Richie's personal and professional lives collide — in multiple and (surprise!) messy ways
Credit: Macall B. Polay/HBO
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We’ve been waiting half a season now to find out what kind of musical deus ex machina will swoop in to save Richie Finestra and American Century from bankruptcy (or worse, irrelevance). Will it be sneery punks the Nasty Bits? Richie’s old friend and first signing, Lester? Some still-undiscovered genius? Who knows, but I’m not betting my mead chalice or my money on Wizard Fist — the scampering, flute-stroking hairballs that forever-clueless A&R lackey Clark (Jack Quaid) rustled up from the jousting pit of some downmarket Renaissance Fair to impress Richie in tonight’s opening scene. (His fellow rep Julie’s underwhelmed reaction: “Where’d you find these guys, Sherwood Forest?”)

And when the Wizard frontman’s drapey Ren-sleeve catches on fire, that’s not even a low point — it’s just the start of a long, sad parade of not quite‘s and no thank you’s, flipping by in quick-cut montage. Richie’s already resigned himself to a wasted evening when his giant car phone rings: It’s Sal Finestra, who we met at the very tail-end of last week’s episode. (Incidentally, he’s played by Mean Streets star David Proval, so that’s nice Scorsese symmetry; you might also remember him as Richie Aprile on The Sopranos.) Anyway, he’s agreed to be a nice dad and give the cops an alibi for the night of Buck Rogers’ murder: They were together, watching Enter the Dragon. (Never mind that the idea Richie would leave his own massive birthday party in Connecticut to see a movie with his dad makes no sense and that we already know Richie conspicuously saw Dragon by himself, covered in New York Dolls dust and other powdery substances.) Also, Sal knows it’s about Buck because the detectives showed him graphic pictures: “What the hell did you do? The guy’s head was bashed in like a cantaloupe!”

Clark is finally called into Julie’s office for a well-deserved reckoning, and after some tutoring in German philosophy, he gets the bad news: He’s fired. He cries and lies, saying he almost signed Alice Cooper, and then cries some more; there’s a lot of snot, and now he’s just straight-up begging to stay. “Jesus Christ, are you completely without pride?” Julie asks before he relents, offering him a pay cut and Jamie’s old job fetching sandwiches and running errands. But he’s a Yalie! Sorry, Whiffenpoof; take it, or leave it. He takes it.

Richie’s in a planning meeting for the Nasty Bits, and Zak (Ray Romano) is explaining to frontman Kip (James Jagger) that getting the record on the air will require bios and promo and radio interviews — “with talking and eye contact, not the sullen looks to the floor” — and guess what, Kip’s not down. “’I’m Kip Stevens. F— your mum!’ There’s my bio.” He calls Jamie in, and Richie miraculously agrees that she deserves to be there; she smooths things over as soon as she walks in, but Kip won’t let up, and Richie’s finally had enough: “See, this is what happens when a label picks you up. We groom you, we work with you, we turn you into something that might actually have a life.”

Plus, he’s got the trump card: He’s got the Bits booked to open for the New York Dolls — a favor from a friend. Kip’s sneer finally turns into a half smile. Richie’s apparently enjoying the honesty zone because he decides it’s time to tell secretary Cece that hanging her star to Hannibal, one of his biggest acts, will get her nowhere. She counters with some hard intel: Hannibal’s thinking about going to another label, the one run by his nemesis Jackie Jervis. So he schedules a rush-job rescue dinner with Hannibal and enlists a not-thrilled Dev to come along; it will be business and pleasure, he promises.

Jamie, meanwhile, is wondering whether Clark’s demotion means she’s been promoted; he’s officially taken her sandwich duties, and she’s the one who brought in the only new band they’ve got so far, right? Julie shoots that dream down quick. Clark, he says, “was made Vice President in Charge of Lunch. You are still Vice President of Coffee and Correspondence and whatever the f— else you do out there.” Julie, as we’ve learned, is kind of a pig and has some terrible instincts when it comes to bands (that Kinks cover!), but the real reason of course is at least partly that the label can’t afford to bring her up to a more senior salary. “We’re barely hanging on here, or hadn’t you noticed?”

Richie decides to pay a visit to Jackie’s PR lady Andrea (Annie Parisse) on a photo set, and in not a total shocker, it’s about more than just Hannibal; they’ve got a history that obviously runs pretty deep, and she immediately smacks down his offer to make her head of publicity at American Century. He’s archaic, she says; they’re in the era of prog-rock and Pink Floyd deep cuts, and he’s “still slapping headshots on album covers and calling it art.” But she must know by now what a schmuck Jackie is, too, and Richie’s earnest vision for the company, even if it’s cloudy, finally (almost) convinces her. He won’t agree to the full partnership she asks for, though, so she gives him an “I love you babe, I always have,” and walks away.

