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Vinyl: Season 1, Episode 5 - "He in Racist Fire"

Leyla Hamedi

Kip struggles to find the balance between image and music, while Richie whores out his wife to sign an act in an episode that highlights the age-old battle between genitals and brains.


Airtime: Sundays, 9pm
Cast: Bobby Cannavale, Olivia Wilde, Ato Essandoh, Juno Temple, James Jagger
Subtitle: Season 1, Episode 5 - "He in Racist Fire"
Network: HBO
Air date: 2016-03-13

Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale) is a chauvinist pig. This isn’t exactly groundbreaking news. It's not even news. But it’s refreshing to see the man accused of it actually own up. Do better, Richie. Yes, yes he knows.

We hit the halfway mark of the season with a huge showcase. Every A&R rep at American Century was challenged to come up with something new, something fresh, and something good wrapped up in a neat musical package within two weeks. As a psych-pagan band takes the stage, Richie's expression mirrors what most people feel during a band's openers. Just...why? Why does this exist and why am I being subjected to it? A band showcase strikes one as a desperate convention of need, everyone from the musicians to the agents, flailing desperately to stay afloat in the waves of crap.

Too bad for annoying guy Clark (Jack Quaid) who brought the predecessors to Amon Amarth to the showcase; his floatation device fails. Upset with the "Vikings with Stratocasters", Julie (Max Casella), the head talent honcho, tries to ease him into the next stage of his life with the above pull quote about doppelgangers. What should've led to a dignified exit, however, explodes in sloppy panic as Clark begs for his job. And herein lies the ultimate message about the industry: it's terrible, awful, and degrading, the people are horrible, and there's no trust or loyalty … and by god, you must fight tooth and nail to remain a part of it because the alternative is so much worse: normalcy.

Richie’s also fighting to keep his company and his dreams going, but he's the infuriating paradox that represents everything wrong with the system as well. Kip Stevens (James Jagger), with the help of another Finestra-hater in arms and manager Lester Grimes (Ato Essandoh), is teetering on the edge of making it. The record label’s behind him and his band, he's cool and edgy, and he has the chance to open for the New York-fuckin'-Dolls. With the condition, of course, that he fires his best friend from the band, lets the stylist take over his image, plays nice with the radio stations, and completely changes his sound. Ungrateful wretch that he is, Kip doesn't want to do any of these things. Imagine, having all you've ever wanted at your fingertips and refusing it because you have integrity. The nerve.

Of course, Kip wises up and agrees, but lets his manager tell the guitarist he should probably get back to his bowling alley day job. The guitarist, who doesn't even merit a name apparently, puffs up in indignation, because what the hell, man? We're in it for the music, and fuck you suits for making it all about the music. A sympathetic but firm Grimes agrees that yes, said guitarist plays better than Kip but here's the deal, no one wants to look at him when Kip is onstage. He flounces off as Kip drowns his sorrows in intravenous drugs and no-longer-a-sandwich-girl-but-still-not-promoted Jaime's (Juno Temple) perky breasts.

As Kip gets his first Music Industry 101 lesson, Richie tries so hard to hang on to his wide-eyed optimism. American Century will be great again! He appeals to a former colleague and lover, Andie (Annie Parisse) to please come and spruce up the label. But she doesn't want to be just his PR girl, because what's in it for her? Richie needs a fresh idea, and argues that he already does, that he even has plans for an offshoot with music that's new and visceral and not fed through the machine so you can't even feel the heart and intestines. Colorful imagery, Richie, but weren't you the one grooming Kip and Nasty Bits to be the digestible punk band he could be rather than the raw appealing mess that he is?

Richie’s also still desperately trying to hang on to Hannibal (Daniel J Watts), his label's biggest earner. He wheedles an evening out with his wife Devon (Olivia Wilde), and she magnanimously acquiesces, knowing it's all going to be business. Turning on the charm and grind for Hannibal, Devon works hard for Richie's money. So hard for Richie's money, but he never treats her right, going so far as to accuse her of wanting to sleep with Hannibal when all she was doing was playing the part of bait to keep him hooked. Apparently, this was one breast stroke too far, to keep the water metaphor going, when Richie abruptly leaves with Devon. Hannibal signs with his Richie's biggest competitor, Jackie Jervis (Ken Marino).

Meanwhile, drunk dad is back in town because Richie’s still under investigation for Buck Rogers' (Andrew Dice Clay) death and needs him to cover. It's not that he misses much, or even that he lost his lucky touch, it's just he gambles so much and you know that he's wrong. While waiting for an alibi, though, Richie also manages to get a name for his offshoot.

At a Lou Reed show downtown, Richie tracks down Andie and pitches her again. She refuses until she backs him into a corner. In a nice turn, Andie’s no soothing female support system; she goes for the balls. She makes Richie admit he couldn't handle that she took no bullshit, that she gets what's hers, and that he picked Devon over her because Devon was more beautiful.

Richie can employ as many African American secretaries, and insist on as much music from the heart as he wants but Andie represent us (the audience). She, like we, sees him for what he is: a weak, easily tempted, and not very progressive man. He wants to zoom into the future with his buzzword "fresh", but can't let go of the past or even grasp the idea of a world of which he's not the king. After she brings him down a bunch of pegs, Andie directs Richie to her lawyer. She wants a partner's stake, and she doesn't want to deal with his neurosis. It turns out that Andie’s the king; Richie might slowly accept that, because that's what's going to save American Century Records.


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