Boss: “The Conversation”
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Boss: “The Conversation”

I enjoyed “The Conversation” more than I expected to, but I do have doubts about where this season of Boss is heading. As I said last week, I am having trouble engaging with the characters because I find myself waiting for the rug to be pulled out from under me at any moment—a problem I have experienced with other shows, like BBC’s Sherlock. The emotional impact of the characters’ experiences doesn’t quite sink in. In “The Conversation” Tom Kane returns to his city to flex the fist of power. He will not be able to do it without Meredith’s help, now that his grip has weakened. So they form an alliance of sorts—it doesn’t feel like a reconciliation because it’s not clear that they care about each other. But Tom finally tells Meredith some of the experiences he’s had with his illness.

But “The Conversation” was less about character drama and more about the narrative of the city of Chicago. Boss excels at the detailing that creates the corrupt, barren bureaucratic landscape, and this episode was no exception. I think the titular conversation is the slow, sporadic conversation that unfolds between the Kanes. But it could also be the long bargaining talk Kitty and Catherine Walsh have with Alderman Ross and his ward bosses to buy votes in Cook County. (That’s right—not to buy ads, but literally, votes.) It could also have been the conversation Ian has with Emma about understanding her addiction, or Zajac with a deputy state’s attorney about the protesters’ arrests. The mayor's office is subpoenaed and Kane sacrifices his police chief to the media to get the press off his case. The interesting motif here was that things are in motion. A lot of shiny juggling balls have been thrown into the air and there are a lot of different ways they could come down.

By comparison, the personal drama of the characters is not nearly as compelling. The Kanes’ marriage is supposed to be the emotional center of the episode, but the stakes feel too low. Tom and Meredith’s intimate conversations have potential, if the show stays honest to that emotional growth. I would care more if I began to understood their marriage more. Seeing their scenes together in this episode did help. It was interesting to hear him articulate to Meredith what we’ve been watching him experience. Until now the show has steered pretty far of having Tom romantically interested in anyone (or actively sleeping with anyone else). His obsession with Mona was a veer towards a sexual desire, but the way he talks about it here, it seems to be removed from libido entirely. Instead it’s about… power? Validation? Idealism, even? Meredith is threatened by Mona; I guess she’ll be the one to destroy Mona’s life, should it come to that. But I was surprised at how open Mona was with Kane, and he in turn with her. Unlike what we’ve seen so far, which has been a lot of kept secrets and hushed-up scandal, Mona has a direct candor that cuts through the show’s typical heavy-handed silences.

The main question this week was: What is each character going to do with the information they now have? Kitty, Sam, Mona, Emma, and even Zajac discover important information in “The Conversation.” And all of these revelations are about the essential, central theme of Boss: power. The layers of power, the networks of personal control, and how to peel back the skin of bureaucracy to get what is beneath. For all of Kitty or Sam’s skill at penetrating the veil of influence, there are some things entirely out of their control: Kitty still hast to contend with Walsh’s secrets, and Sam (and the rest of the media) have to follow the dialogue, even if that goes in a misleading direction. Emma finds her way around a parole officer, but is still stuck in the influence of her parents. Kane’s bartender crony might want to do the right thing, but he is subject to Kane’s whim, as is the police chief himself.

And Zajac Kane’s heir presumptive, finds himself stuck outside the State’s Attorney’s office trying to do the right thing. I’m puzzled by Zajac’s character, which is at times a puppet for higher forces and at times a uniquely motivated individual. In season one he was motivated by ego; the beginning of season two was his wife using him for her own advantage. It seems, a little bit, that he is trying to come into his own, but it’s unclear whether having intense sex with a government lawyer is helping or hurting that cause. I have to say—despite his many flaws, I find Zajac to be one of the more interesting characters in the show. He is a great illustration of the charming but corrupt politician.

Despite my reservations, I am intrigued. This might be the first episode that impressed me with the many, many different avenues it explored. Purely in the way it was structured, I could imagine this as an episode of The Wire. Some of the most shocking scenes were shocking because they are real: the subpoena document shuffle; the bribing of the parole officer; the manipulated race-bait story; the egregious buying of votes in Cook County. The multiple-character, government corruption lens was there, as was the sense that many branching storylines were fitting into each other like puzzle pieces. Ultimately the reason that worked for The Wire is because the viewer had absolute faith that David Simon and the rest of the writers would stay on point. I don’t have the same faith in the writers of Boss.

Because the melodrama is still there—that whole close-up eye motif came back this week. I think I am particularly sensitive to vague camera work masquerading as good camera work, but as far as I can tell there is no particular reason that the show is filmed the way it is except that it looks fancy. It’s like hotel art. Attention paid to the absence of meaning. So many lingering shots that signify nothing.

Stray observations:

  • Now that we're in the State's Attorney's office I'm hoping we run into Peter Florrick, transplanted from the set of The Good Wife.
  • I suppose this is a good time as any to say that I really, really hated season one’s finale, which is why I'm skeptical heading into the last few episodes of this season. I found the show strong in various ways up to that point, but the finale was a mess.
  • (Maybe that should be Boss’ tentative alternative title, or the name of its spin-off show: Mess. Starring Lindsay Lohan as the mayor of Chicago.)
  • Emma and Ian are heading down a very Game of Thrones path with their affectionate flirtation. I wonder what Ian’s game is, and how much he is going to end up being like his father. I wonder if Emma and Ian are really going to sleep together. And I’m curious as to why Darius is still around.
  • My money is on Mona getting ruined this season. She’s the most vulnerable, I think. I like her character quite a bit, but I’m not sure how her forthright earnestness is going to hold up against so many schemers.
  • Zajac gets a disproportionate share of the really steamy sex scenes, right? What about everyone else? Spread the love, Zajac!
  • (Oh, wait. He totally is spreading the love!)

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