Miami Vice Mondays: "Brother's Keeper"

Episode: Season One, Episode One: “Brother’s Keeper”
Original airdate: September 16, 1984
Directed by: Thomas Carter, whose film credits include Save the Last Dance, Coach Carter, and—god help us all—Swing Kids
Written by: series creator Anthony Yerkovich

Here’s where it all begins: After New York Vice detective Raphael Tubbs is murdered by vicious drug lord Calderone (Miguel Pinero), his vengeance-bent younger brother Rico, a street cop from the Bronx, heads south to Miami, hot on Calderone’s trail. His path soon crosses with undercover Miami Vice detective Sonny Crockett, whose partner (played by Jimmy Smits!) has just been blown to pieces by Calderone. Crockett and Tubbs spend most of the two-part episode bickering and punching each other in the face before deciding to join forces and bring their common enemy, Calderone, to justice. Which, by the way, they totally fail to do: They bust Calderone, but a crooked judge lets him out on bail, and Calderone flees the country. Having burned all his bridges in New York, Tubbs decides to partner up with Crockett and stick around Miami for a while. And a legend is born.

Iconic Moments:
When it comes to Miami Vice, it’s hard to get much more iconic than the sequence where Crockett and Tubbs zip through the streets of Miami at night in Crockett’s Ferrari on their way to arrest Calderone, while Phil Collins’s “In the Air Tonight” plays on the soundtrack. It’s become so emblematic of the series that it should seem hackneyed and overplayed, and yet it still manages to remain haunting and effective, more than thirty years later.

Moments of Castillo Badassery:
Most of the defining components of the show are almost in place here, right from the start. The sleek visual style, the sun-drenched pastel landscapes, the cool cars, the Top 40 soundtrack, the pervading sense of grim hopelessness, the bones all of that are readily apparent. And yet: There is no Castillo. Sacrilège!  Instead, we have Gregory Sierra as blustery, shouty, cigar-chomping Lieutenant Rodriguez. Rodriguez will only last for four episodes before meeting a grim fate (at the hands of Calderone, no less); his replacement, Edward James Olmos’s silent, bleak, quasi-mystical Castillo, will abruptly steer the show in another, more intriguing direction.

It’s All in the Details:
Tubbs always has the best cocktails:

Sonny Crockett, proud drinker of Beer™-brand beer:

This episode features a guest appearance by Martin Ferrero as Trini, a cross-dressing Cuban assassin. Trini doesn’t make it through the episode—he gets shot and killed by Tubbs—but Ferrero will make a couple dozen appearances on the show in his recurring role as Crockett’s capitalism-loving informant Izzy. Glad they brought him back: Ferrero is charming and hilarious (his Desi-Arnaz-on-helium fake Cuban accent is a thing of bizarre joy).

Tubbs chills out on Crockett’s boat while bonding with Crockett’s surly pet alligator Elvis and mocking his cassette tape collection: “Waylon Jennings! George Jones! Jimmy Buffett! Dickey Betts! Waylon Jennings???”

(This episode really plays up the cultural differences between Crockett and Tubbs. At one point, Crockett even delivers this on-the-nose bit of dialogue: “You’re not exactly up my alley, style- and persona-wise”; Tubbs counters by referring to Crockett as a “southern cracker.” Their squabbling doesn’t last beyond this episode. From this point forward, they’re pretty much simpatico.)

Sign of the Times:
Notice how I said the defining components of the show are almost in place. Here’s another aspect of the show that was jettisoned along with Lt. Rodriguez shortly after the pilot: Crockett’s estranged wife, Caroline (Belinda Montgomery, Doogie Howser’s mom), and their young son. Hats off to whomever it was at NBC who decided tedious marital squabbles and children’s birthday parties had no place on a show like Miami Vice.

Music Notes:
It’s a two-hour episode, so there’s a lot of music. Strap yourselves in; this will take a while to get through. In addition to the aforementioned “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins, we’ve The Deele’s super-funky “Body Talk”, we’ve got Lionel Ritchie’s “All Night Long”, we’ve got a non-Cyndi Lauper cover of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”, we’ve got the Rolling Stones’ “Miss You”, and, best of all, we’ve got Tubbs rocking out in a strip club to Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me”,

Three flamingos. The lack of Castillo warrants an automatic one-flamingo deduction.


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