3.5 out of 5 stars

It’s only taken six weeks, but Vinyl finally produced an episode in which the good outweighed the bad. Yes, there were still problems—the Bowie cameo was a particularly cringeworthy moment—but this was a tight, taut episode, which largely focused on Richie’s (Bobby Cannavale) downward spiral; what drugs cost him before. and what they might yet do again. Yes, it was a variation on a theme we’ve seen repeatedly over the past six weeks, but this time it all somehow clicked.

I believed in this Richie (out-of-control, obnoxious, hallucinating the ghost of his sardonic best friend) far more than I’ve believed in the Richie who’s supposedly a creative genius. In fact, if Vinyl were to drop the whole notion of Richie being some sort of free-spirited musical god and instead tell the story of a drug addict who runs a failing and mediocre company and is basically not terribly good at his job, it would be a braver and more interesting show. The record industry is full of people who failed upwards and I’d actually be intrigued if that turned out to be Richie’s truth.

This is HBO, home of the charismatic anti-hero, however, so I’m not going to hold my breath. Let’s instead just celebrate “Cyclone”, which was as depressing a warning about the way drug addiction affects the lives of those around the addict as television has ever shown. From the terrible scene in which a ranting Richie forced his terrified kids to hug his sweaty, drugged-up self, to the way in which he wrecked Zak’s (Ray Romano) daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, convinced he was doing the right thing but instead just making it all about him—every bitter, bleak moment of this episode rang true. Anyone who has ever lived with an addict of any kind can tell you about the way they can contrive to ruin the smallest moment, often without being aware they’re doing it, and that’s what Vinyl got so right in “Cyclone”. It’s also why this episode was so much better than any other so far on this show.

Help Me If You Can I’m Feeling Down

The grim atmosphere was partially alleviated by the deadpan presence of Ernst (Carrington Vilmont), a man much given to gnomic statements such as “You try to hard. You care too much. Disengage” and “Does surrounding yourself with idiots make you feel better?” The reveal that he was dead was rather withheld to the end (for anyone with half a brain it was obvious that no-one but Richie could see him), but I still enjoyed his scenes immensely. Not only does it make sense that Richie’s sub-conscious would manage to summon up the only person more insufferable than he is, a pretentious mittel-European with a penchant for doom-laden one-liners, but actually it turns out that Ernst has a rather more important role than that. He’s on Richie’s mind because, like “Buck” Rogers, he’s also on his conscience—which he should be given he was the first person he killed. It wasn’t intentional, naturally—although it should be noted that our Richie is pretty successful for a man who never intends people to end up dead—but instead the result of a drunk carouse down to Coney Island. A momentary distraction, a fatal swerve, and a brutal crash, which left Ernst dead and Devon (Olivia Wilde) going into premature labour. On such defining moments are entire lives changed.

You’ve Got a Friend

Not least Devon’s—who appears to have miscarried her child in the aftermath of the crash, which made the reasons for her obsession with her and Richie’s sobriety devastatingly clear. In that moment, Devon went from giggling party girl to shell-shocked woman, and she’s arguably been paying the price ever since. While Richie wrecked every relationship he had, Our Lady of the Sorrows was holed up in the Chelsea hotel with former best friend Ingrid (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen), who was also Ernst’s ex, the fourth person in the car and who had now set up with Paul Morrissey of Warhol gang fame.

“Paul peacocks about but he’s very loving,” she explained in one of a series of devastating one-liners. Ingrid and Devon’s lost weekend turned out to be less a walk on the wild side and more a remembrance of days past as they lay around getting high and discussing what once was, what might have been, what wasn’t. “Day after day in the house I hear this creaking and it’s the sound of me hanging myself from the rafters,” confided Devon to her friend sadly. It ran horribly, bleakly true. Luckily, Richie’s wife is made of sterner stuff than many around her assume, and instead of killing herself, she headed back to Connecticut, realised her husband was in the throes of a monstrous drugs binge complete with hallucinations, grabbed her children, drove away Lucy Jordan-style from the manicured lawns of her old life. Go, Devon! Now please just have the courage to stay away from him this time round.

Sleeve Notes:

  • Poor Zak. While Richie infuriates me, I actually have rather a lot of sympathy for Ray Romano’s henpecked and nearly bankrupt second-in-command. He is also not particularly good at his job (witness the horrible embarrassment of his meeting with Bowie), but he doesn’t deserve to be put down at every turn and Richie’s treatment of him is a disgrace.
  • Someone who is good at their job however: Andie (Annie Parisse), who headed into American Century, told them their logo looked like a toilet, and proceeded to kick ass. Richie should be careful or she’ll take that company from underneath his leaking nose.
  • Possibly the cruellest scene in an hour full of them was the moment when Richie shoved his hand down Jamie’s shirt to get to the coke and she just let him. It felt horribly true, to both the times, and his addiction, but it was hard to watch.
  • Of course Kip wants the guitar thief to join the band. Kip’s synapses don’t really make coherent plans as much as see something and go “cor that looks cool, give me it”.
  • Noah Bean’s David Bowie’s cameo was filmed before the singer’s death, and the episode later dedicated to him. The jury’s out on whether it worked.

Song of the Week:

There is really only one contender here: Trey Songz’s excellent cover of “Life on Mars“, which played over the episode’s inevitable montage scene. My, this show does love a montage.

Quote of the Week:

I wanted to get a hot dog from Nathans but some asshole wouldn’t let me.

—Ernst speaks truth to the drugged out Richie.

So what did you think? Has Vinyl turned a corner or is it still an unwatchable mess? Do you have any sympathy for Richie or would you rather he just overdosed at this point? And finally how far away must Devon drive to escape her demons—the end of the world or just downtown Manhattan?