Graceland is an hour-long drama series on the USA Network that began airing in June of 2013. Created by Jeff Eastin, it focuses on a group of undercover agents from various United States law enforcement agencies, including Customs, the DEA, and the FBI, who live together in a Southern California beach house dubbed 'Graceland'. Rookie FBI agent Mike Warren, despite graduating first in his class and requesting a post in Washington, is assigned to Graceland to be trained in undercover operations by the enigmatic Paul Briggs.The show has been renewed for a second season.
A key skill of the undercovers is getting to know their targets and then creating traps that the targets are likely to walk in and incriminate themselves.
Briggs bets the success of an operation on the fact that a low level lackey is too stupid/lazy to change the route he always takes to his boss's warehouse.
Be Careful What You Wish For: Mike finally gets the Washington, DC job he has wanted since the beginning of the series. It is an important job but it is also a desk job and Mike soon misses the excitement of undercover work at Graceland.
Season 2 isn't much nicer to him between getting kidnapped and tortured, repeatedly played by a corrupt LAPD officer, and finally being sold out by one of the agents in the house to the aforementioned officer, who then suffocates him in a hospital bed without any means of fighting back. The ambiguous ending of the second season indicates that Mike might very well be dead.
Bromance: Invoked by Mike in and effort to get closer to Bello. In his position Bello cannot have many friends he trusts so Mike positions himself as someone Bello can hang out with and share his love of old Westerns. The goal is for Bello to trust Mike enough to make him his bodyguard which will give Mike access to the core of Bello's heroin business.
California Doubling: A rather odd inversion. The show takes place in Southern California, and the pilot was filmed there, but the remainder of the show is filmed in Fort Lauderdale, FL.
Cool House: The titular Graceland, which used to be a druglord's beach house before it was seized by the government.
Cowboy Cop: The agents have to improvise while undercover but generally tend to go by-the-book where it matters. When Lauren breaks protocol during a bust, Briggs gives her hell for it and the other agents are not happy that she forced their hand when the correct course of action was to abort the operation. She becomes so obsessed with busting the Russians that it almost gets Johnny killed and Briggs makes her leave Graceland.
Darker and Edgier: USA in recent years has become known for what is called a "blue-skies" approach to programming, being rather light and optimistic. This is one of their first attempts at a grittier series.
Deceased Fall-Guy Gambit: Jangles is posthumously blamed for the death of Juan Badillo due to Briggs planting Badillo's apartment key on him before his death.
Defrosting Ice Queen: Considering her partner Donnie was just shot and it looks like he's being replaced almost instantly, Lauren is understandably abrasive toward Mike (and almost everyone else) in the first episode. She does soften up pretty quick, however.
The agents seems neutral to the use of drugs like marijuana but will still enforce the law. On the other hand they have little sympathy for the drug dealers and know that even semi-legal marijuana growers might be willing to kill their competition or police officers.
One of Charlie's informants is a recovering meth addict. The drug use took a serious toll on him and he is desperately trying to lead a normal life. Charlie tries to help him but it is implied by the end of the episode that he will probably go back to using meth. He later dies of an overdose.
Evidence Scavenger Hunt: In "Happy Endings", Mike and Paige are searching for Juan Badillo's car in hopes that there will be some evidence explaining his disappearance, while Briggs and Jakes are looking for it with the intention of finding and destroying the recording that will implicate Briggs' in Badillo's death.
Fanservice: Pretty much all of the characters get a fanservice moment throughout the season. Notable examples include:
Mike - the second episode features some gratuitous close-ups of his butt in boxer briefs, and his stomach got some equally gratuitous screentime in the first episode. Shirtless scenes are also not uncommon.
Johnny gets a couple of shirtless scenes, one fresh out of the shower and wearing only a towel.
Paige sports a bikini in a number of episodes.
Fake Pregnancy: Paige is looking for a drug dealer who has gone into hiding. She puts on a fake pregnancy belly and approaches the drug dealer's mother pretending to be the guy's pregnant girlfriend. The mother is not happy with the situation but reluctantly tells her where her son is hiding.
Fate Worse than Death: Bello gives Eddy two alternatives: either kill himself or suffer an unspecified fate. Whatever Bello has in mind is horrible enough for Eddy to commit suicide.
One, he originally requested to work in D.C., however; he was instead redirected to Southern California. Alongside not knowing a word of Spanish, he also has no appropriate beach apparel (no shorts, flip-flops, sunscreen, etc.)
Two, fresh out of the academy, he's still very straight-laced and idealistic, compared to the others, who are more cynical and realistic.
