By Cory Barker
Season 1, Episodes 10 and 11: “Give a Little, Take a Little” and “Little Prince”
Original airdates: Dec. 7 and Dec. 14, 1984
Previously on Miami Vice: Crockett and Tubbs raced GO FAST BOATS and then hung out with some hardcore hillbillies. It was great.
In my first five Vice reviews, I have focused almost entirely on Crockett and Tubbs, with some irregular discussion of the high-profile guest stars. My discussion topics have largely mirrored how the show approached its first 10 hours. But it’s easy to forget that there are a handful of other series regulars in the Vice cast—so easy that the show does it on the reg.
However, “Give a Little, Take a Little” is the first concerted effort to add shading to some of the supporting characters and simply give others something to do, and the resulting episode is one of my favorites of season one thus far. One of the things the show likes to do is introduce a handful of characters who are part of that week’s villainous organization. It’s a smart approach that allows each episode to attack a fairly consistent formula of bad guys from a slightly different perspective: one week it’s all about surveillance, the next it’s about trying to squeeze a mid-level operator to squeal. All those things are almost always happening but the show puts more emphasis on different aspects in different episodes. That said, one of the problems with this structure is that it almost always requires Crockett and Tubbs to go undercover and work their way up the organizational food chain, which can be both repetitive and somewhat unbelievable.
“Give a Little, Take a Little” plays within the already familiar structure of trying to take down big players and powerful organizations, but finally remembers that Crockett and Tubbs work with other people in Vice. This is especially useful because the case involves no fewer than four nefarious characters, five if you count Terry O’Quinn’s antagonistic lawyer. Lots of angles and operations are being run at once, leading to a somewhat convoluted whole. Nevertheless, the story mostly works because at the center is Saundra Santiago’s Gina, a character who has spent the first string of episodes being Crockett’s side-piece and little else. While Gina and Trudy (the other female member of the cast, who has had even less to do) are trying to work their way up a prostitution ring, Crockett and Tubbs discover (with the help of the returning Noogie, because yes, there are 49 people in this episode) a drug operation that might be connected to the same guy, this crook named Ramirez (played by Rocky‘s Burt Young).
Crockett and Tubbs do what they do—search the drug warehouse without a warrant and try to bully the guy on site into flipping on his bosses—which is interesting enough, but Gina’s undercover work is much more engaging. She’s clearly uncomfortable with the position (who wouldn’t be?), especially once Castillo informs her that a few girls have been found dead recently, but she has enough charm to get a meeting with the treacherous Ramirez. Unfortunately, once she makes it to the top, Gina decides that she doesn’t need back up. That leads to her having to “prove her worth” to Ramirez. This is a story that we’ve all seen before, but there’s something about the way Vice handles sex in this over-dramatic way that makes it even more uncomfortable that one might imagine. Burt Young does this truly creepy move where he pulls Santiago’s Gina in very, very slowly, and even though his Ramirez can tell that she’s not enjoying it, he pushes forth. The scene is very quiet but Gina’s face says it all: she’s violated, and Santiago does a great job conveying that.
“Give a Little” drags a bit when it returns to Crockett and Tubbs trying to work their end of the investigation, but that’s mostly because the stuff with Gina is so good. Crockett runs into O’Quinn’s Richard Cain, a shady defense attorney representing a man named Alvarado (Michael Madsen) who crashed the drug warehouse, and Cain pushes Crockett to reveal his anonymous source about the location of said warehouse. Of course, Sonny Crockett is one of the most admirable people in the world so he won’t give up the guy who let him and Tubbs into the warehouse, resulting in him being held in contempt of court. It’s sort of ridiculous that the judge actually holds Crockett in contempt—especially since she makes a weirdly biased speech about how she’s really worked up about this issue—but I guess it further reflects how heroic Crockett is. Don Johnson does good work in the outrageous courtroom scene, at least.
But this is Gina’s episode. Her evening with Ramirez inflicts some legitimate emotional damage (which Santiago again handles very well), but it also spurs on the big thrust of the case. Ramirez, despite sleeping with her, fingers her for a snitch and tries to have her killed, conveniently by Alvarado. Turns out they were working together all along. This, of course, allows Crockett and Tubbs to get their man, but more dramatically, allows Gina to get hers as well. Yet Ramirez doesn’t believe that she’s a cop, or that she’s capable of taking him down. He comes at her with a knife and she’s forced to put him down. In the end, Gina’s left on the scene in shock. In 24 hours she’s been forced to have sex with a monster, been shot at, and then had to kill someone at point-blank range. Crockett, now aware of what’s happened, doesn’t really know what to say. You almost get the impression that Crockett is upset that Gina slept with another man but he’s also obviously worried about her, so he’s conflicted. For a show that often goes very loud and broad with everything, including its emotions, the scene is low-key, a bit slow but really powerful. Check it out:
And although it was certainly not as important as Gina’s story, this episode also gives Michael Talbott’s Stan Switek a little something to do. He goes undercover as a small-time comedian at Club Ocho in hopes of sniffing out more information on the case but spends much of the episode getting seduced by “the life,” if you will. In the episode’s climax, he gets on stage and cracks some truly terrible jokes that only his partner Larry (John Diehl) laughs out. Again, nothing major but it’s still nice to see other characters involved in some way. Stan and Larry are clearly meant to be dolts, so at least this episode allowed them to actually act like it.
I’m really happy that “Give a Little, Take a Little” was so solid because “Little Prince” did very little for me. I appreciated that the episode attempted to explore high class drug use, but the execution was all overdone. Mid-way through the episode Tubbs, discussing his time in New York, notes: “The saddest thing is an uptown junkie. They’re only into it because they hurt so much inside.” Not only is that a ridiculous line (thanks, Rico) but it also says weird things about class that make me queasy. So upper class people just do drugs because they’re sad? Lower class people don’t do that? Doesn’t everyone hurt inside? It’s just awkward and classist logic passing as incisive poetry.
That weird attitude towards needing to “save” this young, rich, white kid with a drug problem continues throughout the episode. I’m not saying drug addicts don’t deserve sympathy and assistance but this episode makes it seem like this kid is especially valuable to society—and other than being rich and white and having information about his dangerous father, I can’t see his value. If the show wanted to explore drug use in Miami, I’d be up for that. But not this way.
Most unfortunate is that Gina seems fine. All those things that happened to her in “Give a Little” don’t have any surface impact on how she acts here. While that’s not totally unexpected considering Vice‘s place as a fairly straightforward procedural, it was still disappointing. I hate when powerful moments are erased away by the realities of production.
- GATOR WATCH: Zip. Nada. 😦
- GO FAST BOAT WATCH: None. Smart, after last week’s extravaganza.
- This week in Vice music: “Better Be Good To Me” by Tina Turner, “You Want More” by Etta James, and “Today’s a Beginning” by Brian Ray in “Give a Little”; “Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, “Tiny Demons” by Todd Rundgren, and “Turn Up the Radio” by Autograph in “Little Prince.”