Now we’re gonna get into the second half of the 1984 Miami Vice pilot episode, “Brother’s Keeper,” which aired in two parts and which I stuck to for posting about it, because that’s a lotta Miami Vice. First part here.
In this episode is the Most Iconic Miami Vice Scene and also an encounter with an actor that is reborn as another character later in the series, much to my delight.
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.
When we last left our reluctant duo they were pairing up to take care of the Big Bad and their possible in, Leon, got very dead. Now Sonny and Tubbs are off to look at Leon’s place, which seems pretty dang nice. Look at the art on the landing!
Leon had a nice, if low-key decorated place. Maybe he felt like the basic architecture and statuary spoke for his wealth and station better than couches could. I mean, this statue at the front of the building.
Here’s Gina, my equal fave with Trudy and the primary fave of Sonny. She tends to favour full skirts and neat blouses.
And Trudy, who always has a good look going on and tends towards more structured dresses. This print! Also I love Sonny’s wrinkled-ass peach linen jacket. Miami Vice lets their characters really wear the clothes, so there’s always wrinkles and dirt and sweat and I feel for the costuming team.
Crockett and Tubbs in their undercover drug duds, I love the gradual softening and lightening of Tubbs’ clothing colours.
And we got Martin Ferrero as Trini DeSoto, the right-hand man of Calderone. The roots of the character he plays in later episodes (a TOTALLY different person, it’s weird, but you roll with it) are here in this scene, with an over-the-top personality and Cuban accent that, as Trini, is played with a scary edge. Oversized suit and joyous butchering of idiom aside, this dude don’t fool around.
Trini makes a point of saying how he learned English from the “classics” like I Love Lucy. He adds, “That [Desi Arnez] never got an Academy Award says something very deep about the American psyche.”
You’re fucking right, Trini.
Sonny and Tubbs confirm their deal and demand to meet Calderone. Business reasons. They go out with Gina and Trudy to an awesome dinner club and this is as close as they get to Calderone.
Then All Night Long (All Night) starts, played by a house band. It’s great.
Tubbs can’t help himself and goes over, Jamaican accent turned to 11, to meet his nemesis. He shakes Calderone’s hand and the visual of his rings is repeated later this episode.
Work done, Gina ends up going home to Sonny’s boat and the inevitable happens. Sonny says he isn’t in love with Caroline and it’s really what Gina’s been wanting forever. Look at her, she’s like an angel descending as she goes into the boat.
Earlier that evening, however, Gina let Sonny know that Tubbs couldn’t be Tubbs. The name he gave, “Rafael Tubbs” was the name of a dead man. Sonny does not take this well when Tubbs, in happy Miami wear, comes by the next morning.
He defends himself with a fact shuts Sonny down quickly.
“I know we look alike to all you southern crackers, but not that alike.” He demands Sonny look at the surveillance picture and recognise the cop in it as Tubbs’ brother. Having forged and lied and wrangled his way south, Tubbs (Ricardo Tubbs), isn’t going to let Sonny call off their plan. So Crockett continues, and please note that back at the station he’s carrying a gun in holster AND one tucked into the back of his charcoal linen slacks.
There’s some confrontation with Gina, since Sonny sleepily muttered his wife’s name that morning. Sorry bud, your heart done you in. Gina’s mostly disappointed in herself, because she straight knew it but banged him anyway. We get it, girl. Also love the sweater.
And this lady walks into the middle of this conversation in the police station ladies’ room and I want that jacket. I think I saw that jacket at Forever21.
Also, here is Sonny but also some ace deploy of glass brick.
Meanwhile, back at the boat, Tubbs is reading Sonny for his sad collection of cassettes.
While giving the rundown for the job at the station, Sonny gets flicked shit for . . . the quality of his t-shirt? I’m not sure. It’s a nice shirt, and probably like, 50% viscose, but dude.
In this half-a-minute, they set up the old guard attitude of a lot of the station. “Did you roll a fairy for that shirt?” Sonny calling the group “girls”, most of the men whistling at Gina and Trudy when they walk by in their street wear. It’s weird and not a tone that surfaces as strongly in later episodes.
For reasons that you can go read a real summary for, Tubbs goes for a meet by himself, but Sonny realises last minute that the ongoing leak at the station probably outed him. We get a nice little long-panning number to where Tubbs is waiting and see a familiar bag and dame walking up.
She asks Tubbs if he wants to party, he answers that he’s waiting for somebody, she pulls a gun, the cops and Sonny arrive and save Tubbs, Sonny killing his would-be-shooter. In death, the wig falls off and we see it’s Trini.
I’m going to note here, there is really nothing made of Trini wearing feminine clothing and a wig. There’s not enough to go on if this was just something Trini found to be a good disguise or something that was just part of life. The level of truly on-point accessorising makes equal sense. Either way, you want to blend in.
Now that Sonny knows who the leak is, he goes to take care of it. The juxtaposition of this car in the suburbs is beautiful.
Ohh, it’s bad shirt guy. Oh jeez. His kid’s got medical expenses, he’s got reasons for wanting dirty money.
Sonny is not pleased though. This has killed people. They have jobs to do. This guy used to be his partner before he was DEA. There’s a nicely framed scene where we see past partner and new partner, making a very “angrily moving on” moment.
And the shot we started with is repeated, with organised chaos.
And then. THE SCENE.
Listen, I’m gonna give you one shot here, because it’s actually a perfect diagram of my fleshy, human heart.
Our boys get to Calderone and the view of those rings is repeated, this time with menace.
As though released to true freedom with the In The Air Tonight sequence, the visuals get dreamy and poetic and there’s just a heavy silence of breathing and footsteps as Tubbs hunts Calderone.
Tubbs can’t shoot him, of course. He’s a cop. Calderone has a moment though, where his comfort in knowing he can break bail is unsettled by the seething rage of Tubbs’ desire for vengeance.
But he’s totally arrested and when Tubbs and Crockett go to transfer him later, taking these lovingly shot government stairs, he’s gone.
But we get another chase scene out of it. This car, the Daytona Spyder, is a beaut. I did a car kit of it, actually. All the cars in Miami Vice are carefully considered and very exotic and driven the same way fighting planes in space battles manoeuvre—improbably and at devastating speed.
But they’re literally a step behind Calderone, a man who can shake off a two million dollar bail without a thought.
He’s on the plane and out of their lives, for now.
Tubbs knows that he won’t get his job back in New York, and rightfully so. But Sonny suggests, “You ever consider a career in southern law enforcement?”
And so ends basically the best pilot.
Both episodes were released together as “Miami Vice: The Movie” in 1985 on home video, which was smart, because it’s a perfect and complete package. That it’s just the start of a show that keeps its opening promises is a gift to us all.
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.