Family Tension: Vegas Episode 1.03 ‘All That Glitters’ Review
Tuesday October 16th
By Carol Tacker
Family tension dominates the third episode of CBS’ Vegas. When his mob family arrives from Chicago, Vincent Savino (Michael Chiklis) knows his management of the Savoy Casino is under scrutiny. Savino has his own agenda, determined to convince the ‘family’ to invest in a fine restaurant at the Savoy, and to fund an arena where sporting events could be hosted. Mob boss Angelo (played by perennial “wiseguy” character actor, Jonathan Banks) is the man Savino must sway in order to achieve his expansion. Other than questioning the wisdom of serving oysters in the desert, Banks is given little to do until Angelo must decide the fate of Savino’s nemesis, Sheriff Ralph Lamb (Dennis Quaid).
No family reunion is complete without a troublemaker. Loan shark and mob underboss Johnny Rizzo (Anthony Cervelli) fulfills that role and is determined to cause Angelo to lose faith in Savino’s ability to run the Savoy. Last week, we were introduced to Rizzo’s daughter, the glacial blonde Mia (Sarah Jones). Mia was sent by Chicago to manage the Savoy’s count room following the arrest of the casino’s financial manager for embezzlement and murder. Savino orchestrated the man’s death in what appeared to be an accident in order to prevent his becoming an informant for the Feds.
Mia’s cool demeanor and shrewd financial sense softens Savino’s negative reaction to Chicago’s forcing him to hire her. He’s still not convinced; in this episode his associate refers to her as Ethel Rosenberg, the infamous spy, but there is at least a hint of mutual respect between the two. She is nothing like her hot-headed father, but rather she embraces Savino’s cool, “business first” focus.
With the mob family visiting and bringing their conflicts with them, why does the episode open with a press conference involving the 1960 USA Olympic Boxing Team? The previous two episodes of Vegas involved crimes that were integrated into the central plot of lawman versus mobster and the spread of neon glitz and gambling in what was once desert and ranch land.
This week’s murder involves an Olympic boxer, Tommy Carroll, who kept secret an injury he received while fighting a Russian boxer during the Olympics. The injury could cause him to be paralyzed if his opponent lands an unlucky blow to his head during a boxing match. Only his best friend on the team, Ray, is told about this because Tommy wants to keep boxing. We learn that Tommy was abused as a child, so he tries to help the wife of a fellow Olympic boxer escape from her abusive husband. The angry husband wrongly assumes Tommy is sleeping with his wife and strikes him on the head with an iron bar. Tommy careens from the alley where he was attacked, and into the traffic on Fremont Street. He is bleeding profusely, and falls to the pavement, dead.
Working with his brother Jack (Jason O’ Mara) and his son Dixon (Taylor Handley), Sheriff Lamb solves the case and arrests the abusive husband for murder. The murder charge won’t stick when they discover Tommy died of a heart attack brought about by the combination of injections for pain and the medication his friend Ray secretly slipped him to make him too sick to go into the ring. Ray’s intention was to protect Tommy from that paralyzing punch, but instead the combined medications killed him. Knowing the abusive husband would hunt down his wife if released, assistant district attorney Katherine O’Connell (Carrie-Anne Moss) charges him with felony assault with a deadly weapon in order to keep him locked up for several years. As for Ray, Sheriff Lamb lets him go, deciding his guilt will be enough punishment. When Lamb says he is the law in this town, he means that absolutely, even when Katherine reminds him his solution for Ray is not found in her law books.
The Sheriff’s tense exchanges with Savino in this episode are spurred by Johnny Rizzo’s violent misbehavior. Lamb intervenes when Rizzo attacks a waiter for bringing him a cocktail he didn’t like. Lamb reminds Savino that Rizzo is in the black book that lists people banned from gambling in the casinos. Because he could lose his gaming license if Rizzo is caught playing the tables at the Savoy, Savino establishes a private casino in the penthouse so Rizzo can gamble unobserved by the law. Rizzo complains that he’s being allowed to win, which Savino later admits is true because Rizzo is “not man enough to handle his losses.” Watching Savino struggle with impressing Angelo while trying to keep Rizzo out of trouble is compelling television.
Rizzo retreats to the main casino to gamble and is promptly arrested by Sheriff Lamb. After making bail, he demands Lamb’s death in retribution for his humiliating arrest and because the Sheriff has proven to be incorruptible. Savino finds himself in the unlikely position of advocating for Angelo to spare Lamb’s life. He argues that two dead sheriffs in one month would disrupt tourism because men won’t bring their wives to a lawless city. Angelo refuses Rizzo’s revenge by saying, “The penthouse wasn’t good enough for you?”
As the mob family leaves Vegas, Rizzo tells his daughter to expect a “management change” at the Savoy. When she asks where Savino is going, he doesn’t answer. Despite Rizzo’s prediction, Angelo tells Savino he’s dong a good job but he shouldn’t work so hard. Bringing the theme of family tension full circle, Angelo tells Savino to move his family to Vegas so he can think of things other than work. In an earlier episode, we heard Savino on the phone with his wife, asking her to please come to Vegas to be with him. So far, she’s refused.
Vegas continues to deliver the style and details that ground the series in 1960 without allowing the historical touches to overtake the story. Savino’s caution that they don’t want to lose their stake in Vegas like they lost their “paradise in Havana,” a newspaper headline declaring Nixon was in a tight race for the presidency, Katherine’s white T-bird, the little white gloves and string of pearls worn by the abused wife, and Savino’s narrow tie with a turquoise tie tack and matching pocket square effortlessly transport viewers into an era where the iconic waving neon cowboy and the bright façade of the Golden Nugget epitomize the glitz of the growing city.
Vegas is at its best when the action focuses on the tension between Lamb and Savino and the old and the new that they represent. The first two episodes revolved around murders that fed that tension. This one did not, featuring collateral crimes while falling into police procedural territory. Stick with your original concept, Vegas, and you could have a winner-take-all season.