This week’s Chicago Code still finds the series divided against itself. “Gillis, Chase, & Baby Face” delivers thrilling action sequences, dynamic location shooting, true-to-life policier details, and smart considerations of how authority figures leverage their power. And yet the episode periodically undercuts those pluses with some annoying minuses: a narrative shortcut here, a piece of clichéd dialogue there, and other simplifications that feel like concessions to the streamlining process of network television.
Let’s start with what, to me, is the strongest part of the episode: the case-of-the-week, and the way it intersects with the larger plot arc. “Gillis, Chase, & Baby Face” opens with Jarek Wysocki and Caleb Evers racing through the streets of Chicago—in a zippy little piece of shooting and editing—on their way to the scene of a bank robbery. When they hear that a bank employee has slipped a GPS tracker into the bag of money, the partners hop back in their car and follow the GPS to a Brown Line train, which they secure, only to discover that the device has been dropped from a platform along with a literally faceless dude who’s now splattered all over the pavement. The whole opening sequence is kinetic as all get out, showcasing both the city and the action hero chops of Jason Clarke and Matt Lauria.
Investigating the heist leads Wysocki and Evers to a mentally unstable mug named Samuel Robbins, who’s responsible for pushing his partner to his death off the El and for shooting his “inside woman,” one of the bank’s security guards. The problem is that while Wysocki’s zeroing in on the suspect, he and his partner’s safety is being compromised due to a mini-revolt by their colleagues, who are convinced that Wysocki’s been tipping his pal Superintendent Colvin off about who to boot from the force. Led by Ernie Moosekian—who’s doubly pissed that one of Wysocki and Colvin’s anti-Gibbons vendettas has his Organized Crime crew dispensing parking tickets—the cops in the department decide to give Wysocki the big freeze, which extends to not answering his call for backup when he’s going after Robbins.
After Wysocki and Evers are caught in a shootout—with a little girl in the crossfire—his brothers in blue are embarrassed and apologetic and do help him out the next time he goes after Robbins. This time, though, it’s Wysocki who has to save Moosekian, which he does by gunning down Robbins under an El track just before the suspect can shoot The Moose. The shootout is every bit as exciting as the opening scene around the El, and it sets up a coda in which Moose tries to apologize to Jarek and Jarek flips out, reminding him that if he’d had back-up when he originally asked for it, this would’ve been an arrest, not a shooting. Everything about this storyline works: the action scenes, the confrontations, and the idea of cops trying to decide how and where to express their solidarity. (Wysocki’s niece is ashamed that she didn’t stand up to Moosekian when he refused to answer the first back-up call; meanwhile, Evers is nervous because his old friends are coming up to him and warning him that he might want to start looking for a new partner if he wants to get anywhere on the force.)
Plus, the writing in this half of the episode is so good, full of little touches like Evers saying, “You’re clear up here on the right” to Wysocki while they’re driving and talking, and Evers saying that one good thing about Wysocki shooting Robbins is that they’ll get some mandatory days off (“Right after the paperwork and the prostate exam,” Jarek grumbles). I also liked that Moose blames Wysocki for their old pal Jonesy being forced into early retirement, when in fact a.) Wysocki had nothing to do with it; and b.) Jonesy was caught running a scam, and is only able to blame Colvin for his departure because Colvin refuses to publicly accuse bad cops, which frees them to make stuff up about her motivations.
I just wish the other half of “Gillis, Chase And Baby Face” had the same level of subtlety, because in the abstract, I appreciate what it’s trying to do. While Wysocki is chasing a bank-robber, Teresa Colvin is testing Alderman Ronin Gibbons by following up on a tip from her undercover informant, Liam Hennessy. Liam hears some of his Irish mob pals talking about their no-show jobs at a Danworth Construction project and how they got it by kicking back some pay to “the man in city hall.” So Colvin decides to squeeze that job site, nitpicking over every violation, to see if Gibbons asks her to back off. When Gibbons does—via his assistant, so it won’t look too conspicuous—she shuts the site down altogether, which earns Gibbons an earful of ire from mob boss Hugh Killian, who reminds him that politicians can be replaced.
There’s a lot to like in the Gibbons storyline, too, such as the way he plays the angles with Colvin by pretending to know nothing about the Danworth troubles and the way Teresa and Jarek wonder if Gibbons is really as powerful as they think he is or whether he just uses people’s behind-the-scenes perception that he’s crooked in order to get what he wants. Tonight, we get a definitive—and necessary—answer. Gibbons, it turns out, is a bad, bad man. He sets up Colvin’s chief-of-staff Bill Hampton, leading him to believe that he’s willing to pay Hampton for info on Colvin but then going public with Hampton’s influence-peddling, thus making Colvin herself look incompetent at best, corrupt at worst. And he sets up Killian too, by having a cop plant kiddie-porn in Killian’s house and then pledging to use that evidence unless Killian pledges not to threaten Gibbons ever again.
Like I said: There’s some good, two-fisted political nastiness there and some fine bad-assery from Delroy Lindo as Gibbons. But there’s also more than a little corniness in the rapidity and extremity of the role-reversals. Compared to the incremental shifts of power in the Wysocki/Moosekian storyline, the “they pull a knife, you pull a gun” flips of Gibbons/Killian struck me as over the top, especially since it was accompanied by lines like, “Put your house in order!” and, “You’re used to being the man!”
But to be honest, what’s really keeping The Chicago Code from making the leap from good show to great one for me is Liam. Even with his voiceover this week (talking about how most cops have “10,000 friends,” but he doesn’t), I’m not buying the character, either as a cop or as the kind of underworld hanger-on that the mob would trust. The scene tonight where Liam learns about the Gibbons kickback is written and played so broadly, like a ripoff of a ripoff of a Scorsese mob drama. It almost killed the breakneck momentum that the opening of the show had built up. (And it may have made me judge the latter Gibbon/Killian scenes more harshly, since at times they were in the same vein.) When The Chicago Code focuses on the police side of its grand story, it’s a sharp, exciting show. When it focuses on the criminals, it’s blander and more B-movie-ish. I hope that improves in the weeks ahead, because I like this show a lot, and I’d really love for it to break past the B+ barrier.
- One last thought on Liam: It’s looking like the growing number of leaks that can be traced back to the bar where Liam hangs out is going to burn him as a source before he’s really delivered anything useful. (Or if it doesn’t, then the criminals on this show are too dumb to take too seriously.)
- This is the last Chicago Code episode for which I had an press-site screener to watch, so starting next week, this write-ups will be coming much later in the evening.