Tuesday, February 22, 2011

TV Episode Review: The Chicago Code "Gillis, Chase and Baby Face"

Tonight’s episode answered two immediate questions for me, neither of which was nagging, but both of which bode well for the show given that the answers were positive ones.  First off, I’ve wondered whether the fun, energetic chase scene from the pilot (the one where we meet Jarek Wysocki for the first time hanging out a car window and get to see his odd and fascinating style of police work) was a standard the show was going to live up to throughout the season or whether it represented a big budget “wow” scene to draw in viewers (Lost and Flash Forward both used a similar technique to lock in viewers early on—though nothing could stop Flash Forward from sucking itself to death).  Based on tonight’s effectively shot mini-chase through the L train in pursuit of a psychotic bank robber, I’d say the show has the chops (and budget) to continue to produce high quality action sequences which I’d expect we’ll continue to see scattered throughout the season.  The chase was somewhat low key, but it was punctuated by some beautiful sweeping overhead shots of the city and one nice helicopter shot of the train racing into the next station that reminded me of Raimi’s excellent work during the train scene in “Spiderman 2”.  

 My other question was how complex the show was going to be, given that it has the extra-coat-of-wax shine of over-produced moron programming that’s all flash with little substance.  I didn’t think this show would go that route given its creator and a cast that really seems ready to get after it in terms of compelling drama, but it was in the back of my mind as a possibility.  This week provided some pretty reassuring plot twists suggesting things are going to get right messy before Superintendent Colvin can clean up anything in this city, which is exactly what I’d hoped for.
If looks would kill, they would be this look here.

But let’s get back to that suspect pursuit for a moment.  This week’s in-episode drama emerges in the wake of a bank robbery gone (seemingly) wrong with a security guard bleeding to death in the lobby and the robbers on the run headed for the L  train (and neatly tracked by the latest in anti-bank-theft technology:  a GPS tracker tucked into one of the bill stacks).  Wysocki and Caleb pursue, but the trail ends at a messy head wound which looks grotesque enough from behind, without Caleb later pointing out that there IS no face left to ID.  The body belongs to one of the bank robbers and the GPS-stuffed stack of bills is lying next to him.  Wysocki and Caleb spend much of the remainder of the episode tracking him down, which accidentally reveals a much bigger issue:  Wysocki’s entire department, at the instruction of Moosekian, the head of organized crime (and you know what I think of that guy—he thought Isaac deserved a promotion.  Psh), is “freezing him out” for a couple days to let him know they don’t approve of him ratting out bad cops to his buddy Colvin in the city offices.  Of course, he’s doing no such thing, but since Colvin has taken it upon herself to name good-ol’-boy Jonesy as the next crooked cop to get the boot, every boy in blue is under the impression Wysocki is passing names along to Teresa based on their past together.  It’s narrow-minded thinking (not to mention that it ignores the fact that Jonesy was pretty clearly on the take), but Moose isn’t much of a thinker (or a looker).  

Unfortunately for Moose, Wysocki and Caleb need backup against Robbins, the bank robber who, it turns out, is armed to the teeth with an itchy trigger finger.  After he unloads an automatic weapon on the two of them in his driveway, nearly killing a young girl in the process, backup arrives from all the way across town (that would be the town of Chicago, you realize) which infuriates Wysocki.  He takes it out on Colvin first, since she didn’t bother to let him know she was busting another guy from his unit (which he should have known about if only to make it clear that he was NOT the one who ran Jonesy’s name up the ladder).  But that anger is misdirected and he knows it.  He knows who’s behind the freeze-out but it seems like he’s prepared to just sit on it until he ends up having to kill Robbins (surprise!) to save Moose from taking a good amount of automatic weapons fire to the face.  It’s a bit of a melodramatic moment, mostly guilty of falling back on the old cop show cliché wherein two men who dislike each other have to get each other’s backs and one inevitably fires past the end of the other one’s nose in order to kill the villain who was about to kill him.  We’ve seen it too many times and it just doesn’t work well in a smart drama—what are the odds any cop discharges his weapon in a chase like this at all, let alone in order to save the life—oh irony of ironies—of a man who just hours ago did him egregious wrong?  
Mr. Hampton, Superintendent Colvin, and who cares who that other guy is.