Five-Man Band: After the first couple of episodes, and after Lauren and Donnie get reassigned, the group becomes a loose one.
The Lancer: Johnny is Briggs' right hand man, and is both a foil for Briggs in terms of personality (Johnny is easy going, trusting, genuine and treats everything like a game where Briggs is dark, intense, secretive and a manipulative Chessmaster) and appearance. (Johnny has a tall, slim runner's build, Briggs is shorter, more compact, and more heavily muscled.)
The Big Guy: DJ, although not actually the biggest, is the Grumpy Bear that everyone knows to stay clear of upsetting, and is also the closest thing to a By-the-Book Cop so far. Charlie may also qualify as The Big Girl, because she can definitely keep the others in line via sheer force of personality.
Flashback Effect: The flashback coloring is much harsher than the present day scenes.
Hard Work Hardly Works: Briggs spent over three months trying to get close to Bello. Then New Meat Mike comes in on a buy and shows off his Improbable Aiming Skills. Now Bello still won't give Briggs the time of day but Mike is on the inside working as Bello's private drill instructor. Briggs is not happy about this turn of events but Charlie reminds him that all that really matters is that Bello is taken down and they should not care how it is done.
Impairment Shot: Reversed as Mike regains consciousness in the hospital after being stabbed.
Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: A group of gang members working for Bello test out new ammunition on a makeshift range and they all miss their targets. They are not very good shots to begin with and the bullets use a non standard load which makes the guns jerk upwards when fired. Mike then steps in and shows them how it is done. Bello is so impressed that he hires Mike to teach them how to shoot properly.
In-Series Nickname: Most of the agents have their own nicknames, which are partly based on their own names. The only exception is Mike, who gets nicknamed "Levi" since his first assignment had him confiscating a truck full of counterfeit jeans.
Improbable Aiming Skills: Mike is an incredibly good shot. On a makeshift firing range, using an unfamiliar gun loaded with non standard bullets, he fires all his shots in rapid succession and hits every target with incredible precision. He even shows off and hits a target though the body of a car wreck that blocks the line of sight.
Impersonation Gambit: Usually the undercovers use fake identities with custom made background but in the pilot, Mike is forced to go undercover as a criminal's brother-in-law. This is especially dangerous because the bad guys have access to the brother-in-law criminal record. The guy is actually much taller and heavier than Mike so Mike has to wear platform shoes to better match the description. More importantly, the guy is a junkie so the bad guys do not consider him to be reliable or trustworthy.
Indy Ploy: Happens quite a bit, especially when operations don't go as planned (which is pretty much all the time).
Invoked Trope: Used regularly on the show. The undercovers use many standard tropes and stereotypes to make their targets think that they can be trusted. Briggs invokes Reality Is Unrealistic to convince some drug dealers that his badge is fake and he is just an actor who played a cop in a movie. Johny invokes Tattooed Crook to make people believe that he really is a hardcore Latino gang banger.
Mike asks how three different agencies are able to coexist in the same house, and Johnny says that it's mostly averted; everybody just kind of blends together after a while. The FBI is the dominant agency in the house which can cause some friction but the agents trust each other enough to resolve it internally. While Paige and Jakes are willing to defer to Briggs and Charlie, they will not take any flak from Johnny and they chew him out when he almost screws up a DEA operation.
Played for Dark Comedy when a cartel mini-sub is seized. The FBI, DEA and Customs all try to claim jurisdiction but then the agents remember that the cartel likes to booby-trap their operations. They decide to give the FBI primary jurisdiction which means that Butt Monkey Johnny will be the first to enter the boat and see if there any bombs there.
Let's You and Him Fight: Briggs and Mike sold a bunch of armor piercing "cop killer" bullets to a gang member to establish their cover. However, they cannot allow this ammunition to actually be used by the gang so Briggs gets another gang to rob the shipment and buys the ammunition back using the same money the first gang paid him.
Despite everything he does over the course of the first season, Briggs gets off scott free at the end due to sucessfully framing several other people to take the fall for him.
Bello views Mike as one, claiming that the only difference between them is that Bello will actually have to pay for his sins.
Manipulative Bitch: Arguably, everyone in the house qualifies, because the characters' jobs as undercover agents require them to manipulate their targets into a position easy for the feds to carry out an arrest. Notable characters that go beyond these instances include:
Briggs for having a hand in most of everything in Season 1.
Paige for twisting Mike's arm for most of Season 2 for a factor that she deemed more important than the whole of the cartel that the entire house was working together to take down. And when Mike ultimately fails? She sends someone to kill him!!
