The season wraps with a make-it-or-break-it finale
Credit: Patrick Harbron/HBO
S1 E10
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If we’ve learned anything about Richie Finestra by now, it’s that he has an ear for talent, a knack for hustling, and a nose for uncountable kilos of cocaine. But does he really have the guts to become a narc?

As season 1’s finale opens, he’s meeting his new government contacts at a dingy jukeboxed dive bar and learning the terms of his commitment. “Galasso’s killed people for a lot less than what you’re about to do,” the agent assigned to his case reminds him helpfully. Richie asks, not illogically, whether he’ll have any kind of protection. “I’m your liaison,” the agent replies. “Not your bodyguard.”

“Your roll as an informer is to inform,” The D.A. adds. “Not to get involved, not to entrap, not to play Columbo. You hear something, you tell us.” In the meantime, they tell him, he just needs to go about his life, do his thing, and act natural. Cakewalk!

Meanwhile the ever-intrepid Clark, American Century’s junior-A&R guy-turned-mailroom-punching-bag-turned-possible-A&R-guy-again, is still busy spreading that Indigo dance record around the clubs and sweetening the deal a little each time with cash and/or magic Peruvian powder for every DJ. But it’s not just party favors that are getting the track into higher rotation; these crowds are into it.

That spontaneous threesome last week between Jamie Vine, Nasty Bits frontman Kip, and guitarist Otto (James Doyle Smith) is paying some unhappy dividends in band practice. “What are you doing?” Jamie hisses at Kip when he won’t stop needling Otto. “You’ve been acting like a little bitch for days with your passive-aggressive bullshit.” He needs to get it together, she says, and stop acting so jealous. “We’re opening for the Dolls in 24 f—in’ hours,” he spits back. “Do you think I give a s— about which band member’s c–k you sucked?” Clearly he does, but this isn’t getting resolved today either way.

Zak (Ray Romano) pays a solo visit to Galasso and takes a while to finally get out what he came to say: “Richie’s a drug addict,” he tells him, “and a compulsive liar.” “Hand in glove,” Galasso replies serenely. “Creeps up here will sell their mothers for a shot of junk.” But Zak keeps going, and after a few awkward stabs at explaining a Godfather reference, he finally reveals the reason he’s there: The company contract has a morality clause, which means Richie — gambler, druggie, bad dad, and general liability — could technically be expelled. But the other partners need to join in the vote; Zak can’t do it alone. Galasso is unfailingly polite and pleasant in response, which is way more terrifying than when he’s got a phone cord wrapped around his hand: If he’s clocking anything here, it’s this display of disloyalty.

Back at the office, the guys are all impressed-slash-confused that this old Indigo record is suddenly climbing the charts when Maury approaches Richie with a problem — that Nasty Bits song is based on a track Lester recorded a decade ago on his old contract, and they can’t use it without his permission. You’d think Lester, being the Bits’ manager and having already allowed them to press it, would go for it, but obviously he’s got a history with Maury & Co. that could easily complicate things, so Maury suggests bringing in a little additional muscle if it’s needed.

NEXT: Galasso wants his money back

Zak’s in the studio waiting for his baby unicorn Xavier (please don’t call him Gary anymore) to show up for a recording session, and tells a reluctant Scott (P.J. Byrne) that he wants him start drafting the letter to oust Richie; he’s full speed ahead on this thing. Either way, the company’s going to need some liquidity for Xavier’s codpiece-and-laser dreams; the kid’s got all kinds of elaborate ideas for his presentation, and none of them sound cheap.

Richie and Andrea are having a strategy meeting to figure out promo for the Nasty Bits, and Joe Corso is clearly unwanted when he rolls in, as if he would ever notice or care. Then Galasso’s suddenly at the door, too, and he tells Andrea to go and Joe to stay before he addresses Richie: “I’ve got some bad news for you, kid.” Cut to Zak arriving, and Galasso turns on him exactly like we knew he would: “Sell out your partner, you rat f—in’ s—bag… I thought you people were supposed to be smart. In what universe you think I give a s— who runs this f—in’ company? I got a chop shop by Yankee Stadium, use it to crush stolen cars. You’re lucky you’re not in the trunk of one of ‘em. F— you.”

In case it needs any clarification, he expects that $100K to be returned to him. If Richie dies, Zak owes it; if Zak dies, Richie owes it. If they both die, their daughters can work the streets until they pay him back. He is nothing if not solution-oriented. As soon as he exits, Richie turns to Zak in disbelief. “What the f— were you thinking?,” he asks. “You’re from Queens, not Des Moines, you know how this s— works.” They’re screaming blame back and forth until Richie makes kind of a good point: “I lost some money; I hurt your feelings — I didn’t serve you up to get killed.”

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The bug in his office is still working just enough for the NYPD to pick up that chop shop reference, and they immediately instigate a raid, which seems like a hugely dumb idea if they don’t want Galasso to make the connection between Richie and the bust. Plus, they can’t even directly connect Galasso once they get there; it’s not like nailing Al Capone for tax evasion. Still they seem, as usual, very proud of themselves for making a mess.

Kip and Jamie Vine finally have it out over the threesome thing; he vows to quit the band and throws her out, and once again poor Jamie’s back to living out of a garbage bag. At the office, the team is standing around wondering again how Indigo — a band they thought they dropped weeks ago — is now charting higher than ever, and Clark finally gets his glory moment. He never sent the termination letter, he tells them, and he and mailroom guy Jorge (Christian Navarro) have been working the record all over the city. So what if he did it behind their backs — are they happy or not? Okay, they kind of are.

