By Cory Barker
Season 1, Episodes 13 and 14: “Golden Triangle” Parts 1 and 2
Original airdates: Jan. 11 and Jan. 18, 1985
Previously on Miami Vice: Sonny and Tubbs tried to keep a few kids from getting wrapped up in the drug trade. They failed.
As I discussed a couple of weeks ago (and as everyone really knew before that), it is quite common—necessary even—for television shows to start fleshing out supporting characters in the middle part of a first season. Although Miami Vice gets by with well-constructed (albeit somewhat formulaic) cases, great visuals, and a strong performance at the center, any show is best-served by filling out the ensemble with likable or at least recognizable characters. And of course, one of the most common approaches to doing this is by revealing that Supporting Character X has a slew of secrets that the show’s primary heroes previously knew nothing about.
After “Give a Little, Take a Little” served as Gina’s breakout episode, it was only a matter of time before the show cycled around to Lt. Martin Castillo, the unbelievably stern, direct, and secretive boss character played by Edward James Olmos, just as it was a matter of time before Vice decided to unveil some pretty substantial secrets from Castillo’s past. The result is the epic, compelling, and sometimes ridiculous two-parter “Golden Triangle,” which sees Castillo go from a tight-laced and methodical supervisor to a dangerous guy who lets his emotions cloud some of his judgment in a high-profile case (not unlike Crockett, of course).
I’m of two minds on “Golden Triangle.” On one hand, as an introduction to Castillo’s past, it is a tremendous episode with an Emmy-winning performance from Olmos. These episodes reveal juicy information about Castillo but still manage to couch those reveals in what we already know about the character from the last handful of episodes. We learn that he worked for the DEA in Southeast Asia (in a region known as, you guessed it, the Golden Triangle), and that caused all sorts of problems for the CIA when that agency, for political reasons, tried to turn a blind eye to big drug trafficking operations. Yet none of this information ever seems too far afield. Castillo is a quiet, reserved guy, and it makes some sense that he would become so after the dangerous life he lived in the 1970s. Plus, it also makes a great deal of sense that he would cause trouble for other agencies while working for the DEA because he is not the type of guy to just let high-functioning drug operations run wild.
But the biggest shocker of all probably worked the best: Castillo had a wife while he was in Asia, who he presumed long dead until discovering otherwise in this episode. The character never fully abandons his steely exterior, but he is certainly more passionate and concerned with the results of this case once he recognizes that A) his wife is alive and B) she could be in danger. The scene where Castillo reunites with his wife, only to learn that she thought he was dead, and they decided to re-marry and have a kid, is wonderfully played by Olmos. On the outside, Castillo is just about as calm as he always is; he understands the unfortunate reality of the situation. But there is a sense that underneath, he’s shattered. A line like “I’ve found you only to lose you again” should be a really cheesy offering, but Olmos makes it work because nothing could be more true.
So on one hand, the Castillo stuff in “Golden Triangle” is damn good. But on the other hand, it’s another one of Vice‘s wide-ranging, basically overstuffed two-part episodes that in some ways, never seems to end. I respect the show’s ability to craft these massive and extended procedural cases that unspool with seven different layers and two dozen secondary and tertiary characters, I really do. Vice is more or less churning out stories that feel movie-like every week, and when the narrative continues over two episodes, that feeling crystallizes further. And while I wouldn’t say that these two-parters are hard to follow, they do tend to get… complicated.
In these 85 minutes, the episode goes from a silly and entertaining story of Crockett working with a hooker, to the team tracking more dangerous men, to this big reveal that the whole thing is part of the biggest drug cartel in Southeast Asia—and the biggest cartel boss is coming to Miami. That escalation works fine enough, especially because of Castillo’s personal connection to the case and the cartel boss Lao Li, but it is also quite convenient that Crockett and Tubbs just stumbled into one of the biggest cases they could have worked. I get it, it’s TV, and maybe I’m just disappointed because I really liked the more lighthearted rapport between Crockett and that lady of the night. However, the additional running time for the story almost forces the show to pad it with so many characters and tributary storylines. Heck, even Noogie shows up for a few minutes.
Ultimately though, Olmos’s Castillo carries “Golden Triangle” through the rough spots and minor convolutions. He fights! He loves! He loses! He yells! He wears a Speedo!
- GATOR WATCH: Yes yes yes, Elvis is back. Best part? Crockett files his nails while Tubbs watches, incredulous. The show should have won six comedy Emmys for that scene alone.
- GO FAST BOAT WATCH: Zip. Nada.
- This week in Vice music: “Great Balls of Fire” by Dolly Parton, “Catch the Wind” by The Blues Project, “Poison Ivy” by The Coasters and “Mr. Lee” by The Bobbettes. Also of note: Jan Hammer’s “Golden Triangle” theme from the episode.