However the entire subplot wraps up so excellently that the transgression seems forgivable.  Moose, predictably humbled and guilt-ridden, tries to apologize to Wysocki in the locker room; he obviously didn’t think the freeze-out would put Wysocki or Caleb at risk, which is as dumb as Moose looks given that the whole idea behind a freeze-out is that you leave a guy hanging when he needs backup which he would only call for if he’s in danger.  At any rate, he explains himself and apologizes sincerely and Wysocki says nothing, but you can see fury behind his eyes (Jason Clarke could carry this show by himself with his presence, but it’s been great that he doesn’t have to).  When Moose nervously asks if they’re “cool”, Wysocki explodes in a moment where I, at least, expected him to maybe say some stern words and then offer a handshake.  “We could have arrested that guy and instead I killed him because you’re playing games,” he screams between punches, and he’s right and every other uniform watching knows it.  Whether he did it as a calculated move is hard to say (he’s certainly sharp enough for such strategy), but the impact seems like it will fix his insubordination problem.  

So things were pretty heated and violent at street level today, but at the managerial level even bigger power struggles were afoot.  Colvin’s Chief of Staff, Mr. Hampton, is a bit frustrated with the fact that she seems to keep him slightly out of the loop (“the loop” being “any conversation with Wysocki”) and is more than ready to put himself on Gibbons’ payroll once he realizes Colvin and Gibbons are at odds over a construction project run by Danforth Construction, which Gibbons has a crooked finger in (and which is a subsidiary of your friendly neighborhood Irish mob).  Meanwhile Gibbons and Killian, who runs the Irish mob, are also at a crossroads in their relationship because Gibbons is supposed to be protecting Killian’s business from “that bitch” Colvin, and he’s doing a poor job of it given that she’s shutting the Benton Street Project down completely (and she’s only doing that, of course, to try and flush out Gibbons and his connections to the money trail).  Confused yet?  If you are this show might not be for you, if you’re going cross eyed with it all but still want to keep up, good for you and welcome aboard.  

Now buckle up:  Gibbons doesn’t take well to being threatened by Killian, who points out that he has more leverage in their relationship, given that he doesn’t have a good name to sully like Gibbons does.  So to gain a bit of leverage of his own, Gibbons uses that nastiest of all crowbars, child pornography, planted in Killian’s garage to drum up a false arrest with the help of Lt. Kelly, also on Gibbons’ payroll.  Once Killian is sufficiently aware of who really holds the power in the relationship, Killian is released back onto the streets of Chicago, and Gibbons can turn his attention back to the generous offer of Mr. Hampton (that is, to provide Gibbons with tip-offs any time Colvin makes a move against him).  It’s an interesting proposition for Gibbons, given that this is exactly what he needs, but you have to assume he wants that type of info from a man he already has in his own back pocket.  So he sets up a meeting with Colvin the very next day and tells her that he’s uncovered corruption right under her nose and regrets (such a slimeball—Delroy Lindo is phenomenal in this role) that he’s going to have to go public with such disgusting dishonesty in a public office.  Her fury is barely contained, but things get worse when Hampton’s replacement is rushed upon her pretty quickly, and it’s none other than Lt. Kelly, smiling and playing nice.  It looks like a major coup for Gibbons until Colvin asks Kelly to excuse her while Wysocki fills her in on “that one file” and proceeds to explain to him that Kelly is definitely Gibbons’ man, and now they have exactly the man they need to feed Gibbons whatever bad intel they want to.  Did I mention that this show is getting awesome?

If I’m forgetting some great moments here amongst the hubbub of major twists and turns this week (and I’m sure I am), feel free to hold it against me, but think about what that really says about this show’s potential—I could name other shows that almost overwhelm you every episode with phenomenal scenes AND big twists AND broad storylines, but I’m sure you already watch them and you know how rare they can be, and now it looks like we’re going to have another one to fit into our weekly schedule.  Scootch over, Southland, Chicago Code is going to be hanging out with us for a while.

Overall Rating:  9.2/10

Great Quotes, Interesting Moments, What Not and Occasionally What-have-you: 

For a minute I thought the dead bank robber’s shoes were going to be some original, rare artist-designed numbers that would help ID him, a la Turtle from Entourage.  God, I hate Turtle.  And Entourage, now that I think about it.  Why do I watch that show again?  Oh yeah, it’s on HBO.

Liam’s voiceover this week isn’t very interesting or insightful, but I really hope they stick to this multi-perspective method of storytelling and find some way to use it to better effect than they have been.  It’s a simple yet novel idea.

“You’re always chasing people off, you ever notice that?” Wysocki asks Colvin jokingly.

The rock guitar providing the soundtrack to the brief shooting scene outside the liquor store was an unusual choice.  I’m not sure it worked, but I like that the show is going unorthodox so often.

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