The opening five minutes of this week’s Chicago Code featured a little of what most frustrates me about the show, then rallied by highlighting some of what I enjoy most. “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” begins with Superintendent Colvin being grilled by Chicago talk-jock Mancow Muller and his callers about her perceived ineptitude. Teresa’s called away on an emergency before she can answer the most egregious claims (delivered by a disgruntled cop, no less), but she hears more complaints on the radio on her way to the crime scene. And all the while, I’m thinking: There’s nothing wrong with the idea of this sequence. It’s important that we get a sense of the political pressures involved with Teresa’s job, and the fervid knee-jerk criticism is something that’s relevant to the real world. But why do all the callers sound so… fake? Why do their questions seem so on-point and written for maximum aggravation? Maybe I should just accept it as a matter of style, the same way I accept the clipped dialogue in a David Mamet play. It’s just that I thought this show was aiming for realism. How hard would it have been to get some skilled improvisers from Second City to talk into a mic for half an hour or so, and then cull the best minute?
Right after the radio business, though, “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” improves considerably. We get a brief history lesson of the title incident—in which gangsters dressed as cops slaughtered seven crosstown rivals—and an explanation of its relevance to this Chicago Code. The old Massacre cost the police Superintendent his job, and now, there’s a new gangland slaying that may cost Teresa hers. She’s smart enough to use the outcry over a splashy mass-murder to hit the Mayor up for a commitment to hire 200 new officers. But that doesn’t stop the Mayor (played by John Heard) from standing in front of the press, with Teresa by his side, and saying that she’d better solve this case quick or she’s done, professionally. Roll credits. And we’re off.
One of the reasons why “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” works so well is that it’s primarily focused on one case: a slaying that may have been masterminded by an old hand in the protection rackets, the currently incarcerated Wayne Luckett. The episode deals with the usual gruntwork required to find the killers. Wysocki and Evers go to talk to Luckett in jail, and bring the Superintendent along, hoping she can make a big arrest in front of the press mere hours after the story of the murders broke. But Colvin is embarrassed to find that Luckett had an aneurysm a few days ago and has been in a coma ever since. So Wysocki and Evers turn their attention to Luckett’s son, Deion, and draw him out by having a local store owner pretend that he’s got the money that he owes The Two-Corner Hustlers. But it turns out that Deion’s not the boss either; he only thinks he is. (Deion doesn’t even know that his father’s sick.)
No, the real person in charge is Deion’s sister, Bernadette, a clerk for the cop-hating Judge Walker. Bernadette’s been feeding the Hustlers tips from the inside and instructing them on the right moves to make to grow the business. Judge Walker tries to cover for Bernadette, claiming Teresa’s accusing his office just to get in good with her skeptical underlings. And when Bernadette gets cocky in front of Teresa, saying, “What’s ending is you and me having this conversation,” Teresa orders her to sit down (in a very satisfying moment). In the end, the cops pull the old “get the suspect on tape saying that her accomplice is an idiot and then show the accomplice the tape” trick, which is enough to get Deion to convince his crew to roll on Bernadette. (Well, that and the promise that Deion will get to be in charge for real this time… which Wysocki grants with the expectation that Deion will quickly run the operation into the ground.)
Yes, Bernadette’s comeuppance is clichéd. And yes, it might have been more dramatic for the series long-term if Teresa had failed—or at least hadn’t succeeded so quickly and commandingly. (Just when it looks like Bernadette and Deion are going to walk, they meet in the hall and have a fight, which allows the cops to detain them both for assault. Awfully convenient.) But there was more going on in “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” than just how difficult or easy the central case was to solve. It was more about how that case revealed tensions: between the criminals, between the cops, and between the Superintendent and her city.
Throughout the episode, Colvin is sweating out an upcoming no-confidence vote from the Fraternal Order Of Police, which Wysocki is trying to manipulate by getting his old partner the good press he feels she needs. (He also throws his fists around when his colleagues run Teresa down.) Finally, after solving the case and receiving congrats from the Mayor—who claims that he was just trying to motivate her—Teresa stands in front of her force with a creaky voice and makes her case. And she survives the vote, despite significant dissent.
What I liked about the “no confidence” element—and even the angry talk radio callers, in the abstract—is how it speaks to our tendency towards generalized, uninformed frustration. Just this past weekend, an acquaintance of mine was telling me about a member of an organization she belongs to who wrote an open letter calling out the leadership for not taking action on an important issue. In response, the head of the organization wrote another open letter citing all the things they had done on that issue—none of which the disgruntled member had cited, because the member hadn’t bothered to check. She’d just assumed that nothing was being done.
You see that in “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre,” when people angry at the Superintendent ignore the improved crime statistics and instead cite anecdotal evidence. Sure, the murder rate is down. But what about that shooting that just happened?
To that end, this episode’s B-story is as significant as its A. While all the other drama’s going on, Isaac and Vonda are stuck in a room with ferocious prosecutor Anna Chase (played by Shield stalwart Cathy Ryan), who’s representing a man suing the city, claiming that Isaac assaulted him and his wife when he responded to a domestic abuse call at their apartment. In multiple flashbacks, we see different versions of that call. Was the guy falling-down drunk? Was Isaac out of control? Probably a little of both. But when the city attorney decides to settle the case for $75,000—more than a cop makes in a year—it’s not because of what actually went down. It’s because Isaac and Vonda are sleeping together and juries hate cops. Facts shmacts. Perception’s what matters.
- I was a little bothered that when Wysocki and Evers sprung their sting on Deion Luckett, they didn’t cover the exit, making it easy for Deion to escape. Ah, well. They got him eventually, and it led to another cool Chicago Code foot-chase scene.
- Also, it was a nice touch to have Wysocki arrest Deion for wearing body armor while being a convicted felon. A little true-crime stuff there.
- I couldn’t find the name of the actor who plays Deion Luckett, but I thought he was superb. Just watch the way he goes from unduly cocky—saying, “Ask my pop!” when he’s being interrogated—to putting his head in his hands and mumbling, “I’m gonna have to call my sister” after he finds out that his dad’s in a coma.
- Always good to see Cathy Ryan on TV again. I liked the scene where she handed Vonda her file box while she insulted Isaac. If there was a sub-theme to “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre,” it had to do with powerful women taking advantage of the ways in which they’re underestimated.
- My favorite exchange of the episode was Vonda walking through the squad room and saying, “Evers,” and Evers saying, “Hey.” I don’t know; I just loved the acknowledgment that these two characters’ worlds are linked, even if they don’t really know each other.