For five seasons, Metro-Dade vice squad detectives Sonny Crockett and Rico Tubbs cruised the neon-soaked streets of Miami as soldiers in a seemingly endless war on drugs, guns and prostitution. For Deadshirt, writer Max Robinson and Jake Arant hit the pavement and dig into the very best episodes of Miami Vice.
Episode: “Out Where the Buses Don’t Run”
Directed by Jim Johnston
Written by Joel Surnow & Douglas Lloyd Mcintosh
Max: A nation turns its lonely eyes once again to the heroes of the Miami-Dade police department. Two men and a city full of guns, drugs and bad times. This…is The Virtues of Miami Vice. Jake, let’s talk about this week’s episode in which Crockett and Tubbs have to team up with an insane man who is in love with a computer.
Jake: Max, this episode is weird. It’s equally parts disarmingly manic and somber, and it has always made me sort of uncomfortable. Crockett and Tubbs find themselves reluctantly teamed up with Hank Weldon (Bruce McGill), an ex-vice detective with a predilection for floral shirts and shitty impressions of film characters. I was doing some reading on this one, and it’s apparently considered to be one of the overall best episodes of the entire show! What do you think, Max?
Max: This is an undeniably excellent episode of the Miami Vice, but I certainly have some reservations with calling it The Best. Let’s start with the positives: This episode has an opening that is pah-erfect. Crockett and Tubbs are tracking a drug dealer in short-shorts who’s rollerblade-ing to some customers who happen to be standing outside a weird Christian revival show led by NONE OTHER than Little Richard, all set to a live version of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley.”
Jake: Can you believe it?! Little Richard. Wow. What a world. The opening really is perfect, a solid blend of tension and comedy and striking visuals. Don Johnson trying to ward off a furious nun as she beats the perp with her Bible is really funny. This episode is fairly well-paced, but I think your enjoyment of it might be determined by how much you can tolerate Hank Weldon. He is a fountain of bad dad jokes and cringey one-liners, made tolerable in my opinion by the slow burn buildup of his obvious and pronounced mental issues.
Max: According to Wikipedia, Bruce McGill’s most recent credit is narrating a Donald Trump campaign ad! Hank Weldon is an odd fit as ostensibly the focus point of “Out Where the Buses Don’t Run.” The character is made up a handful of interesting hooks (his jokes/annoying impressions are a defense mechanism, he uses a literal computer as a surrogate for the wife who presumably left him, he’s a disgraced legend of the vice squad) that never feel like they totally pan out. Weldon is like if Jar Jar Binks had depression and then—spoilers—you found out he murdered a guy at the end of Phantom Menace.
Jake: An apt and disturbing comparison! One of the coolest parts of this episode is a huge drug bust that takes place in the Stiltsville projects out in the waters of Miami, a collection of buildings held up out of the water on, well, stilts. Max, this episode gifts us Tubbs riding shotgun in a speedboat shooting at drug dealers with an assault rifle, which is a visual so ridiculous that it could just as easily exist as a parody of Miami Vice.
Max: I’m a huge sucker for any time in movies or TV shows when our heroes just roll up with huge guns to some heavy shit so Crockett and Tubbs straight up GOING TO WAR on a drug house out on the water. Stiltsville’s a nice change of pace for the show’s usual settings of clubs, penthouses and urban back alleys, it’s easy to see why they chose it for this episode’s big showdown.
I think my major beef with this episode is I 80% of it is extremely hard to follow? The major plot with Arcaro, Costanza and Weldon is…muddled to say the least.
Jake: I have to agree with you here. It almost sets itself up as a flashback narrative, but Arcaro, the ostensible villain of the thing, is basically an unseen character, and the show expects you to remember this whole tangled thing with him, Weldon, and this new crew of dealers without actually seeing most of what’s happening. In service to the big reveal perhaps, but thinking about it now, not particularly cleanly structured.
Max: Miami Vice really works best when it’s running off a very direct, straightforward plot. The whole Weldon plot’s a big mess and kind of coasts off McGill’s sorta Emmy-bait performance (which is, admittedly, pretty solid for what it is).
Jake: Honestly what makes this episode for me is about the last three or four minutes. There’s a great scene that echoes the “In The Air Tonight” part of the pilot, with the strong sound design and flashy camera angles that Miami Vice is famous for that leads directly into the big, and extremely unsettling reveal that concludes the episode. Weldon’s schtick is uneven at best, but the closer is some of the coolest stuff I’ve ever seen on TV, just perfectly framed. It’s another great example of the mental toll that Vice Detectives often find themselves paying in the show’s universe, something that writers would start to lean on more and more often. Perhaps as a narrative experimentation on its own the episode falls flat, but the bizarre performances and great bookends are what really make the whole thing talking about.
Max: Gotta love the choice of Dire Straits over this ending. We’ve gotten a couple of “once great cop is arrested” kind of Miami Vice endings, but this one is particularly interesting because it lingers a little past where you expect. We find out that Weldon murdered Arcaro and hid his body behind a wall in an abandoned building and THEN we find out Weldon’s partner—now a fed—was the one who helped him do it.
Not that “Out Where the Buses Don’t Run” is an especially nuanced portrayal of mental illness, but I do dig that Weldon here is not portrayed as a secret bad guy here but rather a sick person whose demons have completely consumed him. Weldon clearly wanted to do the right thing and his interactions with Crockett and Tubbs are a cry for help.
Jake: It’s a pretty damn somber spot to hang their hats, but it works. I have to say, I’m glad Weldon was placed as a one-shot character because he wouldn’t have worked beyond that. As it is, it’s a great concept episode with some uneven execution, and it leaves a lasting legacy.
IN TWO WEEKS: “BUSHIDO”