It’s official: Boss is improving.
“Remembered” finds Mayor Kane crisis-control mode. Back in the heady days of his reign as the city’s director of sanitation, Kane authorized a massive toxin dump on the grounds that are now being developed for the O’Hare expansion. Thanks to “Rosebud” and “Chump Bait,” the secret is out and, suddenly, Kane finds himself in hot water. The episode begins on Wednesday and, as Stone assures Kane in the opening scene, if they can weather the storm until Friday, they’ll be alright.
Who knows if Stone’s advice would work in the real world, but, without seeming too contrived or schematic, his crisis-management gives “Remembered” a nice, clear premise. Unlike previous episodes of the series, it is centered almost entirely a single storyline: Kane’s attempt to mitigate the damage caused by the revelations. It’s not, strictly speaking, a bottle episode, but it does have the same kind of intense narrative focus. In the past I’ve suggested that Boss suffers from a lack of impulse control, and I think maybe one of the reasons this episode works as well as it does is because of the discipline required by its premise.
Stone concocts a three-pronged plan to salvage Kane’s reputation. First, they’ll point fingers at his predecessor, Mayor Rutledge, who’s now conveniently unable to defend himself. Second, they’ll use some Jedi mind tricks—and a baggage-handler strike—to ensure that the scandal is associated with the village of Bensenville, rather than Chicago. Finally, Kane will make a public show of support for the mayor of Bensenville, thereby making himself look like the beneficent neighbor, and not the guy who poisoned the town water supply.
I was not entirely convinced by the last two steps in Stone’s plan. The baggage-handling strike he orchestrated was pretty inspired, even it materialized out of nowhere. I am also not so sure that making the toxic water seem like a localized Bensenville problem would magically absolve Kane of blame. Are people in Chicago so cold-hearted that they aren’t bothered when kids in the next town over get cancer? But anyway, I’m not going to get too hung up on the logic here, because I liked seeing Kitty and Stone in crisis mode, brainstorming various underhanded ways to resurrect Kane’s flagging reputation. The subtle maneuvering—doing things like buying up all the bottled water in a town to make it look like everyone’s panicking—seem more realistic to me than a city alderman who slices off a dude’s ear.
In the end, their efforts are for naught anyway. Just when it looks like Stone and Kitty have saved Kane’s reputation, Dr. Reyes holds a press conference where she admits to redacting all references to the trichloryl-whatever-ine in her report under considerable pressure from Kane. He looks apopleptic. I wonder how long it will take for Dr. Reyes to wind up dead under mysterious circumstances, or to join Dr. Harris—wherever she may be. I also wonder why the heck Kane was dumping all this toxic waste out by the airport. I'm sure we'll find out soon enough.
The cleverest thing about this episode might be the way that the main narrative touches upon the other subplots in a subtle, organic way. In the beginning of the series, we had all these different storylines going at once and the connections between them seemed rather tenuous, but now they're all converging on this one single crisis. Via the Bensenvill scandal, we learn more about the origins of Kane’s now-estranged relationship with Meredith: namely, that he’d probably like to reconcile with her. Then, in the final moments of the episode, we find out that Governor Cullen, Alderman Ross and a secret society of Kane’s various enemies want Zajac to withdraw from the gubernatorial race so he can run against Kane in another year. Something tells me Zajac will follow them up on the offer. It’s an inspired stroke, and it sets up a clear arc for at least the remainder of the season. The question is, what will Kitty do?
So, yes, this was a very good episode of Boss, but I still have some fundamental reservations about the series. About 45 minutes into “Remembered,” it looked as though Kane had effectively spun his way out of the toxin scandal, and I actually found myself disappointed. In other words, I wanted to see him lose. Kane has his moments (the poo handshake was hilarious in a bullying kind of way) but he also nearly strangled his nurse/girlfriend. There’s a whole lot in him to dislike, and very, very little to like. The Emma storyline is a clear attempt to show us his softer side—the man can barely be in her presence without breaking into tears—but it’s not really working for me. Kane doesn’t need to be a softie, but he does need to be more fully human than he is now.
Look at any series with a morally slippery protagonist, whether it’s The Sopranos, Mad Men, or Breaking Bad. These shows work because the audience is emotionally invested in the (anti)hero, even when he does something repulsive. The characters are deeply flawed, but we still care about what happens to them. I feel no such attachment to Kane—if anything, I have antipathy for the guy. For that matter, I don’t feel terribly invested in anyone elese. Sam is probably the most relatable person in the series. He’s an affable guy, but he doesn’t get a huge amount of screen time, nor does he have his own backstory just yet; he’s still more like a narrative cog than a fully realized character. Other than Sam, there’s no one else to really identify with: Kitty’s a robot, Emma’s a zombie, Meredith’s a harpy, and Zajac’s a charm monster. For this show to get into the B+/A- realm, it’s going to have to make us care about Kane and the folks around him.