“One must be like water.”
‘The King and I’ is a fucking frustrating episode of Vinyl, which is turning into a fucking frustrating show. There’s that Elvis cameo, lightning from a clear sky, and to either side of it are fields of mayonnaise. Events play out like someone’s checking off squares on a prestige drama bingo card. Soporific scenes of West Coast boredom, more anemic musical interludes, women tossed into the plot like an afterthought to enable a thoroughly pointless twist. Sure, there’s a vague theme of rebellion underlying the whole thing, but it isn’t enough to hold it together when all we have to watch is Ray Romano’s mid-life crisis and Jaimie’s terse stand-off with two old women to whom she is…related? And that shit with Clark in the mail room belongs on an episode of Workaholics.
But man oh man, that scene with Elvis. Shawn Klush does the impossible, dragging every nook and cranny of the King onto the screen with sweaty, nostalgic, self-important humanity. He’s engrossingly believable when he plays air guitar, grinning and thinking back to Bill Black’s quick fingers on the bass, a throwback all the way to the Blue Moon Boys days of Elvis’s career. His nervous pacing, his awful track suit, and his unhealthy perspiration give the scene an energy sadly absent from the rest of the episode. His complete and total shutdown when Colonel Parker, his short-sighted brute of a manager, returns is a staggering feat of acting. Relegated suddenly to corners and backgrounds in every shot, Elvis turns into a pliable teenager under Parker’s withering glare. He performs an armed takedown of Richie on command, mumbles “one must be like water,” and goes to bed when the Colonel tells him to.
The music Richie and Elvis dig into during their tete-a-tete is a sheer pleasure. The idea of Elvis getting into the studio and doing stripped-down rock ‘n roll as a sort of punk upstart is fucking delightful, and watching it crumble when Parker discovers Richie’s gambit to circumvent him and go straight to Elvis is ugly and depressing. Parker himself, played by Gene Jones of No Country for Old Men gas station owner fame, is a mean, controlling bastard with no thought for anything but his own financial success. He dismisses Richie’s and Elvis’s visions of a musical renaissance without so much as a hearing, unsurprising behavior from a man who’d rather hit strangers with his cane than ask them to step aside.
The pointed references to the The Sopranos episode ‘The Blue Comet,’ including watching the sunrise while high on ‘shrooms and a seemingly enchanted casino stint (Richie’s sober failure at the wheel is the polar opposite of Tony’s fugue-state win) only serve to underscore how weak ‘The King and I’ is. It’s a half-assed sojourn westward which accomplishes nothing while tossing women around like set dressing and taking the path of least resistance every time. Zak should be heckling his own show, not Elvis’s.