The Virtues of Miami Vice: “Bushido”

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.

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Episode: “Bushido”

Written by John Leekley

Directed by Edward James Olmos

Max: Welllll, alright, alright. Jake and I took a brief hiatus from the column, but, as we all know, crime never sleeps and neither can The Virtues of Miami Vice. This week, we’re tackling the season 2 installment — and a series best episode — “Bushido.” Centering on Edward James Olmos’s taciturn Lieutenant Castillo, “Bushido” establishes something extremely important: Martin Castillo is a massive weeaboo who owns at least one sword.

Jake: This episode’s casual “by-the-way” info drop that Castillo is essentially an extremely dangerous samurai in a skinny tie is one of my favorite things on TV ever. Like, your stern and composed Applebee’s manager has a katana hidden in his desk. Max, this episode is flat-out some great over-the-top television.

Max: As ever, “Bushido” delivers a very solid opening “stakeout” sequence as our heroes wait for an undercover DEA agent to make a coke exchange. But while previous versions of this kind of opening are fairly restrained, here we have THE ENTIRE VICE SQUAD in various disguises. Zito is, somehow, hiding in a big sandpit breathing through a straw for what must have been over an hour. The deal not only goes wrong, but it goes so wrong that there’s a guy covered in cocaine hanging dead over a toilet before we get to the title credits.

Jake: I think I’ve said before that I love when Miami Vice essentially becomes a parody of itself, and this is a stellar example. The long shots past the various Vice Squad members in bizarre disguises is deliciously self-indulgent filmmaking. Max, I think that one thing that makes this episode so strong is that Crockett and Tubbs once again take a back seat, and it gives us SO MUCH of Edward James Olmos’s incredibly intense Castillo smolder. The whole episode is just him in various states of rage and despair under a mask of stoicism, a simultaneously hammy and understated performance.

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Max: We’ve sort of neglected talking about Castillo too much, and we didn’t cover his big two-parter “Golden Triangle,” but he’s a huge aspect of why I love Miami Vice. Castillo is 100% the Wolverine of Miami Vice, up to and including his weird reverence for the code of the samurai. Our Special Guest Star this episode is Dean Stockwell, who plays rogue CIA killer and Castillo’s former best friend Jack Gretsky. This is awesome because Miami Vice is trying to sell us on the idea that the sidekick from Quantum Leap is a ninja-like government killer and, like, they pretty much pull it off.

Jake: It’s flat-out amazing how well they sell Castillo’s and Gretsky’s history together. The amount of onscreen tension at basically every point of this episode is really impressive, and much of it is anchored by the bizarre yet poised performance from Olmos as a duty-bound man who is first forced to gun down his former best friend and then save his wife and child from the KGB. With a sword, mind you.

Max: Between Castillo tragically shooting a man who named his only son “Martin” in honor of him and Castillo protecting Gretsky’s Russian family, we get some great business with a bunch of crooked CIA types who hang out in a haunted Chuck E. Cheese’s. Then those guys get wiped out by a couple of KGB types attempting to bring Gretsky’s family back behind the Iron Curtain. I’d like to remind our readers that this is a show ostensibly about the war on drugs?

Jake: This episode feels like it could easily have been a backdoor pilot for a show where Castillo kills KGB agents in Singapore, which, uh, I would watch TO THE MAX. It’s packed to the gills with double-crosses and huge personalities, ridiculous monologues and tense standoffs. Honestly the only thing it’s missing is an honest-to-god swordfight. I would say one of the other huge successes of this episode is the one-shot bad American contractor working for the KGB, a boisterous Felix Leiter-type named Surf. Max, I love this guy.

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Max: SURF! SURRRRFFFF! Holy crap, this guy. You could hang an entire movie on Surf. I’m almost bummed he dies at the end of the episode. There’s a lot going on with Surf that I really dig, like that he’s a beefy all-American type who is clearly stuck working with these dorky KGB guys that he openly despises. The bit where he’s driving Tubbs’s car around…with his legs? He’s just creepy as hell. Surf shows up, menaces Gretsky’s family and Castillo, then gets OBLITERATED by bullets so that Don Johnson can make a hilariously dumb quip. This episode is…pure cinema.

Jake: I first saw this episode years ago, and Crockett casually shouting “Surf’s up, pal!” before he and Tubbs basically completely unload their guns on him has always stuck with me. It shouldn’t be, but it’s really fucking funny. It’s just a perfect self-contained episode of Miami Vice because it feels like a movie. The ending is so strong, too. Castillo, having saved Gretsky’s family and seen them off, stoically resolves to replace the department money lost in the drug deal gone bad (which we’ve definitely forgotten about after seeing him kill two guys with a samurai sword) with his own money. A man of honor!

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Max: That’s how it works, right? You can just pay the difference if the government’s money goes missing? “Bushido” is a very silly Miami Vice episode, but it works because, at the end of the day, it’s Edward James Olmos directing an episode of the show where he kills two guys with a samurai sword like if your dad did a Sweded version of Kill Bill in your living room.

NEXT TIME: “PHIL THE SHILL”  

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