I know it seems like every time I write about The Chicago Code, I make a special note of a particularly exciting foot chase or car chase, like the rip-roaring wheel-squealer in tonight’s “Black Sox.” But y’know what? Those aren’t as common on TV as they used to be in the ‘70s and ‘80s—at least not chases that are as genuinely well-shot and well-choreographed as those on The Chicago Code. It’s something that makes this show special, and as we move towards the end of the first and what may be the only season of good-but-not-yet-great series, I think it’s important to appreciate its unique qualities, in case they disappear forever after these last few weeks go by.
On the other hand, when I reflect on The Chicago Code someday, I won’t be all that appreciative of the “Black Sox” storyline which saw Vonda Wysocki investigating the sudden appearance of her late father’s old wristwatch, which led to her discovering that her old man had a two-year affair before he was killed in the line of duty. It’s not the the subplot was completely without merit: it did teach me the phrase “boning a badge-bunny,” and it did lead to a funny moment where Vonda revealed her own secret relationship with Isaac during an argument with her Uncle Jarek. (“Thanks for the heads-up,” muttered Isaac, who’d begged her to warn him before she spilled the beans.) The revelation of the affair was also thematically relevant, and drove a major development in the overall season arc, as I’ll get to in a moment. But dear lord in heaven, I have seen the angry daughter scene—“You knew? Why didn’t you tell me?”—so many times, and “Black Sox” didn’t exactly sharpen that old saw.
I’ll also try to forget the character of the indignant gay alderman in this episode, who demands immediate action on what looks to be a hate crime involving a gay activist, and responds to Superintendent Colvin’s reassurances that the police are working the case with cartoonish bluster, sputtering lines like, “You want me to stay quiet? Put my needs in the closet?” I realize that The Chicago Code is largely about the behind-the-scenes political power-plays that interfere with the ongoing business of crime-and-punishment, but I’ve seen the “We demand action! We won’t be ignored”-type characters quite often on TV, too. They’re hackneyed.
I’m singling out these two “Black Sox” stumbles, because otherwise, I thought this was a good episode, with a tricky case and a handful of strong scenes to counteract those clunkers. But those clunkers were hard to ignore, and similar clunkers have plagued The Chicago Code since the series began. This matters primarily because it’s the run-of-the-mill stuff that’s kept The Chicago Code from becoming a critics’ darling along the lines of The Shield or Terriers. Put bluntly: I know only a few TV critic pals who are still watching The Chicago Code, whereas nearly every TV fan I knew was devoted to Terriers. Granted, critical support doesn’t always translate to viewers, and it’s viewers that this show needs to get its second-season pick-up. But as it stands now, if we were to find out next week that The Chicago Code hadn’t been renewed—and we should know that fairly soon—I’d be disappointed, but not crushed. I’d look back and think, “A lot of good in that show, but they never quite pulled it all together.” (Unless the final two episodes are as great as they could be, in which case I’ll be duly, and happily, chastened.)
But anyway, I pledged up top to be an appreciator, so let me get back to that. Like, did I mention the car chase? That was awesome. And the reason for the car chase was just as exciting. Wysocki and Evers are investigating the murder of community leader Lance Dolan, who’s responsible for snapping up real estate in a previously poor neighborhood and transforming it into the upscale, gay-friendly “Boys Town.” (In order to stay on the case, Wysocki insists that Evers is gay. “I don’t have any evidence to the contrary,” he tells Teresa.) When Dolan was killed—while cruising—the perp scrawled “Leviticus 18:22” on his car, which matches some hate mail he’d received from a couple of hick brothers who resent the gays for driving up the rent in their old stomping grounds. So Wysocki and Evers chase one of the brothers down, and eventually find an eyewitness who was there with Dolan when the murder happened, and fingers the bad guy in a line-up.
But there are three problems. The first? The witness, Aaron Fash, has a wife and kid, and doesn’t want to publicly say that he was going parking with Dolan. The second? The brothers have alibis; they were banging a couple of hookers in a fleabag hotel at the time. And the third? Fash is the real killer. It turns out that he’s been hooking up with Dolan for months, and that when he arrived in Boys Town and found Dolan with a… well, a boy… Fash freaked out and slashed his ex-lover.
I liked this case not because it had a good twist—if anything, it would’ve been more unexpected if the original suspects had actually been guilty—but because the issues it raised didn’t seem contrived. Gentrification really is a blessing and a curse. And Fash’s fear that his secret gay life might be exposed felt scarily real. (“That’s not who I am,” he desperately tries to explain to Wysocki.) At the least, the combination of the Dolan case and Vonda’s discover of her dad’s dalliance is enough to drive Jarek to confront some hard truths about himself. “I’m not going to lie anymore; there’s not going to be a wedding,” he tells his fiancée, in a brutal scene that comes on the heels of another brutal scene where he tells his ex-wife, “I choose you,” but she doesn’t choose him back.
And all of this shadows the other major subplot this week, involving Colvin’s attempt to stave off Alderman Gibbons’ efforts to place his people in two plum commander positions on her force. He tries to outflank her by asking her to put a guy named Charlie Davis in charge of the Gangs Investigation Unit, which would effectively shut down her covert case against Gibbons and the Irish mob. If she refuses, she’s openly declaring her intentions to bring him down. (Or, as Gibbons puts it, “Either she thinks she’s not going to be in her job in six months, or she thinks I’m not going to be in mine.”) Instead, she calls in a favor from the mayor’s office, and gets Davis promoted to an even better-paying job at the last second, so that she can get her own man in the GIU gig while maintaining a friendly front to Gibbons. Of course he suspects what she’s really up to. And Colvin suspects that he suspects. It’s when these two characters are exchanging pleasantries while plotting against each other that I see a show that’s not like any other policier on the air right now. That’s the show I’ll miss, should it be shut down.
- Many thanks to Ryan McGee for filling in so ably for me during “second opinions” week. I’ve linked to Ryan’s take on The Chicago Code before, because I appreciate the way he’s taken the time to try and unpack what the show is up to, structurally. So as you can imagine, I was thrilled to have him as the back-up, and he did not disappoint.