[For Vinyl “The Racket” or any other recaps on Fetchland, assume the presence of possible spoilers.]
The Racket. Richie attends marriage counseling with Devon and courts a funk superstar.
“The Racket” is all about dealing with backlash. Characters are starting to pay for the consequences of their actions or at least they think they are but it seems more likely things are in a snowball trajectory they don’t know about yet. The episode opens with Buck Roger’s funeral, a surreal and musical affair with the noted absence of Richie who’s busy pounding on a pillow with a tennis racket in a marriage counselor’s office. Richie tells Devon this rage comes from thinking about his father. Also, Dev should appreciate the fact that he’s missing Buck’s funeral today in order to work on the marriage. But Devon’s not buying it. She points out that Richie didn’t care about Buck at all, which is true enough. In fact, Richie probably cares a hell of a lot more about him now that he’s dead given the circumstances. Then Devon says she’s angry because Richie’s ruining her life by doing drugs and going against their agreement with the coke. She refuses to show her anger with the tennis racket. It’s, understandably, much more fun and on the nose to just yell directly at Richie.
Then we’re in the back of a limo with Richie’s team returning from the funeral pissed at Richie for not showing up and his all around failed buyout backlash. Meanwhile back at the office there’s a special star visitor from funkytown, Hannibal and his queen, Starr. Richie called him in for a “fluffing” because in the last episode the douchebag Jervis threatened to steal Hannibal and he’s about to sign a new contract. Hannibal enjoys some big white lines, hot chicks, and jazz while Richie joins in the snorting. Then he tells Hannibal he’s got the horn player from the record they’re hearing and can get him on Hannibal’s next album. After a round of Finestro brand sensual magic on Richie’s couch he plans a special dinner for after Hannibal’s show that night. As Hannibal leaves Cece, his secretary, tells Richie a detective is on the phone but first he’s gotta deal with Lester who’s in the waiting room. He sits next to The Nasty Bitz and gets called in before them. As Lester walks in he tells them, “Welcome to American Century, get ready to take it up the ass,” and thus perks up the ears of those pouting punks. Feeling confrontational and hurt, Lester then burns the tape that Richie gave him of all his old recordings and it starts a genuine fire in his office, setting off the alarm and sprinklers so that everybody gets soaked to the tune of Janis Joplin’s “Cry Baby”.
Another song perfectly suited to the scene is Pink Floyd’s “Money” which plays while Richie’s money guy, Skip tells his record press guy not to press or ship the Donny Osmond illegal extras he ordered. Turns out they’re being audited and can’t get caught right about now. But it’s too late. The printer has turned his life around after a heart condition and gave up drinking so he’s super efficient these days and no longer a sloth. He already printed and shipped them out to all the Sam Goody stores. Skip’s screwed. He goes to a record store and puts Donny Osmond on the record player then asks the store manager to put all of Osmond’s extra boxes of records in the back room to store them. But the manager refuses and says the store owner would fire him. So, Skip is stuck between a hard place and an impasse.
On the other side of town Devon visits a divorce attorney for a consultation but thanks to the lawyer’s abrupt honesty she soon comes to understand that she’s not going to divorce Richie, she loves him. Devon can’t leave him. Later that night he calls to tell her he has to take Hannibal out late and will be staying in the city apartment. She tries to tell him she spoke to a divorce lawyer but he doesn’t have time to chat and blows her off. Then Devon finally finds that anger at inanimate objects she’d been lacking that morning at their marriage counseling session and smashes the kitchen window with the frying pan she’d just scrubbed clean.
Having left Richie’s office, Lester runs into The Nasty Bitz eating lunch on the sidewalk outside. He tells them all about how bad it can get after you sign a shady record deal and explains that they don’t know the details and that’s where all the stuff that matters about their potential profit lies, in the details. Because Richie’s been so busy all morning with Hannibal and Lester’s fire, they haven’t signed yet. So, when The Nasty Bitz come back in after lunch to sign the tide shifts out of Richie’s favor because Lester comes along as their manager. In their negotiation Lester strikes a hard bargain and gets a tasty deal for the Bitz. Richie then asks Lester about the music he heard outside Lester’s place the night when he saw him from the car in the first episode. It was that funkadelic friend of Lester’s playing two records at once. Richie asks if the guy plays his own stuff and Lester says you never stop hustling do you? Richie responds, “You better hope I don’t”.
Next we see a bit of Hannibal’s funk show with music that’s smooth and sexy, magnificent costumes, and an audience that swiftly loses their mind to the groove. Jervis crams himself up Hannibal’s ass backstage as he attempts to woo the funkmaster over to his label in Richie’s absence while Cece nervously watches. She quickly calls Richie’s office to alert him but he can’t get out because two detectives, there to ask him questions, block his path. Richie tells them he doesn’t have time to talk to them and besides he already talked to the other detective. But then it turns out they’re not here about the Galasso case. It’s about Buck. Uh oh. They’re curious why Richie wasn’t at Buck Rogers funeral and tell him that he was the last person Buck called on the night he died. That’s why they’re here, ruining his evening and probably, eventually, his life.
We hear Robert Goulet recording a Christmas album at the American Century recording studio while Skip hides the boxes of Donny Osmond records in his own apartment, filling every nook and cranny of his place with an illegal stash of the king of wonder bread’s music. Then Richie finally gets out of the office after his zillionth line of coke for the day. The Natsy Bitz celebrate their cushy record contract (thanks to Lester’s finagling) and Jamie goes against her word and smooches with the lead singer again. Richie heads to a jazz club and we’re thinking it’s to talk to the horn guy he said he’d get to perform on Hannibal’s next album but the horn player he talks to there turns out to be his dad, the one he mentioned in the first scene. Richie tells his father he needs his help and the episode ends on the ba da dum reaction echoing through our minds. So, the question remains, is his father going to play on Hannibal’s next album? Just kidding, nobody actually cares about that.
There’s more than just a tennis “Racket” in this episode to contend with symbolically. “The Racket” could refer to any number of things, from musician contract negotiations to divorce lawyers and homicide investigators. So much of Vinyl involves shady dealings it’s hard to keep track of all the rackets involved. Richie’s drug use and recent murdering are only the tip of his iceberg of lies. The coke in his bloodstream has replaced all the platelets with falsehoods. Richie’s gotten to the point where he can’t even keep track of where the truth begins and his last lie ends. His interaction with the detectives illustrates this perfectly, wait… which murder allegedly involving me are you talking about? Meanwhile Skip plays at his own pathetic version of a racket which ends up with him living in a fort constructed out of Donny Osmond record boxes. That’s the thing about shady business, eventually it engulfs the culprit and they drown in their own doings. Yet somehow Richie’s not just treading water, the guy’s still killing it and swimming across the finish line in first place – even weighted down with all the lies.