“Brother’s Keeper” was the pilot of Miami Vice and aired in two parts in 1984. Most ways you encounter it now, both episodes are shown together. But we’ll be splitting it up for the sake of easy reading. Part two here!
Pilot episodes are supposed to give you the feel for what a show is going to be. A lot of times there are rough edges that need softened, or characters that disappear by episode two. Miami Vice hits stride on step one and, other than one real distinct character change, creates the tone it will hold for at least the first three seasons.
For a full summary of this episode, see the Miami Vice wiki entry for “Brother’s Keeper”
Miami Vice was more than just a pastel distraction. It examined some legit issues in both society and law enforcement, had awesome lady characters and people of colour, all while holding fast to Michael Mann’s glorious music video aesthetic.
These posts aren’t really plot summaries, but you’ll find links to Miami Vice wiki articles if you desire all the dirty deets. I’m just going to try and look at some visual themes I’ve picked up after watching the show a half-dozen times through.
We start out in dark, grim New York. The buildings are Gothic and heavy, the cars are German and heavy, everybody is wearing structured coats and it’s never not night. It’s a Batman movie, basically. There’s even menacing punks right off.
This nice man is just staking out some rich dude. But here come some punks in layered jackets, with vague threats! As for the trenchcoat being harassed, look at the shape of it. LOOK AT THE SHOULDERS. Lord, I don’t know if Miami Vice’s costumers could condemn the overbearing structure and stricture of the east coast any harder.
As for the dude being staked out, he’s doing fine, even if the clubs in New York are low-key dismal, despite Body Talk playing in the background.
Our pal trenchcoat slips a waiter a Benjamin in a moment that made me madly nostalgic for our old ugly bills. Look at that thing. It belongs in a Victorian collection of insect engravings.
Anyway, dude being staked out has to go and clean up, which allows us the cameras a chance to linger over this amazingly disproportionate bathroom sign. And when I mean linger, I was able, with the slow-ass way I’m doing this, to get three images of this sign.
Anyway, there’s a tussle, dude escapes and we get a beautiful bit where our stakeout man is perfectly backlit against the rubbish of New York.
And then . . . CONTRAST.
What I couldn’t capture for you is that the camera panned up from Sonny Crockett’s white, pierced leather shoes worn sockless. It’s a beautiful and bright fuck you after all that dark. One thing Miami Vice just owns at is using sunlight (something CSI: Miami loved to do decades later). Don’t get attached to this guy.
Or this guy either, a white middle-level drug dealer named Corky who drops phrases like “free enterprise” while opening the scene mid-lecture on how he sponsors orphans in Bogota. That watch that you can’t quite see he explains was $1,200. There was one that was $1,800 he almost went for, but the one he got just screams “drug dealer.” Yes, this white sleeveless vest is at least something like leather.
This is a terrible cap of a sad moment between Sonny and his partner’s widow, but please take in the vintage Newport packs (lol, Newports have not changed their design), the Lifesavers, the whole lot of it. This diner is a perfect place in time.
As is this moment, where our now trench coat-less friend has debarked in Miami, the extras around him attired in a way to make me, personally and specifically, happy.
Sonny is late for his kid’s 6th birthday and it’s sad and his relationship with his separated wife, Caroline, is an interesting one. They love each other (and spoiler: continue to love each other for most of the show), but are not the right people to be married to each other. Caroline knows Sonny gets high on the action of being undercover and that as much as he loves the people he loves, that’s always going to come first. Anyway, check out this guy’s shirt.
This room, tho. It’s basic and yet says exactly where it is with a couple of slipcases and filigree.
This young man works close to The Columbian, the big-time drug dealer Sonny was trying to get to via the now-deaded Corky. I want you to know that chain isn’t a necklace, but is attached to his sunglasses, granny-style. He’s also wearing two belts thinner than his tie, slung around the hips of his skinny black pants. His whole look was perfect.
