After nine episodes of threatening to turn up the volume!, last night’s season finale of Vinyl ended not with a bang but a whimper. Of all Vinyl’s flaws — the cheesy conceit of having actors play actual rock stars, the lack of commitment to character, particularly the women, and the prioritizing of mobster drama over the music — the most disappointing is that it turned out be so very dull. “Alibi” was a boring finale to a boring show, failing to spark the kind of momentous energy Vinyl‘s been promising all season long.
Once again, far too much screen time is devoted to the Galasso plotline. Richie meets with the detectives to begin his new life as a double agent, informing on Galasso to keep himself out of prison. To complicate matters, Zak goes to see Galasso on his own; having learned in the last episode that it was Richie who lost their money in Vegas, he’s pissed, and he tells the gangsters that Richie’s a liar and an addict, and that he can get rid of him if the partners vote for it.
But this move turns out to be a mistake: Zak is later invited into Richie’s office, where Galasso is waiting. He calls Zak a “rat-fucking shit bag” for going behind his partner’s back — and, unaware of the FBI wiretap in Richie’s office, mentions a chop shop that he runs in the Bronx. The cops raid it, and a suspicious Galasso drags Zak and Richie in to meet with him yet again. The one significant event to come out of all this is the death of Joe Corso, who’s dispatched almost as an afterthought. Now, there’s no one left to rat out Richie for the death of Buck Rogers — and hopefully no more need for this silly plotline in Season 2.
The most disappointing aspect of this finale, as with the series in general, is that the women aren’t given much to do. Andie appears briefly to finalize plans for the New York Dolls show, where the Nasty Bits will make their Alibi Records debut, and Jamie is relegated to a corner of a who-cares love triangle between Kip and Alex. Of course, she comes in between the two bandmates; rehearsals are tense, and when Jamie admits to Kip back at his apartment that she has feelings for both him and Alex, he kicks her out. (By the way, who the fuck is Alex? He only really became a character in the last episode, and we’re supposed to care about Jamie’s feelings for him? As if.) She tosses a coat over her ensemble of black T-shirt and black underwear and storms out. Poor Jamie! She was the character that held the most potential, but Vinyl is content to treat her as window dressing.
Later, when Kip fails to show up to the gig, Alex and Jamie bang down his door to find him lying on the floor, strung out. Such melodrama, such cliché! Richie tells Jamie, “You wanted to be in A&R, fucking fix it!” But the show doesn’t quite give her that satisfaction: She manages to get Kip to the show, but it’s Richie who “fixes it”, by injecting Kip with cocaine backstage. The band goes on to blow the crowd away with their mediocre music. Joey Ramone’s in the audience like, yeah. Richie secretly calls the cops, who arrive and arrest the band on obscenity charges in the middle of their set. All hail Richie Finestra, King of the Rebels, Valiant Savior of Rock and Roll!
The other storyline that held promise but didn’t quite deliver is Clarke and Jorge’s spelunking into the wonderful world of dance music. The American Century execs realize that Indigo is charting, and they kick themselves for dropping them. But Clarke reveals that he never sent the letter informing the band they’d been dropped. Plus, he and Jorge have been pushing the record in da club: “This fucking dance music? It is a totally untapped market.” And…that’s kind of the end of that? Hurray for Indigo?
Lester pops up briefly, to give Richie permission to release the Nasty Bits’ version of his song, on the condition that he gets to manage more bands. Devon, however, is conspicuously missing from the episode entirely — and to be completely honest, I didn’t even notice her absence until the finale was over. That’s how minimal Olivia Wilde’s character has become to the show.
The last bit of ironic-nostalgia bait comes toward the end of the episode, when Richie strikes up a conversation at the dive bar where he’s meeting with a detective; the bartender mentions he’s changing things up, adding music, and shows him a sketch of the new name: CBGB. Richie looks around the dingy bar in disbelief as he completes his transformation into rock ‘n’ roll Forrest Gump.
The episode ends with a launch party back at the office for Alibi Records. Richie reads a newspaper review of the Nasty Bits show, which says the band makes up for their lack of experience with “swagger and the fucking music, which is what it’s all about.” I’m sure this is what Vinyl itself has been aiming for; but the irony is, despite the involvement of a group of men who have all the experience in the world, the series has no real swagger and nothing all that exciting to say about music.
The finale’s last moment plays out to the sounds of “Kick Out the Jams” as the partygoers happily defile the office with cans of spray paint (because they’re so bad): Vinyl gives Richie one more chance to stand in the middle of a crowd of people flailing in slow motion, as he looks across the room and spies Zak standing apart with a weird The second season looks like it may pit the two against each other creatively — Zak is obsessed with moulding a new glam-rock icon in Xavier, while Richie sees the future in punk — but Galasso still looms over the proceedings, threatening to turn the show into a mob drama.
So far, Vinyl has demonstrated all the worst tics of a prestige anti-hero drama, but no self-awareness or willingness to explore characters’ inner lives. But there are bright spots here: the performances of Bobby Cannavale, Ray Romano, Olivia Wilde (when she’s there), and Juno Temple in particular. If the writers can figure out what to do with these characters and the dynamic actors who play them, Vinyl could make a comeback on par with Richie’s. But I’m not holding my breath; the end of its first season coincides with the beginning of spring, and I don’t want to think about another winter.