Tuesday, February 15, 2011

TV Episode Review: The Chicago Code "Hog Butcherer"

It’s a fairly obvious rule in television and film that no moment is accidental or meaningless, most especially things that might at first seem that way.  If a character kicks a can into the gutter while walking across the street, you can bet that can will become the key piece of evidence in his murder investigation; if a character casually mentions a friend in low places, you can bet the film will eventually find that character crawling through those low places on hands and knees with the help of that very friend.  But even as viewers become more savvy about how TV “works”, the best writers still find ways to reveal key information while making its payoff surprising and satisfying.  Two weeks in, it looks like The Chicago Code may have the rare team of writers (led, no doubt, by the excellent Shawn Ryan) who can do this on a consistent basis, which bodes well for a show that clearly wants to tell a complex and ongoing story.  Last week left us fairly confident that Wysocki was hot on the trail of Alderman Gibbons’ criminal activities (namely murder and attempted murder, or at least conspiring to do so) right down to who he paid, why he wanted Colvin and the whistleblower from Fergus Construction dead, and a few other potential leads we had to assume would result in even more charges against him.  Less memorable perhaps was the moment when Colvin cuts down a Sergeant named Don Worthin to “mop closet” duty, shaming him in the middle of a crowded office and taking some very heated words from him for her troubles.  It felt like a character moment where we learn the inevitable:  Colvin is all business, she’s going to clean up this police force, she’s willing to battle the slimy union to do it, she can take a verbal beating and keep that beautiful smile on her face, and so on.  Turns out, it was the key to the drive by shooting that killed Antonio Betts and should have killed Colvin—the writers just decided to hide it right there in front of our faces. 

It made for a fantastic change of direction this week and a very impressive scene in the interrogation room where Colvin has to swallow a bit of pride in order to get the answers she wants from a man for whom she has no respect.  Wysocki has to calm her down first though.  She bursts into the room breathing fire and looking capable of homicide herself, but Wysocki talks her down in the hallway so that she can go in and handle things the right way.  The Wysocki-Colvin dynamic continues to be a major point of interest in the show—Wysocki’s new partner, Caleb, refers to him as a “living, breathing, fast pass to the top” which certainly seems to have been the case with Colvin.  We see her trust him very deeply and instinctively twice in this episode:  Here in the hallway and also after he infuriates her by speaking to the press to trap the owner of the vehicle used in the shooting.  They scream at each other a lot in the latter scene, but ultimately he says she has to trust him and despite her raised tones it’s very clear that she does, maybe more than she trusts herself in certain moments.  It makes for an interesting dynamic and begs the obvious question, “Why isn’t HE the one on top?”  The question makes for an interesting storyline that I’m certain will be explained as the season unfolds (probably through Caleb’s eagerness to climb the latter), but it’s somewhat disappointing that in creating this subplot the show has somewhat weakened the character of Colvin.  She’s a potentially great character as a female prodigy police super whose bark matches her bite, and who has not only ambition but the good character to act on it and stick to it.  But so far the show’s direction with her has been to stress heavily that she’s sitting behind that desk because of her male partner, who still thinks things through more thoroughly than she does and is better able to contain his emotions and put things in perspective (she’s not the first cop to lose her cool during an interrogation over a sensitive murder, but the dynamics here are starting to follow the stereotypical pattern whereby a woman is ruled by emotion and her male counterpart has to show her what reason looks like).  Hopefully the show steers away from this—it certainly seems to care about her as a character, and experience certainly suggests that Shawn Ryan can create some damn compelling female police characters. 
She certainly gives us a reason to pay attention to her development when she returns to the interrogation room to speak on calmer terms with Worthin.  Her first question is one that she might have done well to ask before reassigning him in the first place.  She asks him what happened to him that took him from closing the most homicides in the force 10 years ago to barely closing anything.  His response catches her by surprise and confirms what Wysocki has already decided:  Worthin had nothing to do with the shooting directly.  “It’s not one thing.  Dead bodies, kids.  First it’s a few drinks to get to sleep, then it’s 12 shots to get what happens on your shift out of your head,” he tells her.  It only takes him a moment to realize that the two young cop wannabes he had a few drinks with took it upon themselves to avenge him, even thought doing so goes against everything a cop stands for, even a burned out cop like Worthin.  His devastated reaction to knowing what he may have inadvertently done softens even Colvin, who it seems is smart enough to know that she should have seen Worthin in a deeper way than she did when she cut him down.  It’s a nice moment of growth for her and a minor coup for the writers as they turn a minor character from a red-in-the-face, disgruntled, deadbeat cop into a three-dimensional, tragic victim of life and circumstance in only three scenes (the final scene being at The Musky Club where the shooter lies dead on the floor as Worthin has one last drink to clear his head before quietly explaining to Wysocki that “I clean up my messes.”).  
Unfortunately, while Wysocki and Colvin are wrapping up one mess, Gibbons is busy creating another one for them, and it’s a doozie.  It turns out that Betts giving his vest to Colvin violates a city policy that, when broken, means your family doesn’t get anything financially in the event of your death.  It’s a policy that makes sense, but it’s also the sort of thing that the city budget office might know well enough to leave alone given Betts’ heroic status.  Instead, Gibbons seems to have dripped poison into the right ears (including Betts’ grieving mother—our best evidence yet that he’s a true snake) to steal everything from the fallen man’s family.  The move pays off for him immediately as Betts’ mother not only sues Colvin but tells her that it should have been her badge hanging on the wall of fallen heroes, not her son’s, and Colvin immediately flags down Gibbons to ask for his help rectifying the situation.  Her move is an emotional one, and probably the right one given her close ties to the Betts family, but I think it’s safe to assume that in the coming weeks she’ll realize who orchestrated the whole mess and use it as further motivation to pry Gibbons’ hands loose from the city’s throat and wallet.
Meanwhile it remains to be seen how Wysocki’s niece Vonda and her partner Isaac Joiner’s meddling in the drug running of Irish mob goon Brady (who seems close to Gibbons, but for reasons not yet clear enough to bring anybody in for) changes the game for Wysocki and Colvin’s pursuit of Gibbons himself.  It certainly can’t help things for Brady to know the police are all over his operations (and the fact that he’s in custody might spook Gibbons), and the look on undercover Liam’s (“Undercover Liam” sounds like an 80’s easy listening album) face when he spots Isaac outside the building where they’re stuffing drugs into pig carcasses seemed to be one of pure disgust as he hesitates for a moment before deciding he has to tip Brady off that the cops are outside.  It’s just a gut feeling right now, but I get the impression the show doesn’t want us to be fond of Isaac Joiner, and I’m fairly certain he’s eventually going to put Wysocki’s niece into a real bad spot that could cost her.  From a personal standpoint, I’m quite certain that I don’t like Isaac’s character, least of all his smug, self-congratulatory demeanor when he arrests Brady.  He’s a clear foil for Wysocki, who does the job because it needs to be done and because Chicago needs police of good character fighting the good fight (hence his continued intolerance of bad language from partners), and I’m looking forward to the moment, which must be just around the corner, when Wysocki lets Isaac have it for his self-interested approach to police work. 

