‘Vinyl’ Recap 1×06: Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am

I see dead people.

I see dead people. Macall B. Polay/HBO

It’s oddly appropriate that “Cyclone” revolved so heavily around Richie’s hallucinations of long-dead friend Ernst, because Vinyl‘s sixth episode itself seemed haunted by its own ghost; a thin, white spectre named David Bowie. Sure, Bowie only showed up for a single scene–filmed months before most even knew he was in reality gravely ill–but his music, his voice, floats throughout. “Suffragette City” swaggers, Trey Songz’ surprisingly great cover of “Life on Mars?” underscores beautifully, and like in life Bowie can’t help but take center stage even when the camera pointed elsewhere.

And how beautifully suitable. A lot of discussion has taken place since Bowie’s death about what his greatest legacy is: His music? His acting? His art? His presence itself? All valid, all arguable, but to me Bowie’s biggest contribution was permission. Permission to be weird, weird as fuck, weird as humanly possible and still own who you are and what others think of you. Not only own it but to not care, to care so little it became enviable.

Say what you will, “Cyclone” was weird as fuck. Richie attacks Andy Warhol at the behest of a damn Shyamalan-style dead person who is obsessed with Nathan’s hot dogs, and keeps appearing as the literal devil-on-Richie’s-shoulder to urge him deeper into vice and further from Devon. This wasn’t the coke-fueled Scorsese-by-the-numbers romp we’ve gotten so far. This was a show all of shits to give about what you think, a series that officially blasted from HBO–away from critical pannings and not-too-great ratings–and landed on Mars.

So the question now becomes…is there any life up there?

It’s a god-awful small affair
To the girl with the mousy hair
But her mummy is yelling, “No!”
And her daddy has told her to go…

The reveal that Ernst was dead the whole time couldn’t have been designed as a surprise, could it? Episode writers Carl Capotorto and Erin Cressida Wilson wouldn’t have been so heavy-handed in Ernst’s appearances over Richie’s shoulder out of nowhere, urging him down the wrong path, never interacting with anyone but Richie, if we were supposed to be shocked he wasn’t real. It was so obvious that the real surprise would have been if Ernst wasn’t dead.

And I think that’s the point. It was supposed to be obvious–to us, to Devon, to pretty much everyone but Richie–because isn’t that how it goes when a loved one spirals to the bottom? It’s like throwing a life raft to a drowning person and having them throw it back. We’re watching a person who firmly believes they’re in control lose any semblance of command, over both his company and his own mind. The captain has lost grip on the rudder, and passengers are jumping overboard by the score.

First off is Zak Yankovich, who just wanted to sell American Century to Polygram and throw his daughter a grand bat mitzvah. Richie torpedoed the first step, and then does a fine job at ruining the second by showing up 6 hours late and drugged out of his mind. Who knew Ray Romano could look at a person with so much poison? “Go jump off the bridge, see if you can fly” Zak spits at Richie. By episode’s end, with no non-imaginary friends left, Richie might be taking this advice to heart.

It’s on America’s tortured brow
That Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow
Now the workers have struck for fame
‘Cause Lennon’s on sale again…

Next up to climb aboard the rescue rafts is–finally, finally-Devon Finestra, and all it took was for Richie to go on a days-long hallucination-fueled bender. And Jesus, who can blame her at this point? Richie has never been so blind or so selfish as when he tells Devon “I’ve been very patient with your fucking breakdown.”

While Richie is the direct cause of said breakdown, the roots go far deeper to a realization by Devon that leaving a life of art and wildness behind to marry Richie was the worst decision of her life. Olivia Wilde’s slow-dawning comprehension is wonderfully sold, spurred on by literally becoming a work of art for a friend. Artists–all the way up the totem pole to fucking Andy Warhol–find Devon special enough to memorialize forever on film and canvas. Richie sees his own wife the way he sees his own company; it’s his, and he will memorialize it the way he sees fit.

“I’m so alone it’s pathetic,” Devon cries to her friend Ingrid at the Chelsea Hotel. It’s heartbreaking because Vinyl seems insistent on piling more sadness on to Devon by the episode–not only an emotionally abusive husband, not only a past of wasted potential, but now the memory of a miscarriage caused by the recklessness of, who else, Richie. It’s becoming increasingly hard to root for the Finestra patriarch, so much that the first genuine cheer from the crowd comes from Devon’s episode-ending flight, a decision that is anything but pathetic.

Oh man! Wonder if he’ll ever know
He’s in the best selling show
Is there life on Mars?
David Bowie, “Life on Mars?”

I can’t stop laughing at the fact that Kip Stevens found his new guitarist by bonding over theft, or at the idea of the Nasty Bits getting super famous and that guitar store manager being like “hey that fuckhead on stage stole that guitar from my store.” I’m also not sure how great of a sign it is that the Nasty Bits, who for some reason everyone on Vinyl takes very seriously, is my weekly source of unintended comedic relief. And no, it’s not just because thanks to Tim Sommer I can’t help but notice the abundance of left-handed guitarists.

But hey, what can you expect from a show that’s basically turned into a three-ring circus? That’s what a circus is: If you don’t like the clowns, maybe you’ll love the animals, or move over the acrobats. Vinyl is sensory overload, it’s a drug-binge, it’s waking up in your car at noon on a Saturday. It’s not quite the freakiest show, but it’s weird, weird as fuck. And with “Cyclone,” it just got a whole lot weirder.

‘Vinyl’ Recap 1×06: Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am