“Vinyl” Season 1 Episode 5 Recap: “He in Racist Fire”

How do you distinguish between bagel or bialy? The answer, according to Richie Finestra, depends on whether it has a hole. But of course, there’s so much more to the distinction between savory Jewish breads than whether each has a hole (hello, texture, flavor, density) and Richie’s inability to see the finer points in both pastry and life proves his undoing in this episode, one that seems to be finally settling the show into the steady groove (pun intended) of dark comedy, where it belongs best.

And in that black comic spirit, family and firings are the themes of the night —  as both Jamie and Richie have contact with their parent figures, the A&R staff is let go, Kip of the Nasty Bits drops his guitarist to pursue fame, and Hannibal says “ciao” to Richie and American Century after making a move on Devon, right in front of her husband.

Let’s begin with Richie and his father — his father the horn player who drank his career away. Dad grudgingly  provides an alibi to the cops about Richie’s activity the night Buck Rogers met his demise. Richie tells his dad it was an “accident” and gets him to come to the office and hang out, but they’re being snooped on by the (coke-sniffing, because it’s Vinyl) homicide detectives, who overhear their damning, if not condemning, phone conversation.

Foruntately, this is the only part of the episode that deals with the murder! And there’s so much more non-bludgeoning-related fun to be had, particularly during the showcase that the A&R folks organize to convince Richie not to fire them. The biggest flop of the night comes from Clark, who finds a bunch of mead-swilling “Vikings with Stratocasters,” according to Julie, at the local RenFaire. Consequently he gets axed, weeps and begs, and now young Clark (a Yalie, we should note!) has been demoted to the position of “sandwich man.”

Despite her vastly superior talent, Jamie is not being promoted in his place, but she is called in to meetings to help smooth things over between the Nasty Bits, their manager Lester Grimes, and the label. Kip, our snarling lead singer, is not exactly psyched to have to go on a PR tour and schmooze (or in his words, “bugger”) a bunch of radio DJs. Jamie indeed helps finesse the situation — but she can’t eliminate the conflict between Richie and Kip when Richie insists that Kip fire his best mate, the “stiff” lead guitarist. He’s a miserable sulky baby about it, and so is Kip, who deals with his misery over this sacking by having some sack-time with Jamie, after which she discovers his Big Star album. As “Thirteen” plays, she reminds him that this gorgeous piece of music “sold about five copies — to rock critics.” This truth tonic perhaps steels him to be brazenly commercial, and when Lester steps in to send the guitarist packing, Kip doesn’t object. Meanwhile, Jamie has a bizarre and hostile encounter over consommé with her mom, which goes about as well as Richie’s lukewarm reunion with his pops.

Screaming and shouting back and forth with Kip proves to be Richie’s most amicable relationship with a client, as his tenuous hold on Hannibal falls apart. Cece and Hannibal have been an item for days, and she spills the beans that he’s thinking of defecting to Jackie Jervis’s label.

Determined to woo the singer back, Richie arranges a dinner with, Cece, Hannibal, and Devon, whom he asks to wear something sexy. Shockingly, his plan to seduce Hannibal using  his own wife backfires horribly, as Hannibal can’t keep his eyes, or hands, off Devon in a slinky red number. She’s enjoying making Richie boil with jealousy during a dirty dancing interlude after their dinner. When he finally pulls Devon away, so they can have a semi-violent/semi-sexy, mostly nasty fight, Hannibal walks. He signs with Jackie Jervis later that night while Richie and Devon have an ugly fight, full of opportunities to make Richie seem like a racist, sexist brute. Well, that was a bust! But at least Richie and Devon each get left with a good anagram of their name, thanks to the very talented Hannibal: she is “finest dove ran” while her husband is “he in racist fire.”

Knowing that his business is in trouble, Richie goes to a rival,  Andrea “Andie” (Annie Parisse, who is about to have a much bigger role) the PR person from Jervis’s company, trying to convince her to come on board and help him build the future of his own company. But their personal history is in the way. When he comes begging at a Lou Reed concert, she tries to understand why he dumped her: “You didn’t want to be with someone who was as smart as you,” she ventures, and he admits it was more than that. “He chose Devon “because she was more beautiful.” The truth stings, but once she’s heard it, Andie is on board. Richie tells her he can’t wait to build a company together, she tells him to negotiate through her lawyer, and points him towards a young dancer who will let him snort coke off her navel, because that’s exactly what he needs right now. Meanwhile Devon walks in to the Chelsea hotel, alone.

Will Andie help Richie turn things around? Will The Nasty Bits break through? Will the detectives finally figure out the bludgeoning? And will Richie get a good old hug from his dad? None of these things seem particularly likely halfway through the season, but hey, this is rock’n’roll, baby. Sort of. In a sense.