“Graceland Gambit” has a lot of the same logic and attitude problems as the first two episodes, but it does start to add a little welcome depth to the characters and has some moments of fun.
This recap of National Treasure: Edge of History season 1, episode 3, “Graceland Gambit”, contains spoilers.
The double-bill premiere of National Treasure: Edge of History ended with what to the characters was a big revelation but to anyone who has ever seen an adventure movie was a pretty standard development — Jess’s mother was involved in the treasure hunt conspiracy all along. Dun, dun, dun! I know, it isn’t exactly an earth-shattering reveal, but this is Gen Z we’re dealing with here, so Jess and Liam run off to Oren’s place because he’s the only person they know who’s kooky enough to own anything that plays cassette tapes.
National Treasure: Edge of History season 1, episode 3 recap
The cassette contains a recording of Jess’s mother re-explaining the origins of the treasure that has already been explained to us a couple of times throughout the first two episodes, but with a crucial additional detail. She makes explicit mention of Malinche, a Nahua woman who history hasn’t exactly been kind to for working as an interpreter for Hernán Cortés and his conquistadors. Jess’s mother, though, posits the idea that she was really keeping Cortés distracted while a secret network of native women calling themselves the Daughters of the Plumed Serpent spirited all the treasure away. This theory was by no means popular, and when “Professor Mansplainer” — so-called by Tasha — objects, we see Jess’s father Rafael romantically defend his wife, contradicting Jess’s longstanding idea that her parents hated each other. There’s even a very brief home movie — steady on, not that kind — on the cassette making the point doubly clear.
The kids — including Ethan, who walks in at just the right or wrong time depending on your perspective — double down on their eagerness to find the treasure lest it fall into the hands of a shady black market antiquities dealer, and return to Sadusky’s Easter Egg-filled secret clue room to figure out their next move. Billie has one of the three boxes. Another was given to Liam’s father, but he died in a diving “accident” a couple of days later and it hasn’t been seen since. So, their fortunes rest on a rather esoteric riddle: “A message was passed to the Sun King born to Peace.”
Naturally, it takes the kids a few seconds to figure this out. At first, Jess and Ethan think it might be referencing Louis XIV, but Liam quickly steers them in the right direction — it’s really referring to the King of Rock n’ Roll, Elvis, who was a Mason, whose record label was Sun Records, and whose three-times great Cherokee grandmother was Morning Dove White. The dove is the bird of peace, hence why the word “Peace” is capitalized in the clue — it’s referring to a person! Elvis’s favorite guitar was called the Ebony Dove, which is likely to be in a secret room at Graceland.
You don’t need me to tell you that this is all complete horseshit. None of these clues pertain to any kind of expertise any of these kids have, and the answers are plucked so readily from thin air that it’s impossible for the audience to take any pleasure in following along in any logical sense. Writers, this isn’t how you design a treasure hunt!
A good chunk of “Graceland Gambit” is, predictably, set at Graceland, where the kids pull off not one but essentially two different heists. In the first, Liam and Ethan sneak into the secret room disguised as exterminators, Ethan takes photographs of the guitar, and everyone is able to escape just as the real exterminator arrives. The clues, though, point to a record back inside the secret room they’ve just left, so Jess has to break in — guessing the eight-digit code on the secret room’s door while Liam plays an acoustic version of “Suspicious Minds”; he has a really nice voice — and collect the real evidence. Some of this is quite funny and charming, even if there’s no real tension and, again, the ease with which they’re able to pull this off kind of beggars belief.
Anyway, before we get to the next clue, there’s a bit of character development to consider. Of course, Ethan is becoming increasingly jealous of the way Jess and Liam are looking at one another, so he goes to see Liam at the bar to essentially warn him off and accidentally let’s slip that Jess is undocumented. When Jess goes to see Liam later, she mentions how she keeps her DACA status quiet because it changes how people look at and interact with her, and I think this is a pretty salient point worth mentioning. Jess is someone who wants to be judged on her own terms. It’s a minor, somewhat obvious thing, but I honestly think expressing this sentiment adds something to her character.
Oh, and there’s a hidden message from Elvis in the vinyl Jess recorded. Obviously.
Weirdly enough, this message finds its way straight to Billie, who is drinking whiskey on her private jet with Kacey, mourning the death of Nate, who fell into a trap when they were led to the white woman mountains of Iztaccíhuatl by two-thirds of the hidden map (it’s revealed that Billie is also in possession of the other box that was lost with Liam’s father.) Is Liam feeding her information? Or does she have another source? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
You can stream National Treasure: Edge of History season 1, episode 3, “Graceland Gambit” exclusively on Disney+.