By Cory Barker
Season 1, Episodes 19 and 20: “The Home Invaders” and “Nobody Lives Forever”
Original airdates: Mar. 15 and Mar. 29, 1985
Previously on Miami Vice: Tubbs sang, Noogie got married, and Crockett took things pretty seriously.
Although Crockett is clearly the most important and lead character on the show, Miami Vice has spent much of its first season defining all of the other characters who support him (to varying degree of success). It’s not a wholly surprising choice, but it’s one that I think represents the producers’ confidence in Don Johnson’s ability to embody the character on a basic yet effective level. Crockett is a familiar type of character—flawed but inherently good cop—and Johnson thrives in the role. So for a show built on procedural foundations and perhaps more interested in engaging with varying aesthetics, there is a compelling simplicity to Crockett.
Nevertheless, as the first season nears its conclusion, it seems that the writers decided it might be time to return to Crockett and key in on both his past and his psyche. As a result, both “The Home Invaders” and “Nobody Lives Forever” are almost entirely about Crockett, where he’s from, and even a little about where he might be headed. Much like the episodes that centralize Tubbs, these two tend to be a bit more forcibly dramatic in ways—the show’s sense of “raising the personal stakes” is a little off to me, for whatever reason—but both episodes work well enough, mostly because Don Johnson brings a level of self-awareness to the proceedings that Philip Michael Thomas simply does not.
When I first watched “The Home Invaders,” I assumed that the show was so dedicated to its Crockett-related pursuits that it simply and purposefully wrote Tubbs out of the episode. But then I discovered that Thomas’s absence here is actually due to an injury he received “doing a stunt” in a previous episode. Still, it’s telling that they could write the character out so quickly and without much issue.
“Invaders” explores Crockett’s professional past when he, Castillo, and the rest of the gang are ordered to help Robbery Division with a serial robbery case. It turns out that Robbery is run by Crockett’s former boss and mentor, Lt. John Malone, and the two share nothing but respect for one another (because, duh). Unfortunately for Crockett, it quickly becomes clear that Malone isn’t on top of his game with this case, or at least fails to meet the high standards of Lt. Castillo, who, surprisingly, verbalizes his dissatisfaction with various procedures throughout the offering (By the way, Edward James Olmos is so good providing stone-faced critique. He’s like the ultimate disappointed, stern father). This puts Crockett in the awkward position of having to defend the man that taught him so many of the things he knows, while trying to make sure the case gets closed.
Like many of the plots on the show, there’s nothing new about the story here. Crockett struggles with his allegiances to both authority figures and still manages to do his smart-ass thing in response to both of them. But what I like about it is that it’s pretty low-key considering the story trope. Malone isn’t a drunk who’s fallen off the wagon or someone who lacks self-awareness about his skills on the job. Instead, he makes a few, but important, mistakes throughout the case and it’s hard for anyone not to see them. The stakes are just moderate; no one actually dies. Meanwhile, Crockett similarly doesn’t overreact to either Castillo’s criticisms of his mentor or Malone’s crucial errors. He tries to defend Malone and there’s an emphasis on the fact that Crockett is, above all else, loyal, but by the end, he recognizes the problems. He’s shocked that Malone decides to retire, but that’s more out of personal affection than anything else.
Plus, “Invaders” is another example of Vice putting its own spin on a typical police procedural setpiece: the break-in. The first one is actually fairly thrilling and I appreciated that the show chose to follow the criminals at least a little bit through their process. I also enjoyed that Esai Morales guest stars as one of the robbers, considering that he played the father of Edward James Olmos’s William Adama character on the Battlestar Galactica spinoff/prequel Caprica.
While “The Home Invaders” makes simple, nice inroads to Crockett’s past, “Nobody Lives Forever” tries to redefine his present with some off-putting histrionics that I didn’t particularly enjoy. Now that the first season is almost over and I’ve seen the show try this a few times, I think it is safe to say that Miami Vice doesn’t quite know how to tell a good story about characters in love. At the beginning of the season, I admired the honesty and subtlety with which the show handled Crockett’s broken relationship and ultimate divorce from his wife, but ever since she left, there hasn’t been much to write home about in this regard. Tubbs has fallen in and out of love with at least three women (and very quickly with each one), so I guess it is only fair that Crockett gets his turn.
However, although a few of the scenes here work, the story is overheated and rushed in ways that each of Tubbs’s trysts were as well. When the episode begins, Crockett is already in the middle of what is supposedly a hot and heavy romance with local architect Brenda—and to be fair to the episode, it commits a great deal of its running time to showing us just how much Crockett actually cares for her. Unfortunately, the chemistry between Johnson and Kim Griest doesn’t really meet the level of attraction that the script suggests is between the two characters and the story progress so quickly and so dramatically that it’s hard to buy in.
I like that the show wants to raise questions about Crockett’s commitment to his job and how that is in conference with his desire to find love, but “Nobody Lives Forever” would have been better served had Crockett and Brenda’s relationship been stretched across a few episodes. He’s totally in love with her, but then she immediately starts distracting him (sometimes purposefully) from work, putting Tubbs in danger. It causes Crockett to strongly reconsider the relationship—even though it seems like they haven’t been together very long anyway. There’s a long sequence in the episode’s second half where Crockett takes the boat (yay!) out on the water (but drives it slow, so boo!) so he can SERIOUSLY ponder what to do. Worst of all, the episode intercuts Crockett’s trip with a montage of scenes from like 20 minutes prior, as if the audience already cared so much. I have a general rule of thumb: Montages of scenes from things that just happened are never, ever a good idea. Vice has done it two or three times now.
Ultimately, the resolution to the story is what it was always going to be. Crockett, in the nick of time, drops Brenda and realizes that he’s actually most dedicated to Tubbs, who just happens to be running, on foot, from a car. It’s sort of hilarious and awesome to watch Tubbs run from a car, just as it’s cool to see Crockett blast one of the episode’s lame villains away as the guy screams “Noooooboddddy lives foreeeevvveerrr!” It’s just too much, and too quickly. But sometimes, Vice‘s excesses get the best of it.
- I did like that “Nobody Lives Forever” brought up Crockett’s seemingly-dead-but-maybe-not relationship with Gina. She wasn’t too happy about Brenda. I don’t blame her, she’s so much better. Can I ship Grockett 25 years later? I’m going to.
- GO-FAST BOAT WATCH: Present in the second episode here, but like I said, it mostly goes slow. What a terrible tease. Crockett and Brenda take it out for a spin as well, but it wasn’t emphasized too much.
- GATOR WATCH: I don’t recall seeing him. Poor Elvis.
- This week in Vice music: “Destination Unknown” by Sly and Robbie and “The Glamorous Life” by Shelia E. in “The Home Invaders”; “Bad to the Bone” by George Thorogood & The Destroyers, “New Love” by Glenn Frey, and “Heartbeat” by Red 7 (unfortunately, not Don Johnson’s “Heartbeat”) in “Nobody Lives Forever.”