The third season saw some interesting changes to Miami Vice. Michael Mann was shifting attention to his film directing career with Manhunter so the reins of production handed over to Dick Wolf, who would soon become a t.v. legend with his seemingly eternal Law And Order franchise.  The show’s tone moved in a darker direction this season and even the fashion became muted, transitioning from the familiar pastel tones to darker colors.  The changes worked in the show’s favor, allowing it to produce another season of compelling episodes in its uniquely cinematic style while keeping things fresh.

Here’s the first half of Schlockmania’s overview of its favorite episodes from this season…

When Irish Eyes Are Crying: The season opener puts the focus on Gina (Saundra Santiago), who becomes romantically involved with an ex-I.R.A. member (Liam Neeson) who claims to have gone pacifist. An arms deal going down in Miami suggests he might not be retired after all.  A good blend of romantic drama and cop-show tension with believable chemistry between Santiago and Neeson.  A run-in with an arms dealer played by Jeff Fahey provides a memorable moment for the show and the finale is impressively staged, with an effectively ironic use of a ballad featuring Patti LaBelle on the soundtrack.

Stone’s War: Bob Balaban and G. Gordon Liddy return for another episode exploring Crockett’s past as a Vietnam War veteran, with Stone (Balaban) getting  Crockett involved in his search for an ex-military commander turned C.I.A. agent (Liddy) who is mixed up in a plot against Nicaraguan rebels.  Don Johnson and Balaban make a likeable Mutt-and-Jeff team and the plot was daring for the time, commenting directly on the then-current Contra scandal.  Excellent song soundtrack on this one, with effective use of Jackson Browne and Peter Gabriel songs as well as the memorable “Mercy” by Steve Jones.

Walk-Alone: After Tubbs’ girlfriend is murdered in a club during a drug sting gone wrong, he volunteers to go undercover as a convict at a prison where the guards are rumored to be running a cocaine ring. A great example of this season’s dark, tough tone: tragedy strikes in the pre-credits teaser and the action in the prison is suitably grim, involving some torture and fights that pushed the limits for t.v. of this era.  Great supporting cast, too: Kevin Conway of The Funhouse fame is the head of the guards and Lawrence Fishburne and Ron Perlman pop up, too.  The action-packed finale makes great use of – believe it or not – “In Dulce Decorum” by the Damned!

Shadow In The Dark: Mann may have been less involved in the day-to-day production of the show this season but this fascinating, offbeat episode is directly related to his film Manhunter in a number of ways.  Crockett tracks a cat burglar called the Shadow and becomes obsessed, threatening to become a burnout like the similarly fixated Lt. Gilmore (Jack Thibeau). Both storylines feature a cop tracking a eccentric criminal and teetering on the edge of sanity while trying to “profile” the killer. This version avoids violence – there’s actually no onscreen deaths in this episode – but it’s wonderfully eccentric and stylish, with strong direction by Nightmares director Christopher Crowe. Johnson revels in portraying obsession here and he’s backed up nicely by Thibeau and Ed Lauter as a police captain.  Look out for a memorable jump scare near the episode’s end.

El Viejo: Johnson gets to act alongside his real-life pal Willie Nelson(!) in this compelling blend of drug trade suspense and western film iconography.  Nelson plays a mysterious old Texan who steals a drug case from a failed drug sting and plots to sell it back to his owner. The cops track down the old-timer and discover he might be more than an opportunist.  Nelson and Johnson’s rapport in real life carries over to the small screen nicely and you also get to see a young Steve Buscemi as the dealer villain’s go-between.  Look for a fantastic action sequence involving a shootout between moving cars on the interstate.

Streetwise: a lot of episodes from Season 3 have a noir-ish vibe and this one is a perfect example. The compelling, drama-driven premise features Crockett and Tubbs stumbling across high-grade cocaine via a hooker (Deborah Adair) that they bust in a hotel sweep. They also discover a cop (Bill Paxton!) is in love with her, complicating their aim to use her to get to the suppliers of the high-grade coke.  Takes a really dark and haunting view of the vice cop’s life and their ability to change things on the street, effectively represented by a stylized framing device that makes memorable use of a song from Don Johnson’s Heartbeat album.  Excellent work from Paxton here as a hard-luck cop whose ability to do his job is weakened by love.