The Fascinating, Fearless Implosion of Entourage: How Far Will They Fall?

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Note: This is less an episode summary than a larger discussion of the series’ surprising change in direction.

Oh Entourage, how you confound me. I’ve rarely had such an emotionally turbulent relationship with a TV series – alternating between apathy and sympathy, between eye-rolls and gasps. What once was a great show about a meteoric rise to Tinseltown fame had, by the beginning of this season, arrived at a predictable plateau of greed and gratification. But something strange started brewing a couple weeks ago in the world of Vince and Ari, and I now think the show is teetering on the brink of doing something really quite remarkable: Depicting the decline and failure of its heroes. The new question worth debating is: Will the show’s writers and creators have the guts to follow through?

The last time Jim took a vacation, leaving the asylum to us inmates, I went on a tirade against the season premiere of Entourage – a show that, more than ever, seemed to be about the brooding, bland lifestyles of the rich and famous. I was ticked off about all the ennui, and put forward my theories on how to save the series: “Want to revamp the series: How about Vince gets blacklisted. Ari gets divorced. Turtle gets sued. Eric takes on a client who falls apart in a Lindsay Lohan-eque PR implosion. Anything to get them out of their rut, into a new element.”

Well, over the span of only a couple months, the show started to eerily follow my advice. Vince has almost effectively gotten himself blacklisted, by having a prima donna-ish meltdown of drugs, booze, and public humiliation. A director just quit a big-budget film because he doesn’t have faith in Vince – who refused to take a drug test. Vince himself had to drive in to the movie studio and plead for mercy personally make his case to a top executive. All is not well in the empire.

Meanwhile, Ari may not be getting divorced, but his wife is seriously ticked. We left the two last night with husband and wife sleeping in opposite rooms, a wife exasperated at the shame brought upon the family by her mate. And don’t forget that in the episode prior, Ari ended the show basically having a mental breakdown in his office, as his dirty laundry was aired across the world wide web via Deadline Hollywood. For the cocky rablerouser, it was quite a thing to behold: A deflated, despondent Ari.

Turtle isn’t getting sued, as I had suggested, but he’s definitely bitten off more than he can chew with this whole tequila empire, and now he’s trying to hook any rich benefactor who will fund the operation. He’s playing with big stakes, which could mean big failure. Johnny, too, is shooting himself in the foot with his egotistical opposition to the animated TV series that the network is excited to produce.

And Eric. Yes, he has a client that’s falling apart: Not Lindsay Lohan, but Vince. In a dazzling sequence last night, where he finally stepped up to play the part of chiseled manager, Eric swung into damage control mode for both Chase brothers, throwing around his weight and driving right down to the movie studio to nip this crisis in the bud.

It was quite the dark episode (despite all the jokes about Ari’s new “softer side”) featuring a shift in tone that is stark and obvious, taking the story into darker territory than Entourage has ever ventured before, with cocky chauvinists donning the posture of desperate men clinging to the cliff. The Ari meltdown of a week ago was merely a preface to the final confrontation in Sunday’s episode, as Eric crashes Vince’s two-person pool party, calls him out for using drugs and tells his friend that he’s put all their livelihoods in jeopardy. The rhetoric turns heated as they both step into the kitchen, Eric telling Vince that he has to get his act together. And for a split-second, as Eric lays out the grim reality and Vince turns defensive, I had a fleeting sense of dread – a feeling that we were on the verge of a physical altercation. Maybe a shove, or a face-to-face lashing. In a mere three weeks, we’ve gone from Happy Days Are Here Again to a place where Eric and Vince might brawl. Color me surprised.

But Entourage has been here before, with the post-Medellin implosion leading quickly to the deus ex machina-Martin Scorsese salvation. In fact, that might be the fairy tale season finale that alienated the most Entourage fans. A bleak situation wrapped up suddenly and preposterously – as Vince won the lottery yet again.

And so now the show’s creators have a chance to do it right – to explore the sour side of Hollywood a little more thoroughly. What happens when Vince gets fired for drug use? When Turtle owes some powerful people some big money? When Eric loses his reliable A-list client? When Johnny gets blacklisted for being difficult to work with? In short: When all these arrogant, aloof power players finally fall out of favor with the Hollywood elite? Will the friendships be enough to keep this entourage together?

For all I know, this is going to pan out for Vince, just like everything else has, But for right now, I’m enjoying the shift in tone, the undiscovered country that we’re navigating. I’m savoring the questions, the risks, the suspense, the uncertainty. The tide seems to be turning in Entourage, taking the story towards a far more compelling crossroads, and suddenly a show I had written off for all its rosy assumptions has managed to call everything into question. This is by no means the best show on television (see Richard’s Mad Men post for that), but I find myself once again talking to friends about Entourage with a sense of urgency and energy. For all its missteps, I still care where these five men wind up.

P.S.: Is it any coincidence things improved in Entourage just as the producers announced that next season would be the show’s last? Just like Lost, has setting an end date helped to focus the creative minds? Or am I just a sucker for a little Hollywood melodrama?

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