Miami Vice‘s final season found the show working in a diminished capacity on a number of fronts.  Producer Dick Wolf had moved on to Law & Order and executive producer Michael Mann had minimal involvement. Jan Hammer was gone from the soundtrack the use of pop songs was noticeably stripped back.  More importantly, NBC cut the show’s budgets and even removed episodes from the season run, leaving a few in the can that were broadcast a few months after the official season finale.

However, despite all of this, the show managed to soldier on.  Like Season 4, it can be a hit-and-miss affair but when it clicks, the results are still rewarding.  Here’s the first half of Schlockmania’s overview of the best work from this season (get ready for a lot on the show’s one multi-episode arc…).

Hostile Takeover: The season opener continues the Sonny Burnett Arc: Crockett, still suffering from amnesia, has become an enforcer for a mobster (Joe Santos) in the midst of a gang war but also plots to take over his syndicate with the help of a crooked fixer (Matt Frewer).  Meanwhile, Tubbs goes undercover to see if he can jolt Sonny back to his old self but he’s prepared to take him down if he can’t. It’s good hard-boiled cop noir material, with plenty of action, double crosses, a little sex appeal from Debra Feuer and even an Oedipal complex subplot thrown in.  Johnson directed it himself, showing a nice cinematic style, and he and Thomas deliver committed performances. It’s chilling to see the normally affable Johnson play such a creep in the alter ego scenes.

Redemption In Blood: The fourth episode of the Sonny Burnett Arc moves this cluster of episodes into its endgame, with Sonny fumbling towards regaining his memory. He finds himself caught between the crime syndicate war his alter ego caused and the vice squad, who may no longer believe in the old Sonny.  As with “Hostile Takeover,” there is plenty of action and plot twists galore.  The guest cast also enjoys juicy roles here: Frewer is fun as a scheming country-boy crook, Jon Polito turns up as a flamboyant gangster rival and Feuer generates sparks with Johnson in a wrong-side-of-the-tracks romance subplot.  The slick direction is from t.v. vet Paul Krasny, who helmed several episodes of Mission: Impossible.

Bad Timing: This episode serves as an effective coda to the Sonny Burnett Arc.  Struggling with the wreckage left behind by his alter ego, Sonny spirals into existential crisis and goes for a road trip on his motorcycle… where he runs afoul of a group of stone-psycho prison escapees who kidnap a friendly bartender (Melissa Leo).  This episode is interesting in how it uses a stock cop-show B-plot to provide an answer to its sophisticated, thoughtful A-plot of Sonny dealing with whether he can still be a good cop.  Leo makes a charming short-term love interest for Johnson and you also get impressive work from a young Pruitt Taylor Vince as one of the convicts. The tidy direction on this one comes from another t.v. vet, Virgil Vogel.

Borrasca: this is a rarity in Miami Vice, an episode with no Crockett! This time, the focus goes to Castillo (Edward James Olmos) and Tubbs as they pick up the trail of Borrasca (Juan Fernandez), a revolutionary killing and stealing from local drug lords to fund his efforts. Their work is complicated by the intervention of Reese (Brion James), a shadowy, freelance fixer for the government.  The teamwork is strong in this episode, with Switek (Michael Talbott) having fun standing in for Crockett in scenes with Tubbs. Even better, you get some more of that great Castillo government-spook mystique via his philosophical disputes with Reese: James makes a great foil in these scenes. Like much of Season 5, it shows the heroes – Castillo specifically in this case – pushed to the edge by the limitations and corruption inherent to policework.

Hard Knocks: Switek was a comic figure in early seasons of the show but gradually became more a rounded, dramatic characterization from the third season on.  Season 5 saw him developing a gambling problem and that element drives this episode: after getting deep in debt with a gambling kingpin (Richard Jenkins), Switek is pressed into service to get a friend’s football player son to throw a big game. The resulting episode plays like a neon-drenched noir and Talbott turns in a committed, intense performance as its troubled protagonist.  The final scene between Talbott and Johnson is particularly memorable.