[For Vinyl “The King and I” or any other recaps on Fetchland, assume the presence of possible spoilers.]
The King and I. Richie and Zak travel to Las Vegas in hopes of persuading Elvis Presley to change labels.
“The King and I” references two rock n’roll drug overdose deaths with Elvis and Gram Parsons when they meet with Richie in LA. In real life both died from drugs after many years of bodily abuse. In the case of Gram Parsons, the newly sober and straight Richie greets the singer/songwriter at a party where Gram invites him on a trip to Joshua Tree National Park and offers him some booze. Richie declines the drink and journey. Little did he know that Gram Parsons would die from an overdose of morphine mixed with alcohol at Joshua Tree – the very trip Richie declined. Soon after this visit with Parsons, Richie has a tete-a-tete with Elvis and at one point mentions how fifty years from now Elvis will look back on this. But in reality, Elvis will be dead from drugs only four years after this conversation. Even though Richie declines drugs and booze throughout the episode, these two ironic meet and greets stay with us as poignant reminders of all the formidable talent the music industry has drowned with drugs over the years. This theme pretty much hammers us over the head throughout “The King and I” even if you’ve never heard of Gram Parsons or, due to your eternally empty and completely unfulfilled life, Elvis.
The episode opens with Cece giving all Richie’s booze to the rest of the office. It’s Christmas for the boozers… but only for a momentary buzz because in the conference room employees cut up their Diner’s Club cards on cue. This signifies how American Century scrapes the barrel bottom in financial cutbacks just trying to stay afloat. Then Richie tells his team about a deal that could buy them some time with a hundred thousand dollar profit if they sell their jet. It would also pay off their jet debt completely. Catch is, he’s gotta go to Los Angeles today to strike the deal. Zak decides to go with him because he’d trust his wife naked in bed with Burt Reynolds more than Richie with one hundred thousand dollars. On the plane they fight and then make up. Zak boozes it up but Richie stays dry, though he gazes longingly at a bottle of whiskey even as he toasts the trip with a bottle of Coca Cola.
Then Richie and Zak sell the company jet in Santa Monica and get the hundred thousand that the company desperately needs. After the sale they’ve got seven hours to kill before their flight so they go to a party in Malibu packed with mellow musicians like Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, The Mamas and The Papas, and tons of other peyote-toking folksters. Bottom line, it’s a boring ass party. Richie calls it a mortuary with an ocean view and he’s not far off. Then Zak overhears industry peeps talking about disgruntled Elvis who’s in Vegas right now. He’s sick of RCA Records. So, Richie and Zak break out of that banal party and hijack some folk star’s limo to LAX and then fly Vegas. Once there they hook up with the notorious Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’s manager and a sublime sort of oddball old guy with an ever-present cane, cigar, and white hat. Parker tells Zak and Richie to join him up in Elvis’s room after the show that night. Then Richie and Zak meet two pretty women by the pool, ladies Richie either heartily convinced or paid to give Zak his first threesome, and they share coke with the guys but Richie doesn’t do it. He jumps in the pool, a la The Graduate, instead.
That night Zak is saddest and most surprised to see that hot rockin’ Elvis has been overrun by a sad sack in a spangled jumpsuit – a man who now sings of lettuce rather than love. Zak mourns rock n’ roll’s death and they all leave the show to hit the casino. In an odd turn of the tables Zak snorts coke and makes a series of ridiculous choices while Richie stays chill. One of Zak’s big mistakes is talking about all the money they have back at the hotel room right in front of the two luscious ladies. He also suggests they should take it all to the casino table because of Richie’s lucky streak. But then thanks to Richie’s clear head, Zak’s just as happy attending his first threesome in their hotel room. Richie leaves them to “go get some more Dom” but instead visits Elvis by himself. They have a one-on-one meeting because the Colonel isn’t around. So, Richie and Elvis bond as he reminds Elvis what it means to be “The King”. He’s gotta get back to being about rock n’ roll again… a King takes care of his kingdom, after all. Elvis paces a little and they talk deals. Then Elvis realizes that Richie “gets him,” and admits he wishes he’d done Woodstock. Richie lies and says there will be other Woodstocks (ha ha ha) and Elvis clearly agrees with Richie that he doesn’t belong at RCA Records with the capes and old ladies. But then the Colonel shows up and big times intervenes. He’s got Elvis by the balls, just like in real life, and when he tells Richie to see himself out it’s clear Richie has lost his chance to land the King after all.
When Richie gets back to the hotel room Zak’s passed out in what appears to be their ransacked room. The cash bag is empty now and Zak curses himself for talking about the money in front of the ladies. Richie rages at first but then forgives Zak a little too quickly. We then see the disheartened duo flying home coach and as Richie starts boozing again we find out that, in fact, it was Richie who took the money from the cash bag that night. When he came back from the Elvis failure he raided the cash bag and bet all their profits down to zero at the casino.
So, Zak and Richie return to NYC with the plane paid off to the creditors, but no profit for the company, and their friendship back on track even if it’s still crammed with lies and backstabbing. Everything is a compromise, after all, a give and take. Richie is the lone exception to this. Even as he walks around sporting a shiny gold halo throughout “The King and I” turning down drink after drink, woman after woman, and snort after snort; Richie’s always on the take. Behind the scenes he’s a King too. He’s the king of conniving and thriving in his secret, specialized Richie-brand debauchery and nobody knows any better… yet.