Mid-Season Twist: Literally in the last minutes of episode seven, the reveal that Briggs is Odin, the mysterious druglord that Charlie has been chasing.
Miranda Rights: In "Smoke Alarm", Mike orders a member of the tactical team to read him his rights as Bello is led past in order to preserve his cover.
Modest Royalty: Alfredo Armos, head of the Caza cartel, lives at a fairly modest ranch down in Mexico, dresses in plain clothing, does his own grocery shopping, and makes his own meals, including killing and skinning the goats he uses for stew. He does still enjoy fine liquor and cigars, though.
Moral Myopia: Briggs is infuriated by Lauren's lies, but won't hesitate to lie, play with the truth, or hold back information himself. (Although to be fair, Lauren's lies put the team into danger and were the result of shoddy work, Briggs has so far mostly done it to either protect Graceland, the agents there, or to help keep up cover identities.)
Multinational Team: The undercover team is a mix of Caucasian, Hispanic, and African-American characters.
New Meat: Mike, who has literally graduated straight out of the FBI academy and has no experience in undercover operations.
Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Mike's Season 2 investigation into the bus lines has turned into a Shaggy Dog Story and has been cancelled by his boss. Then two thugs posing as Caza cartel members kidnap him and torture him to get information about a bus line. This proves that Mike was getting close and his investigation is reinstated.
Omniglot: It would appear to be a requirement for working in Graceland. Being located in Southern California, Spanish is mandatory (a problem that is plaguing Mike) and several of the housemates have been shown speaking Russian and Korean as well (there's actually a phone in Graceland with a plaque that states "Answer Only in Russian.")
Open Secret: In the season 2 premiere everyone in the house knows that Briggs and Charlie are sleeping together. Realizing that everyone knows, they quickly stop keeping the relationship a secret.
Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: In-universe. Mike is going undercover and tries to incorporate an accent into his persona. Briggs tells him to knock it off since his accent is terrible and it will automatically make their targets suspicious. Unless Mike can do the fake accent flawlessly, he should just use his normal accent.
The Paragon Always Rebels: The FBI higher ups suspect that this is happening with Briggs, which is why they put Mike in Graceland to begin with.
Pillow Pregnancy: A variation. Paige dons a fake baby belly and convinces the mother of a suspect that her son is the father, in hopes that she'll tell them where to find him.
Poor Communication Kills: Hardly anyone in the house knows all of the details of what's going on in Graceland. Occasionally, that puts lives in danger like Charlie, who hides the fact that she's working with a federal agent from Mexico... Lampshaded by Johnny during a deposition in the season finale:
Previously On: At the beginning of most episodes. The season 1 finale had one that was over 2 minutes long.
Product Placement: Mike's Kia Optima gets subjected to this; especially blatant during "Happy Endings".
Properly Paranoid: A drug dealer drives up to the hotel where he is to make a big drug deal and sees that an unfamiliar valet is parking cars. He immediately cancels the deal and drives off. He was entirely correct as he was the target of an FBI undercover operation and the valet was Johnny and the buyers were Briggs and Charlie. Later on the dealer gets very suspicious because a junkie is too insistent that the buyers are legit. The junkie is an FBI informant working for Charlie.
Punch Clock Villain: One of the dealers Mike meets is a genuinely nice guy with a loving family, who only sells illegal product to make a living.
OOC Is Serious Business: Mike is quite weirded out on his return to Graceland at the start of Season 2, what with there being guns downstairs, Briggs being more chill and less driven, and Jakes actually being nice.
Refuge in Audacity: When a group of gangsters seem to vaguely remember Briggs' face from somewhere, Briggs convinces them that he actually played a cop in a low budget film. To "prove" this, he actually shows the gangsters his badge and convinces them that it's a fake prop he stole from the set. The gangsters completely fall for it.
The Russian gangsters targeted by Donny and Lauren are involved in the heroin trade and theft of luxury cars. They have no problem kidnapping the family of a mook who might cut a deal with the police or sending a hitman after a DEA agent.
In Bello's case the trope is double subverted: he's a former Nigerian soldier who left his home country after being on the wrong side of a coup, and is now one of the major organized crime figures in LA. On the other hand, his gang is composed of LA natives, Bello talks about how savage they are and how difficult the job of "taming" LA has been, and combined with doing a good job of being Faux Affably Evil, it briefly seems like he might be an inversion of the trope. Then we get reminded that he poured molten lead into Eddy's eye for failure, made Eddy kill himself to avoid a Fate Worse than Death, and callously intended to shoot Johnny in order to Leave No Witnesses.
