiple cool driving montages (on land and sea!) and a whole lot of convoluted storytelling, Calderone takes a couple of shots to the chest and falls in the pool. The end.
Worst of all, part two double-downs on the mediocre love story by inter-cutting the boat trip back to Miami with flashbacks from this EPIC ROMANCE – i.e., things that just happened anywhere from 3 to 35 minutes previously in this same episode. Though the show takes this approach, set to “What’s Love Got To Do With It” by the way, to emphasize the heartbreak Tubbs apparently feels, it only serves to point out how dumb and underdeveloped the story and the relationship is. It’s a sour, treacle ending to a two-part fiasco.
Ultimately, Vice got to the point it seemed clear from the pilot it would: Calderone dead, with Tubbs not falling victim to revenge (instead it was love, everybody) and Crockett’s wife on the way to the ATL. And still, the show took an extended amount of steps to get to those logical, foreseen conclusions and frankly dragged everything out too much. It was odd to return to this story so quickly and even odder to stretch it out across another two hours. But the pilot’s ends have been tied off, and now hopefully Vice can move on.