(For the next several days, some of our writers will be swapping duties on some of our most popular shows. Some of them will like what they see, but for different reasons. Some of them will have vastly different opinions from the regular reviewers. And some of them won’t be all that different. It’s Second Opinions Week at TV Club.)
Taking over for Noel Murray’s excellent coverage of The Chicago Code is a bit like taking over Jarek Wysocki’s caseload. Needless to say, I’m humbled by the task, but still excited to take over duties for a single night as part of the Second Opinions series. I come to this task at an interesting moment for the show, in that it’s currently on the renewal bubble. Shawn Ryan has stated repeatedly that these next four episodes will determine whether or not there’s even going to be a second season of the show at all. So it will be interesting to see just how far Colvin’s investigation into Alderman Gibbons will actually go in these final four weeks, since these may be the last four we ever get.
That being said, getting Gibbons may ultimately be either besides the point, a fool’s errand, or some combination of both. What’s been so interesting about the first season of this show lies in its balancing act between pure procedural and ongoing serialization. While the operation to take down Gibbons forms the overall arc of the show, Code has opted to make the titular city a larger focus for the majority of season. What we’ve seen so far isn’t just the culmination of the careers of the individual characters, but the organic evolution of the city itself. The titles of each episode point to the fact that “isolated crimes” do not exist in Chicago. Each act is unique unto itself, to be sure. But it is still part and parcel of a larger sociological structure that forms the fabric of The Windy City.
Nearly half of this season has been dedicated to fleshing out the history of Chicago as well as the backgrounds of its various denizens on both sides of the law. However, tonight’s hour tightened the focus, returning directly to the investigation into Gibbons albeit through an initially indirect path. Turns out that one of Colvin’s first arrests as Superintendent involved a corrupt sanitation worker, a supposedly slam dunk case that should have landed her an easy conviction as well as a good photo-op. Instead, it devolves quickly into a case that accidentally lays out Gibbons’ empire more plainly than ever before.
In doing so, Code works through various chains of command and several aspects of the show that have been introduced throughout the season. It’s as if the cases of the week taught us not only bits of history about the town, but also taught us how the various organizations currently operate and interact. The show first introduced Hugh Killian in "Gillis, Chase & Babyface," and through him we learned the true extent of Gibbons’ ties to the Irish mafia. Code also introduced a tense relationship with the FBI in "Black Hand and the Shotgun Man", a relationship that grew even more sour this week. It’s a relationship that brings no small amount of grief to Evers, who hopes one day to still work for the Bureau. Both those elements were layered atop a central aspect of the show since Day One: Gibbons seeking to control Colvin at every step, a desire that constantly gets Teresa’s Spidey Sense tingling. It’s a dense series of maneuvers, but moves made within structures previously defined and thus familiar to the audience.
So what was new? Well, Wysocki’s suddenly protective instincts surrounding Liam, that’s for certain. Early episodes usually had the former bullying the latter to man up and get deeper undercover. But now that Liam’s there, Jarek is having severe flashbacks to his brother Vincent, who we learned tonight died while undercover. Wysocki tells Evers at one point, “Vincent had twice the instincts Liam had and he never saw it coming.” What makes the scene in which a wiretapped Liam tries to extract information from Killian so damn tense is that we’re more worried about the way Wysocki will react rather than Liam. It’s part worry that the case itself will fall apart, but also part worry that Wysocki will explode like that guy from the first season of Heroes due to the pent-up rage. For his part, Liam remains a pro, removing his jacket and ultimately humiliating himself to appease Killian’s paranoia. It’s a bravura sequence, and the highlight of the hour.
Now, does the Wysocki now line up with the Wysocki then? Not exactly, although you can easily chalk this up to 1) Jarek initially unsure Liam would ever get anywhere near someone high up on the mob food chain, or 2) Jarek being such a single-minded cop that he put the mission above the individual. It’s also important to note that Wysocki hasn’t has a lot of direct contact with Liam. After all, Liam is Colvin’s man, put undercover long before Wysocki was brought on board to take down Gibbons. But the increasing number of visits between the two has put a human face on this newest undercover asset, leaving Wysocki increasingly vulnerable to associations with his deceased kin.
If this week was about seeing the cracks in Wysocki’s seemingly impenetrable veneer, then it was also the week in which Gibbons’ veneer cracked as well. If The Chicago Code has been about the organic evolution of certain repetitious cycles, then Gibbons is the acme of a certain type of corrupt individual depicted in Colvin’s voice-over at the outset of this episode. I’m talking here about his personal perception, not reality: Gibbons largely has seen himself as both hero and villain of the city, with no contradiction in his mind existing between the good that he undoubtedly does and the crimes that he orchestrates in order to make those things happen. He’s not the enemy of Chicago: he’s necessary for its survival.
That’s how he sees himself, until he gets the call about the arrest of the sanitation worker transporting $500,000 in crystal meth. This driver is doing this as part of a “trash man” scheme that touches not only the sanitation department, but also the Irish mob and several of Gibbons’ companies. (Lester Freamon was right: follow the money.) The way in which Gibbons finally shows something besides invincibility was pretty fascinating: he acts as if he’s parched, and chooses to quench his thirst not with water but by immediately having sex with his assistant. It’s a fascinating choice that speaks to his need to control people through purchasing their loyalty. Sometimes that purchase takes the form of a new medical facility. Sometimes that purchase takes the form of a pair of panties. But the psychology behind each purchase is always the same.
All this from an ill-advised smirk just before a jury announced its verdict.
With that, The Chicago Code kicked off its final arc of its first season, an arc hinted at from the outset but only now taking full effect. That’s OK, though. In between have come episodes that laid necessary groundwork to contextualize this latest iteration of an ongoing battle in the city. The players rotate, but they are all still playing the same game that started long before anyone heard of O’Leary’s cow. So long as the show honors this rich tradition, while knowing when to break from it in order to produce interesting characters and casework, then it’s worthy of a second season. Will it get one? Not even Gibbons would be able to promise that at this point in time.
- I didn’t mention anything related to Vonda and Isaac, because that plotline was too slight and too disjointed from the rest of the episode to warrant it. Had they only showed up to pull over the garbage truck, it would have been fine. The show’s had a problem integrating these two to the main action quite a bit this season, and this episode was no exception.
- However, Liam used to be THE biggest problem with the show, but since setting off the fire halfway through the season, he’s been a strong asset to each episode. I thought for sure they were going to have him be seduced by Gibbons in light of what happened in “Wild Onions,” but he’s still in play as a wild card to potentially undo any attempts to nail Gibbons going forth.
- I liked the explanation of how jury tampering often works with the corrupt member convincing others to vote not guilty, while voting guilty himself/herself in order to avoid suspicion. Nice touch there.
- When Killian’s daughter told Liam that her father was an excellent judge of character, I made my peace with Liam and prepared to watch him walk into a Sonny Corleone-esque hail of bullets. Nice bit of misdirection there.
- “Subtle’s for plastic surgeons and poets.”
- “It’s a promise I haven’t been able to keep. Yet.”
- “Every snail leaves a trail.”
- “Your life’s not nothing, kid.”