Sequel Hook: Season 1 ends with a couple teenagers finding the missing recording of Briggs killing Juan at a pawn shop. Meanwhile, Mike gets a phonecall from Briggs, who says there's something he needs to tell him...
Season 2's end is a lot worse. Markham, having discovered ALL of the agents' identities, stages the operation that leads to the death of Solano Sr. and pins it on Mike. Carlito becomes the new head of the Solano cartel and he holds his sister hostage to make Johnny keep running the plane operation that transports his drugs. Paige, emotionally broken from not saving a girl from a human trafficking operation, proceeds to sell out Mike in revenge for his failure to take down the men responsible for the human trafficking ring to Markham, who then proceeds to possibly kill Mike in the hospital.
Any undercover operation can become this since after months of hard work, you still might not have enough evidence to arrest your targets. The big concern is that the operation does not become a Shoot The Shaggy Dog Story
When Paige is introduced, her case has just turned into this since the smuggler she is targeting will simply not discuss any business in front of a woman. She finally enlists Briggs's help to bring down the criminal another way.
Jakes spent four months working as a truck driver, driving between Canada and LA. Just as he was getting close to the marijuana dealers he was after, California legalized medical marijuana and all his targets went legit.
At the beginning of season 2, Mike is investigating passenger bus lines that might be used to smuggle drugs and/or weapons. It's his own personal idea and he used every bit of influence he had to get it going. After an extensive investigation the FBI finds no drugs or weapons and their only 'success' is stopping two guys from smuggling Cuban cigars. The investigation is cancelled and Mike is reassigned back to a desk job. This is subverted later in the episode when it is revealed that Mike's investigation spooked the bad guys badly enough that they kidnap Mike and torture him for information.
Shell-Shocked Veteran: Once we get to know them, it quickly becomes apparent that most of the agents are on the verge of becoming this due to the horrible toll the job takes on them. Their investigations expose them to horrific violence and death and the constant lies make them paranoid and obsessive. Graceland was clearly created as a safe place where they can de-stress and have a support network but it is clearly no longer working. Briggs and Charlie should have probably been taken out of the field a while back and are making extremely bad choices. Jakes is having an increasingly hard time dealing with the fact that he sacrificed being a husband and father for the job. Mike is quickly turning into this due to the violence he experienced and the guilt of having indirectly caused so many deaths.
Ship Tease: Lots of this between the housemates, particularly Mike and Charlie, Mike and Paige and Briggs and Paige.
Shout-Out: During the 3rd episode, Charlie's informant Whistler sets up a drug buy that would allow Charlie to bust a major meth kingpin. When Whistler's buyer is impressed at the purity of the meth that Whistler brings, the response is basically "What did I tell you? It's not the blue stuff, but it's good."
Show Within a Show: One that doesn't actually exist. After Briggs was featured on a news report that caused one of his targets to recognize him, he claims he was instead recognized from his part-time job as an actor for some low-budget cop movie called Sunset Busts. More and more is constantly being added to this fake movie:
Briggs adds Mike to the movie as being his brother-in-law, married to a hooker nicknamed "Low Rider" for the way she can shake her ass.
Tuturro's nickname "Johnny" (his real name is Joe) came from the movie as well. That came after Briggs claimed he played a killer who shot a man twice for reading his dirty magazine in the bathroom.
Skewed Priorities: Every agent in Graceland seems to have this problem during Season 2's investigation and operations against the Solano Cartel and the dirty cops, at least in relation to an end goal of bringing them down. Unfortunately, the obsessions each agent has makes the drama feel more like an Idiot Plot due to how much they're compromising the investigation for their own needs. One notable example is that Paige the DEA agent cares less about dealing with the actual drug-running part of the cartel, and more about the human-trafficking/sex slavery operation that turns out was heavily disapproved by the cartel boss. It gets to a point where she seemingly holds Mike to the same contempt as a human-trafficker for lying about Lena's death, without sympathizing with his own time in the traffickers' den.
Slipping a Mickey: Paige's target wants to have sex with her so she keeps spiking his drinks so he is impotent and calls it off. She is afraid that one time he will try it sober and she will have to break her cover.
Paige gets close to a smuggler by becoming his new girlfriend. She keeps spiking his drinks so she does not actually have to have sex with him but that can only work so many times before she has to sleep with him or blow her cover. She even admits that the correct thing to do is to abort the operation but she really wants to arrest the 'boyfriend' so she keeps pushing her luck.
Briggs lampshades the fact that no matter how skilled the undercovers are sooner or later one of their undercover operations will go really bad. Of course, him playing Gambit Roulette with his operations probably does not help the situation.
Too Dumb to Live: Sure Juan, dress up like the man that destroyed Briggs' life and approach him while he's drunk. That couldn't possibly go wrong.
