'Vinyl' Recap: You Sexy Thing

Threesomes, beatdowns, full-frontal male nudity — welcome to a wildride of an episode

Juno Temple, Val Emmich and James Jagger in 'Vinyl.' Credit: Patrick Harbron/HBO

From the Nasty Bits' lips (literally) to God and the writers' ears: It's always a great idea to place Jamie Vine at the center of the action. Juno Temple's ambitious A&R up-and-comer is one of the series' most vibrant players: living on the edge, ears and eyes open to new experiences but nostrils mostly closed to them. And since no good Vinyl character comes without a signature Seventies look, don't forget her incredible hairstyle (her face seems to be poking through a blonde waterfall). She's the "Rock and Roll Queen" that gave tonight's episode its title, if the Mott the Hoople song that soundtracks her MMF threesome with Kip Stevens and his guitarist Alex is any indication. It's her self-possession and confidence that turned what could have been a dreary "girl comes between the boys in the band" storyline—the exact one predicted by a furious Andrea Zito when she discovers both Jamie and CeCe are sleeping with American Century acts — into a surprising, spontaneous, sexy scene. Now that's what I call conflict resolution!

If only Richie Finestra could take a page from her playbook. The manic mogul's total failure to finesse personal relationships is a recurring theme, with his alienating wild-man personality constantly contrasted with the show's more emotionally intelligent characters (see Jamie, Andrea, Devon, and his old friend Lester). All of them have been able to woo recalcitrant artists in their favor, but when Richie puts on a charm offensive, the emphasis is on "offensive." Presented with a situation similar to Jamie's when he noticed his wife's attraction to funk superstar Hannibal, he exploded and cost the label his contract. Tonight, he and the photographer beau of his estranged missus (whom she'd shot in full-frontal splendor a few minutes earlier) share a moment when they kill a bat that has somehow infiltrated the Chelsea Hotel. His sense of camaraderie and concern evaporates almost immediately, however, when he realizes who the guy must be, what he must be doing there, and whom he must be doing it with.

This isn't to say that open relationships are the only way to go — just to illustrate that Richie's instinct is always to serve his own short-term needs. He did this to Zak Yankovic when, reeling from his disastrous attempt to sign Elvis Presley without his martinet manager Col. Tom Parker's consent, he blew all the money they had and pinned the blame on his partner. Getting his ass kicked in the elevator when the poor sap finds out, as he does near the end of tonight's episode, is the least he deserves.

And it's not the only time Richie's tendency to shoot first and ask questions later bites him in the ass this week. His spectacularly ill-advised business relationship with mob boss Corrado Galasso is used as leverage when he's nearly brought up on manslaughter charges for the death of coke-freak radio legend Buck Rogers. Rat on the godfather, the feds tell him, and you can skate on your otherwise inevitable prison sentence. The loan he got from the Mafia is a big part of his falling-out with Zak, whom he'd made to feel responsible for requiring it in the first place, as well as with Lester.  And when the latter sees Galasso associate Maurie Gold in the office his label now shares with American Century, he understandably freaks out that Finestra has teamed up with the men who destroyed his career. Now it could be his get out of jail free card — or, as his lawyer puts it, "a suicide mission."

In retrospect, wouldn't it have been easier for Richie to simply come clean to Devon about killing Rogers? Yes, the show has concocted the goofball backstory in which the reckless record executive's drunk driving got their German pal killed: He was afraid she'd think he was some kind of monster if another "accident" he caused claimed another life. But c'mon — surely one wrongful death is plenty reason to go on a bender and retreat from your spouse in shame. The thing is, these are equally destructive, equally traumatic things for her to endure. The truth would at least have united them rather than driven them apart.

At least one partnership is still going strong. A week after providing the previous episode with its killer closing scene — seriously, just try to get Barrabas' "Wild Safari" out of your head — the unlikely alliance of Jorge and Clark continues to pay dividends. After the demoted A&R man overhears that the label is unloading its dance act Indigo, his newfound mailroom ally takes him back to the basement club they visited last time around, with the band's album in tow and a suggested track for the DJ to play. The uptempo number seems like a party killer compared to the straight-up funk that had been playing, and the duo react in hilarious dejected fashion. Then pockets of people scattered through the crowd start getting into the groove. Soon the whole room is dancing their asses off. There are few better feelings in all of music than putting on a song that moves a crowd, and once again Vinyl, whatever its other faults, captures that giddy pleasure in all its glory.

Previously: Three Chords and the Truth