As noted in the first part of this retrospective, Season 3 was Miami Vice got a little dark and that is reflected in most of the favorite episodes described below. Read for an exploration of more stylized cop-noir greatness…
Forgive Us Our Debts: This episode introduces one of the most fascinating and Machiavellian of all Miami Vice villains in Frank Hackman (Guy Boyd). He’s a convicted killer that Crockett helped put on death row but new evidence has turned up that puts that verdict in question. Crockett has to go against an ambitious A.G. (D.W. Moffett) to save him from the gallows. Boasts a complex script that delivers surprises up to the final scene and Boyd gives a compelling performance with multiple shadings, spurring Johnson to do similarly strong work. The music coordinators deserve kudos here for getting Peter Gabriel’s “We Do What We’re Told,” which is used to haunting effect.
Down For The Count: A two-parter set in the world of boxing that is a must-watch because it had major ramifications for the future of the show. Without getting too heavily into spoilers, let’s just say it gives dramatic weight to other members of the vice squad and in the style of this darker season of Miami Vice, happy endings are in short supply. If you’re a fan of the show, this one’s guaranteed to break your heart.
Duty And Honor: If you like the Miami Vice episodes that touch on Castillo’s murky past with the government and the Vietnam War, this one’s for you. A string of prostitute murders pop up in present-day Miami that closely resemble a similar set of murders that Castillo investigated in Saigon during the war. A Vietnamese policeman (Haing S. Ngor) from Castillo’s past comes to Miami and teams up with him, determined to stop the killer. Ngor makes an excellent foil for Edward James Olmos in this noir-ish episode, which touches on the psychic wounds created by the Vietnam War and also delves into a critique of the way governments mold soldiers for war.
Theresa: lots of Miami Vice episodes feature doomed relationships for the show’s cop heroes but this is the most poignant of the bunch. Helena Bonham-Carter has a memorable early role as the title character, a doctor that Crockett loves and wishes to marry. Unfortunately, she is secretly addicted to painkillers and a sleazeball dealer (Brad Dourif) plans to use this information to blackmail Crockett. The episode presents a nuanced portrayal of drug addiction, aided by strong work from Bonham-Carter, and Dourif is reliable as a villain you’ll really hate. Johnson anchors the episode with a complex performance that shows how important he was to the show.
The Afternoon Plane: this episode is a rare solo adventure for Tubbs and thus a welcome showcase for Philip Michael Thomas. He takes an island vacation he won in a raffle, only to discover it’s a setup by the ever-vengeful Calderone family to isolate him for an assassination. It’s a simple but effective premise that riffs on High Noon but has some novel hooks (example: a clever reason why the islanders don’t want to help Tubbs) and exciting setpieces, particularly a suspenseful finale on a rural airstrip. It might be formula stuff… but it’s good formula stuff, aided by a spirited performance from Thomas.
By Hooker By Crook: Johnson both directs and stars in an episode that pairs him with real life on/off girlfriend Melanie Griffith. She plays a businesswoman that Crockett becomes involved with while working undercover. He doesn’t know she is a madam and neither of them know that their secret lives will be set on a collision course when one of the madam’s girls witnesses a murder. The sparks fly between Johnson and Griffith and Johnson’s direction is quite stylish, particularly a climactic showdown that makes use of some unique set design. It also boasts an interesting cast of villains – George Takei and Captain Lou Albano! – and the last scene makes memorable use of “Holding Back The Years” by Simply Red.
(Honorable Mention: Viking Bikers From Hell – the script on this one was weakened by rewrites (apparently it began life as a feature film screenplay) but it deserves notice because this episode was directed and co-written by the great John Milius. It involves Crockett running afoul of a drug-dealing gang of bikers and it’s both macho and artsy.)