Miami Vice Mondays: “Payback”


Episode: Season Two, Episode Nineteen: “Payback”
Original airdate: March 14, 1986
Directed by: Aaron Lipstadt
Written by: Robert Crais, now a bestselling author of detective fiction.

Summary:
An incarcerated small-time criminal named Moroto (boxing legend Roberto Durán, whose line deliveries are very… odd), who once stole three million dollars from eccentric yacht-dwelling drug lord Mario Fuente (Frank Zappa!), summons Crockett to the prison for a mysterious tête-à-tête, then shoots himself in the head.


Convinced Moroto gave Crockett his missing money, Fuente tracks Crockett down and launches a campaign of harassment against him. In the process, Fuente makes a dangerous discovery: Vice cop Sonny Crockett and local sleazeball drug runner Sonny Burnett are one and the same. While all this is going down, Internal Affairs launches its own secretive investigation into Crockett’s connection to the missing funds. Crockett and Tubbs team up with fellow undercover Vice detective Cates (Graham Beckel) to infiltrate Fuente’s organization. Crockett’s attempts to clear his name backfire miserably: Cates, who stole the money himself, double-crosses him and dies in a hail of bullets, leaving Crockett with no way to prove he didn’t take the money and a vengeful Fuente still on his tail.

Iconic Moments:
I did mention that Fuente was played by rock legend Frank Zappa, right? He’s only in one scene, but the dude makes it count.

Themes:
Years of undercover work have destroyed Cates’s soul. As Cates bleeds out, shot by Crockett in self-defense, an exhausted and distraught Crockett asks him, “Do you know what you did to me?” “Do you know what this job did to me?” Cates asks in response. Yeah, Crockett knows, because the same thing is happening to him. Crockett’s arc over five seasons of Miami Vice is all about trying to simultaneously exist as both good cop Sonny Crockett and lowlife Sonny Burnett. He can’t maintain that delicate balance forever; at some point, the contradiction is going to drag him into the abyss.



Moments of Castillo Badassery:
Check out how Castillo refuses to shake hands—or even make eye contact—with the abrasive Internal Affairs agent who forces him to cooperate with his investigation of Crockett. If Castillo dislikes you, you might as well not exist.



Also, when Crockett drops by Vice headquarters in the middle of the night to have a heart-to-heart about the IA investigation, we very casually learn that Castillo sleeps in his office. Fully clothed, necktie and all.


It’s All in the Details:
At a neon-bedazzled watering hole, which seems to be populated mainly by glamorous women in sequined tube tops, Crockett swills beer from a stemmed wineglass, while Tubbs sips something orange and fruity from a hurricane glass garnished with what looks like an entire fruit salad.



I’m also fond of the way Crockett immediately starts chowing down on some lady’s abandoned brunch when Fuente’s right-hand man Reuben Reydolfo (character actor Dan Hedaya) invites him over to his table to discuss their upcoming drug deal.



Sign of the Times:
While monitoring the wiretaps during Crockett’s meeting with Reydolfo, detectives Switek (Michael Talbott) and Zito (John Diehl) speculate on how they’d spend three million dollars. Zito: “I guess I’d put a big chunk of it into the Statue of Liberty.” This seems like a huge non sequitur, unless you’re hip to the Statue of Liberty renovation mania that gripped the United States from 1984 to 1986.




Music Notes:
This episode features X’s excellent raucous punk cover of The Doors’ “Soul Kitchen” . For something a little more sedate, there’s also Chris Isaak’s “Dancin’”, as well as a handful of nice Jan Hammer instrumental pieces, including “Crockett’s Theme”  and the titular “Payback.” 

Rating:
Four and a half flamingos. Classic episode, but I’m docking half a flamingo for some structural sloppiness: The break-in on Crockett’s boat and the harassing phone calls begin before Fuente learns that Crockett and Burnett are the same person. I suppose it’s possible Cates is the one behind the harassment, but… why on earth would he be? 

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