The Virtues of Miami Vice: “Tale of the Goat”

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: “Tale of the Goat”

Written by Jim Trombetta

Directed by Michael O’Herilhy

Max: Crockett and Tubbs have faced a variety of foes on Miami Vice. Gunrunners, drug dealers…well, mainly gunrunners and drug dealers. But “Tale of the Goat” pits our boys against the forces of the supernatural. Uhh well, sort of! Jake, this episode is wild.

Jake: Max, this episode has that strong scent of a lot of bored writers spitballing insane ideas over lukewarm Chinese takeout. Crockett and Tubbs VS Haitian Voodoo! If you fly into this episode expecting a sensitive, nuanced take on the concept of voodoo and Haitian culture, you are going to be extremely disappointed. It’s Live and Let Die all over again, although I will say that this feels…relatively less racist. Although it’s probably not hard to be more racially sensitive than an early Seventies James Bond movie. Max, what did you think of this one?

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Max: This is an episode of primetime television where our villain of the week shambles around screaming nonsense about Baron Samedi so, yeah, pretty broad stuff. I dug this episode, mainly because it really goes for it. The conceit that Crockett and Tubbs are chasing down a crime boss who’s somehow back from the dead (via a rare poison-induced coma) is a good one, and Clarence Williams III (aka Prince’s dad from Purple Rain) chews some quality scenery as Legba. Also, a guy on a motorcycle rolls up and ventilates a coffin at a Haitian funeral.

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Jake: This episode is not short on the very sudden, very batshit insane moments of hammy acting and violence that make Miami Vice a lot of fun. Legba is a really great villain of the week, shambling around on a crutch and ordering his little person sidekick to kill people with a pickaxe. It has a setup that’s pretty common for this show, introducing the antagonist as somebody that Crockett has been trying to arrest for years. Some people would call that lazy, but it mostly saves exposition time that’s better used for one-liners. Despite the bizarre premise and the heavy use of psychedelic post-effects and camera work, I actually found this one pretty easy to follow. We even get a great mini-arc of Tubbs dealing with an internal crisis that could leave him permanently psychologically damaged. It doesn’t, though.

Max: This episode is, surprisingly, a breeze to follow and I think it helps that Legba’s scheme boils down to “mumble like a creep and kill a couple dudes.” Oh yeah, and one of those dudes is Mykelti Williamson, who’s been in everything from Forrest Gump to Justified!

This is primarily a Tubbs episode and Tubbs spends half the episode horny for Legba’s main squeeze turned informant and the latter half dosed on voodoo poison that makes him trip balls. If there’s a problem with “Tale of the Goat” it’s that Tubbs’ recovering from a brain damage-inducing poison is kind of an afterthought when it could’ve been a big through-line for the episode. Tubbs-centered episodes never seem like they have as much to chew on as Crockett ones, not sure if that comes down to Don Johnson having stronger screen presence than Philip Michael Thomas or the fact that Tubbs at this point in the show doesn’t have a strong “hook” beyond his dead brother. As Tubbs episodes go, though, it’s a good ‘un.

Jake: Remember the big emotional scene in Regarding Henry where Harrison Ford overcomes his brain damage by suddenly whipping an Italian shotgun out from under his tuxedo jacket and fucking shooting Prince’s dad off the side of a boat? This episode’s narrative definitely takes a big backseat to spectacle and clashing charisma onscreen, and I’m honestly fine with it. We get whole big multi-episode arcs dealing with retrograde amnesia and losing faith in humanity down the road, and once we get out of Season Two, episodes that have a lot of bizarre stuff AND end happy become a pretty serious rarity. Our usual side characters are actually barely in this one. I swear to God, Edward James Olmos was getting paychecks to show up, stare into the middle distance, and say something in a hoarse monotone. And he’s really good at it. Olmos is a bona-fide treasure.

Max: Olmos appearances as Castillo are usually 20 seconds of glowering before he goes off to raid craft services and, listen, it’s great. Switek, Zito, Trudy and Gina are in this one very briefly but as a result we get some excellent one-episode characters like Bobby Profile, the used car king/money launderer who gets blown up for reasons I can’t immediately recall, and the hyper-80s looking-doctor who handles the voodoo poison exposition. TO SAY NOTHING of the unnamed Hispanic janitor that a weary Crockett talks to about voodoo?

Jake: The fucking janitor! This guy is just sort mopping the floor behind Crockett “after hours” at the police station, and a very beaten-down Crockett turns to him and asks him if he thinks voodoo is real. Never mind the man’s response, I need to be clear about something here: Crockett either knows this man well and respects his opinion, OR he doesn’t have a god damn clue who he is, but he thinks “Well, he’s here, he’s Hispanic, he’s mopping, he’s got some jewelry on, I’ll bend his ear.” From what I can find out, this guy is in ONE other episode of this show. He’s not even an actor! He worked on like The French Connection and Field of Dreams, but his only acting credit is a bit part as the wise world-weary Miami Vice janitor. I…Literally cannot imagine a better job.

Max: I think it’s important that the police station janitor is basically like “buddy believe in it or not but Voodoo will fuck you up my guy.” What an insane incidental conversation.

I wouldn’t put this in my top five but it’s nice to get a kind of disposable, weird episode that doesn’t end with Crockett and Tubbs contemplating life’s miseries.             

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Jake: Absolutely, it has an upbeat ending! I feel like they killed this guy and went and got beer and oysters afterward. This episode is fun, but it doesn’t feel essential in the way some of the others we’ve discussed have. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it would be a very poor starter episode for those uninitiated into the world of Miami Vice. That said, it has dirtbikes AND voodoo in it, which is both a rad combination or words and a subpar Godsmack album.

NEXT TIME: “Definitely Miami”

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