By Cory Barker
Season 1, Episodes 17 and 18: “The Maze” and “Made for Each Other”
Original airdates: Feb. 22 and Mar. 8, 1985
Previously on Miami Vice: Glenn Frey! Pam Grier! Richard Jenkins! “Smugger’s Blues!”
I’ve spent thousands of words praising Miami Vice over the past few months, but one thing I haven’t touched on that much is the show’s humor. While I’ve made references to funny bits with the alligator and all sorts of unintentional comedy produced by Tubbs’s interactions with women (or really, Tubbs’s interactions with anyone), there has been little discussion of the things Vice does to be purposefully funny with what I guess you could call jokes and comedic set-pieces. That is something of an oversight on my part, but it’s also reflective of the show’s general M.O.: The dramatic (and the sometimes extremely dramatic) parts of Vice typically dominate each episode’s running time, so the comedy serves as a minor palette cleanser at most.
But when the show does try to be funny, it usually succeeds. Don Johnson is a decent straight man and Philip Michael Thomas is probably from another planet, but Michael Talbott (as Stan Switek) and John Diehl (as Larry Zito) are quite great as the more goofball members of the Vice operation. Though the balance between drama and comedy is of course skewed more towards the former than the latter, they work in well in tandem.
This is all to say the pairing of “The Maze” and “Made for Each Other” is a new experience in the first season of Miami Vice. “The Maze” is a damn good but tonally typical version of the show: high stakes, big drama, dead people, and a lot of Tubbs forehead sweat. “Made for Each Other,” however, is a brand new kind of Vice animal: Purposefully funny, focused on Stan and Larry, and excessive in a completely different way. I tweeted this when watching the episode last week, but there is no amount of “The 1980s” and cocaine that can explain some of the things that happen in “Made for Each Other.” So this makes for an entertaining and curious double feature, and one that suggests some legitimate growth in the Miami Vice formula.
I’m not sure if it is on purpose or just a general byproduct of the crime procedural, but Vice seems particularly interested in telling stories about misguided criminals, many of them children. I spoke of my love for “Milk Run” a few weeks ago, and while “The Maze” doesn’t key in on the antagonists in the intense personal way that that episode did, it still attempts to construct a modicum of sympathy for the bad guys—well, kids—in this story. Although the Escobars used to be small-time crooks who Crockett and Tubbs had seemingly dealt with before, in this episode they try to take on a much larger criminal presence by forcibly robbing a store and then gunning down a police officer in the process. They hole up in one of Miami’s massive abandoned buildings (nicknamed, you guessed it, The Maze), and once the hotshot partner of the killed officer runs into The Maze, causing all sorts of hysteria, the Escobar brothers take all the other squatters hostage.
As these things go, the multiple Escobar brothers fill different roles. Some are tough and committed to this more villainous lifestyle, while others don’t really have the stomach for it. Unsurprisingly, this allows the episode to at least briefly explore the relationship between youths, class, and crime. Throughout the hour, Crockett express their shock over how quickly the Escobars have escalated their poor behavior and how they were “still just kids.” Ever-prescient, Castillo notes that as soon as they picked up guns, they lost their childhood. This kind of dialogue, along with The Maze’s array of minority squatters (so of course Tubbs has to go inside undercover), permits the episode to make a surface examination of the less affluent parts of Miami, which I found interesting enough. The show is typically invested in telling stories about the wealthy and cunning white man, so I appreciate the legitimate effort, even if “The Maze” doesn’t really say anything; it’s just sort of there.
This episode works—generally successfully—to establish a slightly different visual and narrative scope from the usual Miami Vice episode. After almost 20 hours of always-widening narratives that include at least one minor conspiracy, “The Maze” is powered by a straightforward but well-constructed hostage situation. It’s one of the oldest storytelling gimmicks around, particularly on television, but for a reason. The episode introduces just enough wild card elements, from the varying opinions among the Escobar lot to Jay O. Sanders as the unstable Duryea, to foster tension within the hostage framework.
Moreover, though the show is very used to consistent outdoor location shooting, “The Maze” makes good use of the standing structure of this big building. The inside is well-designed and feels lived-in in the proper ways, and the few wide shots with SWAT team surrounding the building reinforced its pure size. And after weeks of expansive, generally bright shots of the sun and Miami’s luxury, it was pretty cool to feel more claustrophobic and dirty in this one. Just a well-realized set in a well-realized episode.
Conversely, “Made for Each Other” spices up the Vice formula by pushing Switek and Zito to the forefront and letting the comedy shine through a little bit more. This isn’t quite a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead episode told from a completely different perspective. It’s much more like what the show did earlier in the season with Gina in “Give a Little, Take a Little” only to a much clearer and obvious degree. And unlike with certain supporting characters in drama series, Vice doesn’t really lose much momentum when Switek and Zito take center stage.
There is a weird dark comedy vibe to this episode, especially at the beginning. When Zito almost gets killed by an explosion but decides to keep one of the counterfeit bills as something of a souvenir, Switek urges him to toss it away to avoid bad luck. Of course, Zito ignores this declaration and pays the price. He comes home to find nothing but fiery rubble thanks to a gas leak, forcing Switek to give him a spare couch without asking his demanding, somewhat annoying wife. He even loves his pet fish!
What makes this episode so smart is that it adds fun layers to Zito and Switek as characters without overdoing it too much. Switek’s love of Elvis (and his impression workshop while wearing tighty-whiteys) is something to behold. Plus, the episode ends up being this story about how Switek’s lady thinks he is too dedicated to Zito (though that goes both ways), creating a familiar but entertaining love triangle that makes the two men’s goofball partnership more substantial. By the time that Switek gives up sex and shrugs at a him-or-me threat from his woman so he can go do his job with Zito, “Made for Each Other” has earned that moment; it’s nearly fist-pump–worthy.
And as I said at the beginning of the post, there are so many things going on in this episode that it is somewhat hard to describe. Switek and Zito’s bromance is charming enough in its own right, but for whatever reason, this one also includes a B-story with the show’s two comedic informants, Noogie and Ziggy, half-assedly working together, along with Noogie falling in love—and then marrying—a stripper named Ample Annie. And if that isn’t enough silliness for you, Mark-Linn Baker of Perfect Strangers fame plays an audio-visual shop owner/dealer who films commercials with former hookers and seals, wearing this:
It sounds ridiculous but trust me, it’s even more ridiculous than you’re thinking. It’s a new kind of Vice excess and for the most part it works. Noogie and Ziggy working together evokes the law of diminishing returns, but otherwise, it’s good.
These are two of my favorite episodes thus far. Hopefully the show builds on them and tries more diverse things in the final few episodes of season one (cannot believe it’s almost over already).
- There’s a bit in “Made for Each Other” where Castillo walks by Zito, who is both dejected and elated to be looking at his new fish, and barely acknowledges him, and it’s just fantastic. Edward James Olmos is so restrained that you keep expecting the character to let loose, but he just refuses to let go.
- Ving Rhames, Joe Morton, and Garcelle Beauvais all guest in “The Maze.” Nice trio there.
- GO-FAST BOAT WATCH: I’m losing hope, guys.
- GATOR WATCH: Unfortunately no, but there was a reference to him! It’s something
- This week in Vice music: “Livin’ The Book of My Life” by PHILIP MICHAEL THOMAS (!) and “Tea in the Sahara” by The Police in “The Maze”; “Money (That’s What I Want)” by Barrett Strong, “Treat Me Nice” and “Rubberneckin” by Elvis in “Made for Each Other”