And now look who’s back: It’s Lena Olin (we were not wrong about the angry landlady in episode 3!), having lunch in an elegant restaurant with Jamie. They’re whisper-fighting in two languages over consommé — Jamie: “God, if I have to hear about you sucking off the Hitler Youth again I’m gonna throw myself off a…” Olin’s character: “Close your mouth before I stab you in the throat” — which can only mean they must be family. Jamie tries to tell her she’s moving up at work, but it doesn’t matter, she still thinks she’s an embarrassment. They knives stay put; they just direct their quiet rage into the consommé.

NEXT: Richie and Dev reach their boiling point

More family fun is waiting for Richie back at the office: Dad is there entertaining the troops with wild stories. But once they’re alone, it’s all digs and recriminations: Richie’s a hack and a fancy-man poser; Sal’s an alcoholic who never showed up for his son’s life and blew his own shot as a musician. Finally, they broker a sort of peace, and Richie even gets a tender, fatherly face pat: “I’m sorry about your friend [i.e. Buck]. I hope the cops catch who did it.” Well, that could mean a few things.

The next scene segue — a pretty spot-on Little Richard tearing through “Rip It Up” — bring us to the Bits bickering in the studio and then dinner with Hannibal. Dev has slapped on some red lipstick and a disco Jessica Rabbit dress, and she’s playing her part; Hannibal’s eating it up, and he’s got his own neat party trick: making up name anagrams on the spot (Devon Finestra = “Finest Dove Ran,” etc.) Then it’s Richie’s turn, and after coming up with “Terrifies China” on a first pass (“They do hate me at that noodle place on 57th Street,” Richie agrees), Hannibal lays down the big one: “He in Racist Fire.” Well, now at least we understand this episode title.

The poor Nasty Bits guitarist that Richie wanted to get rid of finally gets the boot from Lester, and Kip doesn’t even stick around to do it; he’s back at his place making out with Jamie, who’s happily surprised to see that the guy who thinks four chords is one too many actually has a Big Star record in his collection. She’s also crafty enough to get him away from his box of opiates, at least temporarily, by distracting him with sex and a pep talk.

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The Hannibal dinner has turned into a hotel dance party, and more specifically a party of two between him and Dev, which is some kind of power play for her and clearly rage fuel for Richie, who finally loses his cool and drags her out. He’s furious, and so is she: “You served me up on a goddamn platter…I was bait so he’d sign. Everyone in that room knew that.” They both say some nasty stuff, but Richie takes it nuclear: “I didn’t give you millions of dollars so you thought a black c–k was your consolation prize. No? Say what you want, your c—t doesn’t lie.” Scorched earth, and he gets a slap that is 1,000 percent deserved; even the Doors’ “The Crystal Ship” can’t save him this one.

It also can’t undo the fact that those cops from the end of the last episode, the pair who had so many helpful suggestions for Robert Goulet, have bugged his office and heard the whole Buck Rogers conversation he had with his dad. It’s not actually incriminating, but it’s not not. (Side note, apparently even cops can do bumps off their hands in an open office? There are no rules in 1973!) And the dire trifecta is completed when Jackie calls Richie on his car phone to let him know he’s celebrating in Hannibal’s suite because he just signed him. This might not be the worst night of Richie’s life (there was that one time when he had to dispose of a dead body), but it’s coming pretty close.

Still neither Finestra is headed home yet; Dev’s walked straight to her old stomping grounds, the Chelsea Hotel, and Richie’s at the Lou Reed show trying to strong-arm Andrea into coming back to the company. Sure, ask her if she’s saying no to the job because you wouldn’t marry her, Richie; that always works with the ladies! But what Andrea really wants to know first is why they really broke up — was it because she was too smart and too difficult while dumb Devon was easy? Richie finally admits the truth: “Because she was more beautiful.” Ouch. “You look like me!” Richie clarifies. “You do. It’s like narcissism or something.” He’s actually kind of right; they could be at least cousins.

She looks like she’s just been slapped, but she does finally agrees to come on board, with an ownership stake. Richie tells her they’re gonna do something great together; she’s clearly done with being wooed and tells him to leave the details with her lawyer. So now he’s free to go do blow all night out of some writhing go-go girl’s bellybutton, and it may not be the kind of happy ending he was hoping for, but this episode is definitely over.

Episode Recaps

2016 HBO series starring Bobby Cannavale, Olivia Wilde, and Ray Romano
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