Less perfect is our New York friend. Sweating it up at a club and singing along to Somebody’s Watching Me at what is in theory a strip club, though I’ve never seen a single dancer in any Miami Vice episode actually remove clothing.
I can’t remember if this is the first time we hear him talk, but the Jamaican accent is so over the top it’s award-winning. Philip Michael Thomas is from San Bernadino and his “New Yawk” accent fades in and out as needed and mostly sounds “City” when stepping alongside Don Johnson’s bonafide drawl.
THIS LOOK THO. There was no way for me to get a full view of it, but it included a headband and a silver skimpy halter top.
Oh hey, it’s ugly shirt guy again! What’re you doing here, pal? Hooking up the New York dude with the huge line of credit, ah yes.
I took a lot of caps of this hotel room. But please enjoy this blind phone and boombox. The pearlized cord!!
God, this room. Two beds means one for pizza, one for guns.
Our man has a think about why he’s been chasing this little dude, and the drugs and we get some slow, sad flashbacks to dark and dirty New York.
The dimness and coldness of New York plays again to contrast in this night scene. The clothes are lighter, lens flares are bold, they’re going to the dang meet in a fucking cigarette boat. Oh! You can see the two skinny belts I was talking about before, in this picture. They’re studded and a little punk and there’s some ongoing looks through the series that mix punk and New Wave and I’m super into it.
Things break a bit bad.
There’s a great car/boat chase scene and then:
God, I love both those caps. Also this one. LOL, JK a NY cop.
Crockett is steamed as shit about the whole thing. Three-fourths of the meet were cops (ugly shirt is DEA). I love that they have this convo with Sonny’s lieutenant on a gorgeous bridge somewhere. Every frame a painting.
Crockett asks if Tubbs has a reason to be there, besides to “work on his tan.”
Tubbs bats his eyelashes and sweetly drawls, “hush my mouth, he’s so funny.” The snap in tone after, along with more moments in this episode, light the edges of Tubb’s initial feelings about Sonny. You can’t trust a white dude, let alone a southern one, Tubbs knows that.
We find out that Tubbs (our New York friend) is here on “priority clearance.” He’s looking for a drug dealing cop-killer named Calderone, who is def that Columbian that Sonny has been looking for. We get to look at a surveillance picture that shows said dead cop, you know, that guy Tubbs was holding in his arms a flashback ago.
Trying to make nice to Sonny, despite his personal feelings, Tubbs brings breakfast with some copies of those surveillance pics and meets Elvis, the alligator who lives on the boat The Saint Vitus Dance because Sonny has a brand and sticks to it. “Don’t mind him, Elvis, he’s from New York.” Sonny don’t trust folks from The City, and though I know we’re supposed to feel a little like that can play against how Tubbs feels about Crockett, it doesn’t really match, does it.
A Very Miami shot of a courthouse, where our skinny belt friend, Leon, gets released with wording that implies he tattled on Calderone.
This has got the cops all happy because now Leon needs their protection and will actually tattle. Not cool, dudes. Great poster on the wall there, tho.
Leon is rightfully worried and artfully disarrayed from the cool, on-point self he was just the night before. Girls Just Wanna Have Fun is playing and slowly ramping up volume in a happy but threatening way while the cuts get faster.
I want this bathing suit. Please, also, the whole look on the out-of-focus lady on the right, headband and all.
Who is this dame? Her look is so good, from pearl-tipped hat pin to gold jewellery.
She shoots Leon, with a silencer, in front of everyone and just before Sonny and Tubbs can talk to him. Sonny has a moment with some fucking amazing sunglasses.
Fuck, I just bought new prescription sunglasses and I honestly am angry because I want to go back and see if I can find frames like these. Anyway, the beach is horrified and this is the end of part one.
God, this show.
As much as I’d love to write monographs on this show, I’ve really only got time and energy to cap the shit out of it and share the things I’d be yelling at the TV about anyway. If you like this and want more, become my Patreon supporter to access to posts like these first and also get zip files of the first cull of caps (which is about twice what is used in a post).
Also published on Medium.