It’s the first episode without either show “developer” Paul Haggis or show co-creator John Romano getting at least a co-writing credit so I thought “Michael Hayes” must be on solider ground. If they’re going to trust credited writers Richard Kletter and Gardner Stern, it must be because it’s safe. Or Haggis and Romano just didn’t want this turd on their official WGA filmographies.
About the only thing the episode does right is Ruben Santiago-Hudson. Santiago-Hudson usually gets a crap part in Romano-credited episodes, this episode he’s fine. So it’s not hard to write Santiago-Hudson, the other folks apparently just really can’t do it. Because Kletter and Stern being able to do it… it ends up being the only thing they can do. If Death and Taxes isn’t the worst episode so far, it’s bad enough it’s making me forget any lower.
It’s a nineties Russian mob episode, with David Caruso trying to get earnest gas station owner George Tasudis to flip on bad guy Shaun Taub; there’s a vaguely interesting description of the gas scam Taub’s running and the episode would’ve played much better if it’d just been them trying to beat him with taxes or whatever. Instead, it’s thirty-five minutes of energetic water treading until the plot’s finally to a point where Caruso can convince Tasudis. What’s hilarious about the episode—which gets on a high horse with the differences between what the U.S. government can do to protect people versus the Russian government—is how badly Kletter and Stern work through that equation. It’s actually impressive how poorly the episode executes its conclusion—with a Russian music themed juxtapose, along with Caruso running around with a gun. I really thought we’d left the “U.S. Attorney packs heat” behind in the pilot, but I imagine—outside Hillary Danner, Peter Outerbridge, and Rebecca Rigg appearing—this episode looks a lot like what Romano had in mind before whoever with an eye on quality and competence brought in Haggis.
Outerbridge gets like three scenes and at least there isn’t a vague implication he’s working against Caruso because Caruso’s not a WASP, Danner gets maybe two scenes… Rigg also gets two, but only gets to speak in one of them. Otherwise she’s just there because they need a familiar face. It’s an abject waste of the regular cast. Though, then again, given how well the episode does with David Cubitt and Mary B. Ward, maybe less is better. It’s the inevitable episode where ex-con Cubitt gets brought back into crime because he can’t cover his debt to the loan shark–something the show’s been forecasting since it started—and also Cubitt confronting Caruso and Ward about the affair he imagines they’re having. Except the writing’s really bad and the episode’s already established Caruso and Ward have negative romantic chemistry; after this episode it’s impossible to imagine Ward having chemistry with anyone—she’s actually worse than Cubitt, which is an achievement of sorts. It’s such a bad subplot. And then for the main plot to go worse….
There are lots of one-liners for Caruso, which are both tiresome and inappropriate (at one point he forgets how many victims they’ve got and it’s not a number he ought to be forgetting because it’s a very low number), but it’s more of a “good actor in a bad show” situation than anything else. Alex Graves’s direction is a little more ambitious than it needs to be, especially when he’s so bad with the performances.
It’s a stinker. If it were episode two or three, it might be a jumping off point. It’s such bad writing. Just… such bad writing.
Theodore Bikel pops up for a couple scenes as a Russian mob specialist working for the FBI (he accepts his salary in paid dinners); he’s fine. Crap part, but he’s fine.
Last thing—and another whack at Kletter and Stern—Taub’s crime boss name is “The Little Turk,” presumably so they don’t have to keep saying Russian names, but there’s also something kind of bigoty about it. Like every time they use it they’re getting away with something. Not to mention at the time of the episode, less than 95,000 Turkish people lived in Russia? Maybe the episode’s just before Hollywood was comfortable with blond haired, blue-eyed Russians being the villains.
Whatever; it stinks. Kletter and Stern are bad at their job.