The "In the Air Tonight" scene is arguably the most memorable and famous scene from the Miami Vice television series, and is regularly cited as one of the greatest, most influential moments in the history of television. It occurs in the pilot episode "Brother's Keeper", or, when the episode is split into two parts as it often is for syndication, "Brother's Keeper (Part II)".
Prior to the scene, Crockett and Tubbs have been tailing drug lord Esteban Calderone, who is responsible for the murder of both Tubbs' brother Rafael and Crockett's Metro-Dade partner Eddie Rivera. They set up a meet with Calderone and wait for the call. Tubbs is contacted by Calderone's right hand man, Trini DeSoto and goes to meet with him; little does he know, a departmental leak means DeSoto is aware that he is a cop, and he intends to kill Tubbs on sight. Crockett intervenes at the last minute, saving Tubbs' life and killing DeSoto. The leak is traced to Crockett's ex-partner and best friend Scottie Wheeler, particularly galling as it makes him responsible for the death of Crockett's partner Eddie. The Vice cops confront Wheeler at his house; Crockett attacks him, sickened by what he has done, before Tubbs and Lieutenant Lou Rodriguez pull him off. Wheeler is arrested.
Knowing that Calderone is aware that they are cops, the two officers head out for the meet with the Colombian drug lord anyway, knowing it is the only chance they have of bringing him down and avenging those who have died...
Despite the fairly minimal amount of plot progression it contains, the scene is set to almost the entire length of the song "In the Air Tonight" by Phil Collins, some five and a half minutes, stretched out through the use of flashbacks to Rafael's murder and cinematic shots of the Miami night, particularly highlighting reflections of the city's lights on the polished black bodywork of Crockett's Ferrari Daytona Spyder. During the long drive towards the inevitable confrontation with Calderone and his goons, Crockett pulls over at a desolate phonebooth to call his ex-wife Caroline, asking her if their relationship was "real", knowing this may be his last chance to speak to her. She confirms that it was. As the climactic drum crash of the song kicks in, Crockett and Tubbs pull away, their minds now focussed on the impending showdown with their nemesis.
The sequence is notable for having almost all background sounds removed, leaving only selected dialogue, the sound of Tubbs loading his shotgun and the accompanying music audible. In the years since, this technique has been seen often, particularly in the feature films of series executive producer Michael Mann, and it gives the scenes to which it is applied a stark, dramatic, dream-like quality. The original sequence in Miami Vice quickly became a landmark in television history and no doubt led to the heavy integration of popular music throughout the show. The concept has also been copied outside of the series, and today it is common practice to overlay audio tracks over climatic scenes, both in film and on television.
Imitations on Miami Vice
So popular is this scene that it was mimicked several times on Miami Vice during its run:
- "Calderone's Return (Part II)" -- the sequence depicting Crockett and Tubbs travelling to the Caribbean, with all sound effects removed and only Russ Ballard's "Voices" playing, is very similar to the driving scene from the pilot, except Crockett's car has been replaced by his Stinger cigarette boat. Ironically, this scene also involves the two officers travelling towards a confrontation with Esteban Calderone, and both sequences include the same flashbacks to the murder of Rafael Tubbs.
- "Out Where the Buses Don't Run" -- Crockett and Tubbs drive through the Miami night to meet with the unstable Hank Weldon, accompanied by muted background sounds, the roar of the Daytona's engine, and Dire Straits' "Brothers in Arms".
- "A Bullet for Crockett" -- the episode opens with a night-time drug deal leading to a car chase around Miami, all set to Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight".
- "Freefall" -- perhaps the most notable copy in the series occurs during the finale, in which a nearly identical sequence takes place, featuring the song "Bad Attitude" by Honeymoon Suite. The scene includes many unusual camera angles of Crockett's Testarossa as it drives through the night, just like in the original scene, and emphasises the city's lights reflecting off of the car's bodywork. In both the finale and the pilot episode, Crockett and Tubbs are driving towards a violent confrontation with a drug lord that they seem unlikely to survive unscathed; incidentally, Tubbs also suffers a gunshot wound on both occasions.
- Footage from the scene showing Crockett's Daytona speeding through the was later reused in the episodes "Rites of Passage" and "The Maze".
- The first teaser trailer for the Miami Vice reboot series featured a black Lamborghini Countach driving through the Miami night, set to "In the Air Tonight" -- an obvious nod to the famous scene in "Brother's Keeper" (clips of which also feature in the video).
- Michael Mann is a prolific user of the technique of muting background sounds and replacing them with a music track. It can be seen in his feature films Manhunter, The Last Of The Mohicans, Heat, The Insider, Collateral, Miami Vice and Public Enemies.
- UK police procedural television series Ashes To Ashes, which is set during the 1980s and often lampoons many of the style trends popularised in Miami Vice, features a dramatic scene in its second season set to "In the Air Tonight", no doubt an homage to "Brother's Keeper"; in an ironic twist, the scene abruptly cuts off just when the lead character is about to drive to a dangerous rendezvous.