Took a Level in Jerkass: Mike, in season two. The clout he got from the Bello bust in the first season, coupled with his lucrative position in D.C., seem to have gone to his head.
Charlie recruits Mike to act as her boyfriend when she has to go to a sleazy bar to make a delivery for Paige. If she went in by herself all the sleazy men would start hitting on her and she would have too many people looking at her. She even tells Mike to "grab her ass" to sell people on the idea that he is her cocky, possessive boyfriend.
Charlie and Briggs go undercover as a pair of drug dealers with an on-again off-again relationship. The last time they used these identities they actually hooked up but have since decided to just be friends.
Whenever she cooks her pasta sauce Charlie likes to tell the story of how her ancestors met and fell in love due to the sauce recipe. Each time she tells the story slightly different and the other agents like to lampshade the fact by pointing out how this version differs from the one she told last time.
In general the agents like to tell stories about memorable things that happened while they were undercover but give them an exaggerated spin. It's a way for them to hone their skills in improvising as well as a coping mechanism.
Well-Intentioned Extremist: Briggs would do anything to protect Graceland, even if it means sacrificing one of its members. After Lauren proves to be a liability, he plants a GPS tracker on her car and uses it as proof that the Russians no longer trust her, forcing her to leave Graceland. The first season shows us the extremes he is willing to go to get revenge on the cartel hitman "Jangles".
The second episode ends with Briggs holding Mike at gunpoint quite unexpectedly and demanding, "Who've you been talking to?" But it's subverted in the next episode, which reveals he was just asking because he knew someone was listening to maintain a cover.
The sixth episode closes with a major one. Hi, my name is Paul, and I'm a heroin addict.
Episode seven. Bello is given a packet of heroin as a gesture of good faith from the elusive Oden Rossi, and demands that Oden deliver it to him in person. Briggs tells him, "He just did." Oden Rossi, the elusive druglord Charlie is chasing, is none other than Paul Briggs.
The housemates are furious with Mike when he chases after a petty thief who stole a bag of chips and assaulted the owner. If he caught and arrested the guy, it would have exposed them as federal agents and they could never go near Hector's Tacos again. If they followed regulations and broke their cover for every assault, they would all be burned as undercover cops in LA within weeks.
Briggs is furious at Lauren when he finds out that she lied about getting beat up by the Russians and then lied about knowing where the Russians were keeping the stolen cars. Her faulty info almost got Johnny killed and Briggs makes her leave Graceland.
Mike's interactions with the team when he returns in season two. Frustrated with Briggs' decision to shut down the case, Mike calls the team "a bunch of washouts" and goes over Briggs' head to get the op called back on. Multiple people are kind enough to point out that he's being a dick.
Paige's increasingly personal obsession with the human-trafficking operation of the Solano cartel (and Lena, one of the girls she meets in the investigation) in Season 2. She focuses exclusively on this aspect of the investigation, despite being a DEA agent that should presumably be focused on the drug part of the cartel's activities. She goes behind Mike's back and uses Brigg's cover to push the dirty cops into massacring the sex-traffickers, nearly killing Mike in the process when he learns that Carlos Sr. actually disapproved of the operation, enough to beat up Carlito (the real brain of that operation) and would have presumably shut it down himself. Despite Mike easily forgiving her for nearly compromising the investigation and killing him, she refuses to let him of the hook for incinerating Lena's body (without even asking for his side of the story). Despite every Graceland member working on the case or on some potentially violent loose end (Charlie seeking out Amber), she continues looking into an irrelevant lead of the cartel case. When she finally hears Mike admit that Lena is dead, she does not even ask for details, and chooses to tell the corrupt cop, Markham, where Mike is hospitalized, giving him the opportunity to murder him. Perhaps the worst thing is that Paige's obsession was counterproductive, as the cartel is now led by a new violent and amoral leader, the cartel has a new method of moving drugs through plane drops, and Markham is not arrested and possibly murdered the lead investigator.
Working with the Ex: Briggs and Charlie hooked up years ago, called things off, but remain amicable. As of the Season 2 opener, the ex part is no longer true.
Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Lauren makes it look like the Russian gangsters beat her up so it triggers Briggs' Berserk Button and he supports her in a risky operation to bring the Russians down.
You Have Failed Me: When Bello finds out that Eddy screwed up and got his ammo shipment hijacked, he punishes Eddy by pouring lead into his eye.
Your Cheating Heart: At the beginning of season 2 Mike is involved with coworker from the Washington DC office. When he goes back to California he ends up sleeping with Paige.