Richie goes to Lester to plead his case for passing over the rights to his “Woman Like You” and offers him $10,000. Lester plays hardball on percentage points and more money and getting other bands to manage, and Richie gives it all to him — whether out of old guilt or because he really believes they can do good things together, it’s hard to tell.

That small win is a brief bright spot, though; Galasso’s second-in-command, a.k.a. the very wide-necked guy who just took the fall at the chop shop, comes for Zak, offering him a car ride he can’t refuse, and back at the office, Jamie tells Richie that Kip has gone AWOL and won’t do the show. His response: “You wanted to be in A&R — f—in’ fix it!” He’s too busy rushing off to answer Zak’s distress call and finds him in a perfect mafia-movie-set warehouse that’s basically made for the sole purpose of whacking dummies who talk too much.

NEXT: A murder and an overdose

An extremely displeased Galasso is also waiting inside, and he would love an explanation for the coincidence of his shop getting busted six hours after he mentioned it in Richie’s office. Galasso’s suspicions go straight to Zak; after all, he was the guy willing to betray his own business partner. Richie, grasping to save the guy he still considers a friend despite all that behind-his-back business, says there were five of them in the room that day, which makes bulldog Joe Corso go on the offensive and immediately bring up Buck Rogers. As if Galasso cares that they killed some random radio guy? It’s not really clear what he’s aiming for beside misdirection.

Galasso just hears it as Joe trying to make him an accessory after the fact, and Galasso suddenly, eerily turns the threat off like a faucet: “Everybody relax,” he says. “I get nervous! F—in’ cops. Gotta be careful.” Then he abruptly turns the conversation to sales for the next Tommy James record. But we don’t have much time to reminisce about “Crimson and Clover” and “Hanky Panky” because boom! While he’s talking, Joe Corso gets a bullet in the back of the head. Galasso turns to Zak, unperturbed. “This is what happens. You understand? Good. Now go make some f—in’ money.”

Richie leads a dumbstruck, desperate-for-Valium Zak out as quickly as he can. “Listen to me,” he whispers urgently in his ear. “You forget everything you heard today, okay? We move forward, and we never have to talk about this again.” Yes, let’s just purge that one from the scrapbook.

Jamie and Lester bust down Kip’s door to find him OD’d on the floor but still breathing. They throw him in the bathtub to revive him before the show. In the studio, Xavier and Scott and Julie are listening to some kid called Freddie Mercury (“That can’t be his real name, can it?” Scott marvels) when Zak stumbles back to the office and finally finds a blessed Valium, which he chases down with a giant vodka to an appropriate soundtrack.

Kip’s still vomiting and basically unconscious 10 minutes before the New York Dolls show, so Richie improvises with a Pulp Fiction solution: An intravenous coke injection that brings Kip right back to life. And the first thing he does is punch Otto in the face. Realizing it’s about Jamie, Richie looks at them both in disbelief: “You gotta be f—in’ kidding me. You’re about to blow the biggest night of your lives over a girl?” He fires Jamie on the spot and turns to Kip and Otto. “Listen to me. There’s gonna be thousands of girls, more than you can imagine. Now get out there on that stage and do your f—in’ job.” On the stairs, he tells Jamie she’s not actually fired from the company, just the band; he was just saying what he needed to to get them onstage.

The Bits get booed the minute they come out by a crowd who just want the Dolls, but we’ve seen these guys handle a hostile room before, right? It’s how they got signed in the first place. The camera cuts to what looks a lot like Joey and at least one other Ramone in the audience, and it doesn’t even take two minutes for the whole thing to click; even the NYPD coming onstage to bust up the show just makes it better, and Jamie and Andrea and Richie know it. When Kip fights back heedlessly against the cops, every rock journalist in the room is taking furious notes: Meet Kip Stevens, instant punk hero — just add water (and heroin and girl problems and that IV shot of adrenaline).

Later, Richie’s at a bar meeting with his assigned agent, and when he’s done explaining how groupies work, he basically tells the guy he’s got nothing new to give him on Galasso, except that maybe they might have stolen some raincoats. Full poker face. And then, like Forrest Gump, he turns to the guy behind the bar and watches him come up with the name CBGB’s on the spot because yep, it’s Hilly Kristal. History in the making, kids.

Triumphant reviews roll in for the Bits, like we knew they would, and back at the office, Richie gives an inspirational speech to the gathered company: “Every generation is filled with lost, f—ed-up kids who need to hear that they’re not alone. And they hear it. They hear it through the records we make.” He holds up the Nasty Bits’ freshly pressed debut album in triumph, and guess what’s on the cover? Dev’s shot of the guitar Richie axed into his television all those episodes back. (The lost and effed-up kids don’t need to know it all happened in a Connecticut mansion, just that stuff got smashed.)

To reiterate his point, he passes out cans of spray paint and encourages them all to go crazy. Jules takes the wheel to MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams,” and there’s champagne and midgets and office-paperwork confetti and a whole crazy mess some poor janitor will have to clean up tomorrow. In the midst of it all, Richie looks across the room at Zak; the two men lock eyes, and Zak turns away. Cut to black, and season 1 is done.

Episode Recaps

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