On 'Vinyl' Episode 9, Richie Finestra's Motivations Make Less Sense than Usual

He's about to go to jail, or an early grave, but Bobby Cannavale's character is still harnessing the power of the cool.

HBO Network

Richie Finestra is not concerned enough that he might go to jail for a few decades. When it’s clear that the detectives who have been tracking hum for the better part of Vinyl’s run finally spring a confession tape on him, it seems like everything is nearly over for Bobby Cannavale’s character. This week, however, a lifeline comes… but in the form of what seems like an even worse deal. The feds, who are attempting to nail Galasso (Armen Garo) — the mob leader from which Richie has just taken a loan and agreed to split his American Century’s offices — and will help Richie stay out of jail if he can funnel them information. The kneejerk consensus? It’s a “suicide pact,” as Richie’s lawyer puts it.

So Bobby spends most of last night’s Vinyl bopping around downtown NYC, fatalistically sober, distracting himself from his ugly truth — he’s not going to be a free man much longer — and trying to reconnect with his kids. Yet he seems a bit too calm, and preoccupied by other matters, for someone looking at serious jail time. He’s about to rip his family all the way apart (as opposed to the current ¾ of the way) — possibly destroy his kids’ prosperous futures. Why are any of his thoughts occupied with the well-being of the Nasty Bits at this juncture?

It seems Richie doesn’t care much if he’s dead or alive, but that he’s going to try to do the best he can while it’s still around. But we’re not fed enough information to really understand his mental landscape except in the most stereotypical terms. At this point in the show, Finestra is fully lost in the Don Draper vortex of prestige television protagonists: He does nothing but do damage essentially, and yet we’re expected to still feel his overpowering anti-hero magnetism. If it sometimes worked in Mad Men, it never works here, for all of Cannavale’s best efforts. The episode finds Richie, outside of the Chelsea Hotel, admitting that he’s a killer to Devon (Olivia Wilde), which simply dumfounds her — so he walks away. Then, he finds a sense of purpose when listening to the Nasty Bits’ new tape, which he finds (somehow) not only just listenable, but like gutwrenching emotional realism. His final Draper-ian moment of inspiration in the episode — in which he calls his lawyer and says he wants to take the feds’ deal — recalls very strongly like the moments on Mad Men when Don actually thinks up an ad, to remind the viewer why he still has a a job.

It’s not only Richie’s antics are implausible this week. It’s — among other things — the unnecessary threesome that occurs between Jamie (Juno Temple) and two of the Bits (James Jagger and Dustin Payseur) and Andrea Zito’s (Annie Parisse) vicious denunciation of Jamie and Cece (Susan Heyward) for sleeping around, which functions mostly as a way to inform the view that — during their bygone tryst — Richie got Andrea pregnant. “Fuck yourself in the ass, Zito reminds Richie, and Vinyl’s long thread of incongruous shock tactics unspools even further.

Everything leads back to Richie in this show, after all, though he never does or accomplishes anything impressive. His defining “achievements,” as we see them in the present-day action on Vinyl, are just excessively deplorable acts that it’s hard to reconcile with the slightly addled character as Cannavale plays him. 

And perhaps his wayward mopeyness in this episode is what makes Zacks (Ray Romano) assault on him in the American Century buildings elevator so satisfying. First of all, its a rare compelling and successful music cue on this show that is chocked too full of self-congratulatory, willfully clever ones; all hail Dusty in Memphis. Second, theres almost no dialogue, just wonderfully poignant, emotionally wounded looks you didn’t know Ray Romano had in him.

The scene is enough to make one wonder if Vinyl would have worked better as a silent film with rock hits blasting without any interruption through the entire series. Take out the middle man, Vinyl (or perhaps that’s what they were trying to do by letting showrunner and station vet Terence Winter go before Season 2?) Lester storming out on Richie after seeing Maury at American Century is an effective Richie-defying moment in this episode as well, but it’s Romano’s silent treatment that works the best.

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