Miami Vice Mondays: “Bushido”

Episode: Season 2, Episode 8: “Bushido”
Original airdate: November 22, 1985
Directed by: Edward James Olmos
Written by: John Leekley

A major Vice operation to take down a key drug lord goes weirdly and inexplicably egg-shaped when the drug lord ends up murdered under bizarre circumstances (Crockett and Tubbs find him strung upside-down in a men’s room on the beach with his head stuffed in a toilet full of cocaine. You know, the usual) and half a million of the Miami Police Department’s money goes missing. Castillo quickly figures out the culprit: Jack Gretsky (Dean Stockwell, never better), his close friend and fellow former CIA spook, now rumored to be working for the KGB. Castillo secretly meets with Gretsky, who urges him to protect his wife and son, then whips out a gun and opens fire on Castillo. Shocked, Castillo shoots and kills him.

After Gretsky’s autopsy reveals he had late-stage terminal cancer, Castillo tracks down his Russian-born wife, Laura (the late Natasha Detante, better known as musician Natasha Shneider) and young son Marty (named after Castillo). With the KGB on their trail, Castillo smuggles them to a safe house on an island. While awaiting the arrival of a boat to take them to safety, Castillo tells Marty a thinly-veiled tale of an exiled samurai who deliberately maneuvers his closest friend into killing him to preserve his honor. Realizing this means Castillo killed her husband, an eavesdropping Laura sneaks up behind him and knifes him in the back.

A tanned, Hawaiian shirt-wearing, Cadillac-loving, tommy gun-wielding, capitalist jargon-spouting KGB assassin with the improbable name of Surf (David Rasche, who would achieve sitcom fame the following year as the star of Sledge Hammer!) arrives on the island and storms the safe house. Armed with a samurai sword, a badly injured Castillo protects Laura and Marty; he takes out a pair of heavily-armed thugs, but Surf gains the upper hand. Castillo is saved by the timely arrival of Crockett and Tubbs. Just to end this surreal and somber episode on a goofy note, Crockett snarls, “Surf’s up, pal!” right before shooting and killing Surf.

Iconic Moments:
This is the episode where Castillo evades KGB agents by clinging to the ceiling, Spider-Man style, before slaughtering them with a samurai sword. Doesn’t get much more iconic than that.

It’s also got a damn memorable opening sequence, in which the entire Vice team stakes out a public restroom on the beach at night in an attempt to trap the drug lord: Crockett and Tubbs hole up in a hotel across the street, Switek poses as a wino, Gina (Saundra Santiago) disguises herself as an unusually glamorous bag lady (in a gold lamé jacket, no less), Trudy (Olivia Brown) zips around the beach on roller skates while wearing a tight strapless zebra-print dress, and Zito burrows under the sand, breathing through a snorkel, while waiting for the right moment to spring the trap.

It’s all in the title: “Bushido” refers to the samurai lifestyle and moral code. Above and beyond his mysterious past in Asia and his Japanese-style house and his samurai sword, Castillo is a samurai to the core, as demonstrated by the lengths to which he goes to honor his best friend’s dying wish. (He even ponies up forty grand of his own money to give to Laura and Marty to start their new life, after returning the half million Gretsky swiped from the police department.)

Moments of Castillo Badassery:
Oh, yeah, this episode is pretty much all Castillo badassery, all the time. Prior to this, we knew that, before he transferred to Vice, he was a DEA agent working the Golden Triangle (the area bordered by Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos), but I believe this the first we hear of his CIA background. The discovery isn’t exactly shocking news; from what we’ve seen of Castillo, the Agency seems like a natural fit for him. Nor is it especially shocking when a CIA agent offhandedly mentions the absence of an early paper trail on either Gretsky or Castillo (in other words, prior to joining the CIA, neither man officially existed). You know what genuinely is shocking in this episode? Castillo smiles, several times, while meeting with his dear friend Gretsky. It's downright weird.

It’s All in the Details:
The CIA agents tracking Gretsky operate out of a porn shop. The set design is gloriously seedy and tacky, from the pastel polka-dot walls and the pile of blow-up dolls in the corner to the hand-painted signs reading BORED HOUSEWIVES WELCOME and CHEAP AND TRASHY LADIES’ WEAR. Bravo, set designers. Job well done.

Signs of the Times:
When Castillo first tracks down Laura and Marty, they’re staying in a house that looks like a too-broad parody of a hip abode in 1985: There’s a fake flamingo perched on a staircase landing, there’s a pink sofa, the floors are covered with black-and-white checkerboard tiles, and, as a crowning touch, there’s a pastel jukebox in the corner.

Music Notes:
A pair of moody, surreal tracks accentuate this moody, surreal episode. The opening sequence is scored to Bryan Ferry’s “Boys and Girls”, while Kate Bush’s ethereal, spooky “Hello Earth” (complete with the Russian chorale part) plays during the climax.

Four out of five flamingos. Surf’s up, pal.


eillio said…
Didn't Surf survive being shot by Crockett? At any rate, I enjoyed learning more of Castillo's background, just like in the two "The Golden Triangle episodes.

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