This Vinyl review contains spoilers.
Vinyl season 1, episode 10
Richie Finestra is not all that likable a character. A lot of people probably turned off Vinyl show because of that. But he wasn’t designed for the kind of easy sympathy or empathy most TV watchers look for in prime time viewing. Finestra screws his enemies, he screws his friends, he screws his wife, he’s probably screwed his friends’ wives. But there’s something about him that has kept his office running and the workers, for the most part, loyal. To the degree that record people from that time period in that setting could be loyal.
But when Richie tests that loyalty, that can get out of hand. Zak got pushed about as far as he can go and finally bites back here. His rat fink betrayal is probably something that’s been on the back of his mind for a long time but it was not an easy decision to make. A Jew who wanders into Corrado Galasso’s (Armen Garo) social club to drop dime on an Italian? That’s really bad business. That’s really what the bit is all about. Zak doesn’t know exactly where he’s playing and he really is guilty of undermining Gallasso’s faith in Alibi Records’ ability to pay back what they owe. Remember Goodfellas? Fuck you, pay me? Or, as Luca Brasi lookalike Gallasso so eloquently put it, “You take your bylaws, you in-laws, your outlaws and you stick them up your sister’s twat.” That’s really all you have to know.
But Ray Romano has a field day in this episode. This is Bobby Cannavale’s show, sure, but Romano commits grand theft here. He gives a virtual tour de force. There isn’t an emotion he doesn’t get to feature. That first scene where he goes in for a mano a mano conversation with Gallasso, he comes in a supplicant and walks out a partner. He even gets to strut with that who “those who say don’t know, and those who know don’t say” shit. He’s absolutely on top of the world and he’s barely hiding it. Romano gets to riff a comic bit in the recording studio. Then he gets shattered and he plummets down a whole staircase of intricate emotions, a couple of floors at least.
The scene in the warehouse, after the chop shop gets busted, is very telling. There’s a look Ray and Richie share that gives a whole backstory. They have a conversation with their eyes and that silent chat covers their whole relationship. Richie explains that he’s been up to his neck in shit that goes deeper than any trouble he got into for putting shit up his nose and Zak is both appalled and appeased, maybe even a little aroused, I wasn’t checking.
This isn’t to say Cannavale is anything less than brilliant. The way Richie reacts to the betrayal is unexpectedly calm and measured. He saves that “but I didn’t set you up to get killed” line as the last shot. Other guys in that position might have shot first. Richie is driving and riding shotgun and he’s keeping it together on some dangerous curves. Lester doesn’t know Richie is saving his neck, which was already busted twice, when he signs over his song to Maury Gold (Paul Ben-Victor) and Finestra keeps it in his back pocket.
Cannavale may not have called the cops about the stolen car thing in the Bronx but his move to blow the whistle on The Nasty Bits opening slot for the New York Dolls at the Academy is brilliant enough to earn respect from the jaded Julie Silver (Max Casella) and yet it’s also ballsy enough to almost get Kip (James Jagger) busted for more than scuffing Lenny Bruce’s shoes, to paraphrase Jello Biafra. It comes mere minutes after a slip of a needle turned the Nasty Bits singer into a walking eightball ready to drop in a corner pocket. Jamie (Juno Temple) is kicked back to the curb, but keeps her gig in spite of running afoul of the office moral monitor Andrea Zito (Annie Parisse).
Clark (Jack Quaid) and Jorge (Christian Navarro) finally make a delivery that the company can appreciate. They even make the presentation properly, it almost comes C.O.D. It pure insubordination against Scott Levitt (P.J. Byrne), but he’s too busy pulling a Judah Friedlander bit from 30 Rock on how far a man crush can go.
HBO’s penultimate episodes are traditionally better than their finales, but “Alibi” is a cathartic closing. A lot of this comes from the music they play. It’s hard not to get caught up in the energy of the music and let that add to the excitement of the victory. Sure, I’m gonna miss Bo Dietl, but it was worth it just to see the office repainted. I’m hoping Vinyl drops the needle for side 2 next season.