Season 1, Episodes 2 and 3: “Heart of Darkness” and “Cool Runnin'”
Original airdate: Sept. 28, 1984, and Oct. 5, 1984
Previously on Miami Vice: Ricardo Tubbs, a Brooklyn beat cop, headed to Miami to seek vengeance for his brother’s death but ended up causing quite a stir when he joined forces with local Vice officer Sonny Crockett.
Calderone, Tubbs’s target, managed to escape, and the adventure included an encounter with an alligator and some high-speed boat action.
Entering the post-pilot episodes of Miami Vice, I anticipated the show maintaining the stylish rhythms established in the initial two-hour episode.
However, I was also curious to see how the show would settle into its episodic conventions.
The first few episodes following the pilot are often challenging, with a tendency to repeat the beats and formulas presented in the pilot, which doesn’t always work well.
The pilot featured a cinematic narrative and a substantial budget, so I was particularly interested in how the show would adapt with less time and money.
Additionally, I had questions about the ongoing narrative. While the pilot introduced the premise, by the end of it, Calderone had escaped, and Tubbs had severed ties in NYC without a clear job in Miami.
Although Miami Vice isn’t on the same level as Lost or Twin Peaks, there were still some unanswered questions.
In “Heart of Darkness” and “Cool Runnin’,” the show surprised me by not addressing these questions.
Tubbs is firmly established as Crockett’s partner by the time “Darkness” begins, with no mention of his transition from NYC to Miami or any reference to Calderone’s whereabouts.
The show quickly moves away from the pilot’s storyline and the ideological tension between Crockett and Tubbs, focusing instead on procedural stories.
The two episodes concentrate on procedural elements, showcasing a high level of complexity and depth while exploring the dangers and psychology of their line of work.
“Heart of Darkness” delves right into the pornography business, introducing a cast of unsavory characters and unpleasant circumstances.
The episode establishes a formula of sending Crockett and Tubbs undercover to set up meetings with various unsavory individuals, involving multiple meet-ups within a single episode.
While this formula becomes somewhat repetitive after just four hours of viewing, it’s evidently a significant part of Miami Vice.
In “Heart of Darkness,” the story becomes more engaging when Crockett and Tubbs discover that the FBI already has an undercover agent within a corrupt and murderous porn distribution ring.
They worry that he may have gone too far, lured by the money and allure of the criminal lifestyle.
The episode explores the fine line between commitment to law enforcement and being drawn into the criminal world.
Although the undercover agent, Artie (played by Ed O’Neill), does the right thing in the end, saving Crockett and Tubbs during a shootout, Crockett questions his innocence.
However, being undercover requires commitment, and Artie is doing his job.
I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of this story, partly due to Ed O’Neill’s compelling performance.
O’Neill, known for his comedic roles, showcases his dramatic acting abilities as he portrays Artie as a sympathetic yet untrustworthy character. Artie appears charmed by the fast-paced criminal lifestyle, which seemingly provides an escape from his middle-aged domestic routine.
The parallels between Artie and Sonny’s experiences are subtly drawn, both having faced the challenges of being undercover agents.
In “Cool Runnin’,” the show introduces additional characters who are dispatched quickly, mainly to add dramatic stakes.
Two young vice officers make a bet with Crockett and Tubbs, leading to hasty choices in the field, with one getting killed and the other ending up in a coma.
This device of introducing and disposing of characters for plot purposes is somewhat formulaic and overused in procedural shows.
However, the rest of the episode delves into the compelling relationship between Crockett and Tubbs and their interactions with a speed addict informant named Noogman.
The character Noogman adds an interesting dynamic to the story despite the episode’s contrived setup with the young officers.
Throughout the episode, Noogman plays tricks on Crockett and Tubbs, leading the latter to grow increasingly frustrated, resulting in one of the few moments where they assert, “This is how we do things in Miami.”
Noogman initially claims to know the shooters, a group of deadly Jamaican drug runners, but his knowledge turns out to be unreliable.
Then, he does know them, and he gets entangled with them, leading to a series of difficult events. Surprisingly, Crockett must go undercover, sparking discussions about the feasibility of his plan.
While this type of storyline is familiar, Miami Vice has a knack for stylizing it with quality musical cues, both from the score and well-timed sound effects.
Furthermore, the show highlights Crockett as an exceptional cop, while Tubbs has little to do, and Don Johnson relishes the opportunity to portray a charismatic character.
The standout aspect of “Cool Runnin'” is Don Johnson’s performance.
His chemistry with Charlie Barnett, who plays Noog, is remarkable (Barnett also delivers a strong performance).
It is evident that Sonny genuinely cares about his informants, even if he doesn’t particularly like them.
Sonny stands out as a lead character because he doesn’t fit the mold of contemporary TV heroes.
He’s not a quirky genius or an antihero; he’s simply a very competent cop who occasionally bends the rules but doesn’t break them often.
The episode briefly touches on his personal life, revealing that his ex-wife is initiating divorce proceedings and plans to move their son to Atlanta.
While the episode doesn’t dwell on this subplot, Johnson’s portrayal conveys a surprising level of honesty.
Sonny’s reaction is authentic; he recognizes that the move may be for the best, but he selfishly struggles to accept it.
This realistic and powerful response adds depth to his character, and Don Johnson’s performance is impressive.
Considering that these are the second and third episodes of a relatively procedural show, Miami Vice performs quite well.
While the show’s formula has its drawbacks (the need to move away from the docks), and there is less outdoor action in these episodes, these developments were somewhat expected. What stood out was the strong character-driven storytelling.
Miami Vice appears to be interested in exploring the consequences of a life in Vice beyond the excitement of GO-FAST BOATS (which, admittedly, could use more screen time).
If the series continues along this path, it has more potential than initially anticipated.
My favorite part of these two episodes was when Sonny’s pet alligator, Elvis, devoured his Buddy Holly record collection, leading Sonny to threaten to toss his favorite blanket into the ocean.
Don Johnson’s chemistry with the alligator is quite entertaining.