The double life of a charming Texas man in Lone Star.

The double life of a charming Texas man in Lone Star.

The double life of a charming Texas man in Lone Star.

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Sept. 20 2010 5:48 PM

Two Girls, One Dude

The double life of a charming Texas man in Lone Star.

Still from Lone Star. Click image to expand.
James Wolk as Bob Allen and David Keith as his father in Lone Star

Surely someday a writer—inspired or addled, who knows?—will produce a cultural history of rolling luggage. She'll want to pitch it as the epic story of a narrow subject, along the lines of Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World or—and this is for real— Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color That Changed the World. The luggage book should devote some space to the screen symbolism of the 21st-century frequent flyer. Suggested chapter title: "Shoulder to the Wheel."

Troy Patterson Troy Patterson

Troy Patterson is Slate’s writer at large and a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine.

One passage would reflect on the spruce drill-team maneuvers George Clooney executes in the Up in the Air, deftly collapsing a handle at the X-ray machine and speeding ahead in his hollow quest. Another might consider the small degradation experienced by Apprentice contestants freshly fired by Donald Trump: Alone again at the end of the day, they drag away their carry-ons, early for a layover in Loserville. Tonight, the lead suitcase of Lone Star (Fox, Mondays at 9 p.m. ET) glides gorgeously forward for the scholar's consideration.

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Supple and rugged and apparently a dream to maneuver, this tan leather bag plays a critical part in the brisk pilot episode. First, we meet one of its predecessors in a prologue that opens with a shot of a duffel bag. (The duffel is not wheeled, which is unfortunate, considering its heavy freight of meaning.) Here, 20 years before the main action, young Robert Allen hurriedly packs his clothes and toys and his baseball glove. Seems that Bobby's dad has been teaching his boy the art of the con—home-schooling that effectively amounts to one never-ending field trip. With an angry mark slamming at the front door, father and son are skipping town by way of the bedroom window. As the boy scrambles to gather his essentials, his father decides that this is a teachable moment, and actor David Keith delivers the first of several extra-chewy lines: "Remember what I told you. Keep your life in the case, not in the closet, OK?"

Two decades later, we see grown-up Bob Allen (James Wolk) in a ranch house in Midland, Texas, packing his beautiful baggage with many a pensive pat and tender smile, preparing for what he promises his coltish live-in girlfriend will be a four-day business trip. At her towel-dropping invitation, he lingers and romps, establishing his virility by daring to cut it close to check-in time. In parting, he delivers earnest caresses—to her this time, not just to his folded button-downs—and guileless sweet talk. The guy may be two-faced, but both faces are charming, with Bob sometimes resembling The Office's Jim Halpert (happy as a puppy in his handsomeness) and sometimes wincing as winningly as Friday Night Lights' honorable Coach Taylor.

On the road again, Bob gets to the airport and checks his bag, possibly a sign of hubris in itself. A pinwheeling scene reveals him as a bandit whose only weapons are his silver tongue and cleft chin. Dashing across Texas soliciting investments in a phony mining scheme, he separates dreamers from their money. Then he strolls away from baggage claim in Houston and pilots his SUV to the grand house he shares with his wife, Cat Thatcher, his other true love and a sleeker model than the Midland chickadee.

Cat is the daughter of an oil baron—all-seeing, all-knowing, all-man Clint Thatcher—played by Jon Voight with monumental gruffness. It is mentioned that the patriarch "punched out a roughneck three weeks ago for stealing some pipe." Meanwhile, the precise details of the fate he famously visited upon his treacherous brother are apparently unmentionable. Impressed by the seeming success of Bob's scam, Clint decides to bring him on board at Thatcher Oil, thus arousing jealous fury in one of his own sons and mixed feelings in the underappreciated other. The beta brother—Drew Thatcher, played by Bryce Johnson—speaks the best wastrel-heir airhead lines heard on Fox since Gob Bluth departed the airwaves. "Darlene—that's a beautiful name," he coos to a waitress at a cocktail party. "Did you help make these crispy fish things, Darlene?"

Bob, rejecting his father's entreaties, plans to go straight and put his everything into running Thatcher Oil, even though he can't bring himself to abandon his gal back in Midland, and even though the heat is closing in on him there. Achieving a rewarding work-life balance is these circumstances will be quite tricky—even for a go-getter with a God-given gleam in his eye for reeling in suckers (and viewers) like a tractor beam—but then this is a fantasy about having it all. The end of the Lone Star pilot finds a tuxedo-clad Bob in a Las Vegas hotel suite, preparing to enter the institution of bigamy with his small-town girl. "It's bad luck to see the bride before the wedding," she objects. "I make my own luck," he counters, echoing a sentiment that wafted from the direction of card sharp Arnold Rothstein just the other day on Boardwalk Empire. Then they're off to the chapel and the camera closes in on his suitcase with its cowboy boots and Western shirts, its lid as open as the old frontier.

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