Tuesday, August 11, 2015

31 Day Miami Vice Challenge, Day 2: Favorite Main Character

Yeah, yeah, I know I'm behind - like, seriously behind - on this challenge, but the past two weeks have been simply taxing. I'll be posting an update on the insanity that was the process of moving our shit from the storage unit down to South Carolina, but for now? Onto a much belated Day 2 of the Miami Vice challenge.

Now, I'm going to talk more about diversity later on this month - Day 29, I believe - but I think it bears noting here, considering my favorite main character happens to be one of color. Like I said yesterday, Vice did an excellent job really showcasing its main locale, up to and including people who, you know, actually live there, much unlike Cameron Crowe's recent movie, Aloha, which didn't have a single native islander in its main cast, despite one character being 1/4 Hawaiian. I don't know if diversity was something that any of the creators had in mind when brainstorming for Miami Vice, but it definitely added something extra to the show, even if a lot of the people involved in illegal activity were people of color, a topic I'll actually get to later on this month.

Via Miami Vice Wiki
That being said, Miami Vice has the vice squad led by none other than Lt. Martin Castillo, shown above with his trademark stare. Dear God, I would not want to be at the receiving end of those daggers. To have such a powerful position - although with certain legal tethers, naturally - occupied by a Hispanic man was not a common occurrence in 80s television, and it's just as rare today. I cannot think of any currently running television show that features a character like Castillo.

My love for Edward James Olmos is not really a secret, as I've loved him in everything he's been in, from Blade Runner to Battlestar Galactica, but his role as Castillo is what really cemented him on my favorite actors list. His command is never questioned, from the moment he walks into the vice building and, after being summarily ignored by everybody running around, whistles loudly, only to quietly ask where his office is. Of course, Sonny is slow to accept him, even fighting with him over protocol and paperwork, but such is Sonny's character. He's "by the book," sure, but Martin uses these tools more effectively to ensure that he can keep his team safe and able to do their jobs. I argue that he is the most passionate person on the vice squad, going back all the way to when he was involved with the DEA. What he lacks in upfront enthusiasm, he easily makes up for it with his dogged dedication to staying a lowly-paid police officer, keeping on the front lines like a staff sergeant.

Castillo just might be one of the most fleshed out characters in the whole show, right behind Sonny*. Even though he keeps his private life very much private, every time we see even a slice of his expanded world, his previous actions and attitudes make that much more sense. When his ex-wife resurfaces in Season 1's "The Golden Triangle, Parts I & II," we learn so much more than he was trying to stop the flow of heroin in Vietnam: he embraced the culture enough to transform his home into something akin to a Buddhist shrine and had probably converted to that religion. The man is also virtually incorruptible, able to take verbal blows from criminals (and former friends) that see him as naive and pretty much useless (despite feeling generally fearful of him). His above-mentioned "by the book" tendencies stem from his inability to pin down anything against Lao Li, a master manipulator with ties extending in all directions, and when he believed he'd lost his wife to Li's violence, it just strengthened his resolve. Now, none of this is ever explicitly stated anywhere in the episode, obviously, because that would be piss poor character development, but these are just a few examples that I was able to pop off quickly. It really is the just the tip of the iceberg that is this particular pair of episodes, and I may end up doing a supplemental post on this in the coming days.

One thing that I do find a little irritating is that the character is just a running textbook of all Asian things, from his dealings in Vietnam, knowing Thai, retelling a Japanese legend to a young Russian-American boy (whose father was killed by Castillo just a bit before, natch), being a martial arts master, etc. I'm not saying that someone can't be fascinated by all Asian cultures - I know I am - but it reeks of creative laziness and borders on simply being racist**. Like I said above, though, I'll go more into depth with this on Day 29.

Honestly, I wish we'd gotten more Castillo than we did. He was much more interesting than I think the creators gave him credit for, and Olmos definitely deserved so many more scenes, considering he stole nearly every one he was in, anyway. There's something to be said about a stoic man who controls each room he enters, and I feel like his potential was squandered to discuss disillusioned white boy problems***. Such is popular media, I guess?


* Despite being Crockett's partner and ostensibly the co-lead of Miami Vice, Tubbs is not given nearly as much character development. The first two or three seasons are better at giving him his own storylines - like his relationship with Pam Grier's Valerie Gordon or when he goes undercover to infiltrate the Maze - but Vice basically turned into the Sonny Crockett Show by S4, if not earlier.
** For example, Castillo's Thai wife is played first by Joan Chen, and then by Rosalind Chao, both actors of Chinese descent, because all Asian people are apparently interchangeable.
*** I'm going to have SO MUCH to say about the whole Crockett and Caitlyn relationship, because even though this is a plot that happened way back when I was a kid, it still pisses me off. 
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