This week brought a lot of nice surprises with it, and did a nice job muddying the waters with regards to where the season will take us.  Wysocki was already a clear centerpiece, but his mission becomes personal this week as he prays to God, quite literally, with a nun who helped raise him in the ways of the church praying alongside him, for God to help him find his brother’s killer and steady his hand as he pulls the trigger.  It would have been more of a shocker had early ads for the show not spoiled it completely, but it was still somewhat chilling to hear it come out of his mouth with such conviction in front of a nun who he looked up to as a child and clearly still has affection for.  It’s not clear whether this will distract him from Gibbons or motivate him, or whether the two problems with share some common solution.  Colvin has a full plate now and a new perspective about her job, Caleb it seems is going to get a steeper learning curve than he signed on for as he shoots for the top, and Isaac and Vonda’s promotion to organized crime just seems too quick and easy to not result in a huge mess.  In other words, we have ourselves a suitably complicated season of television on our plates and a lot of reason to be excited about the next course. 
Overall Rating:  9.2/10

Great Quotes, Interesting Moments, What Not and Occasionally What-have-you:
Wysocki’s big speech about hauling Gibbons in for interrogation comes across as too naïve—a seasoned detective would know perfectly well why that’s a poor idea.
Two notes on the credits:  Billy Corgan has been reduced to performing TV drama themes that he didn’t even write, and the show uses the floating-in-space letter gimmick from Fringe for the end of its opening credits.  I’m really, really happy about both of these developments.
The Cubs jokes may get old eventually, but for now I had a good laugh at “Is he a fan of the great game of baseball or a Cubby lover?”
Wysocki:  “There’s a lot of history in that sausage.”  Caleb:  “I can taste it.”
Caleb and Wysocki make a good team:  Wysocki has a lot of old tricks up his sleeve, like releasing false car IDs, and Caleb has some young, fresh ideas that could make for some interesting perspective on modern police work, like tweeting about suspects to get quicker IDs.
Wysocki’s moral code is quite intriguing.  He’s a devout Catholic in his own way, but he’s aware he doesn’t belong there.  He tells the nun that his lifestyle involves divorce, premarital (post-marital?) sex, cheating and heavy drinking.  “That’s my Monday through Saturday, I’m not going to roll in here on Sunday…I’m not hypocrite,” he explains to her when she asks why he doesn’t show up for church.
Things like “The Musky Club” make me wish I had gone into police work.  Caleb seemed a touch jealous too.

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