“The logo looks like a toilet.”
Bobbie Cannavale and Olivia Wilde are spitting blood, soul, sweat, and venom into this show. With a strong supporting cast (aside from a few weak links like James Jagger) working around them, they form an energized dynamo of human dysfunction that beats and thumps at the heart of the show. For all that, though, Vinyl struggled through its sixth episode with only occasional flashes of visual insight and storytelling flare. The episode recounts, more or less, Richie’s disastrous weekend as he bottoms out at the end of a tremendous bender with Ernst, the grinning Teutonic germ from the pilot, riding shotgun through the depravity.
The twist at the heart of ‘Cyclone’ is neither particularly interesting nor particularly well-handled. Ernst, killed years ago in a car crash with Richie at the wheel, is conjured up by the paranoid Richie as a specter of the debauched past that nearly detonated his life. The problem is, this is intensely obvious after about a minute and a half. The episode then withholds the revelation until virtually the final moment before treating us to a flashback of the wreck itself. Ernst is an enjoyably off-putting presence, an immoral spirit of trespass and instigation, but his actions don’t add up to much. Bobbie Cannavale’s manic wild man routine is toe-curling. Tell me you can watch him hold his children and not practically feel that feverish hand on the back of your neck.
Elsewhere the episode is less successful. Its dreamland musical sequences remain somewhat lifeless, and its hit-or-miss cameos hit another snag with a portrayal of David Bowie that felt more like an album cover than a flesh and blood person. Contrast his limp appearance with the scene in which Richie attacks John Cameron Mitchell’s Andy Warhol, provoking a thoroughly engrossing response from what could easily have been a caricature of the late, great pop icon. He sobs, hurt and afraid, his concern for Devon bubbling up through what looks like real fear in the wake of Richie’s assault. It’s complex and humanizing, the sort of thing that bridges the gap between historical figure and fictional character. To see a lackluster Bowie impersonator trotted out to act as a prop for a less than stellar episode just feels lazy, and to see it in something dedicated specifically to the Thin White Duke’s memory is even less pleasant.
Vinyl needs to run, not walk, away from the hacky storytelling and lack of visual inventiveness that run through ‘Cyclone’ if it wants to pull itself together into a better, stronger show. The smash cuts it employs to show Richie, one of the episode’s eponymous cyclones, arriving at different locations like a hellish force of nature are a smart choice, as are the paired shots of Richie and Devon arriving home and finding it a singularly isolated and dehumanizing place. There are smarts and guts mixed into Vinyl‘s makeup, it just has to remember to use them.