Wednesday, March 23, 2011

TV Episode Review: The Chicago Code “Black Hand and the Shotgun Man”

Tonight’s incident involving a drug lord’s kidnapped son played out fairly decently, especially with a brief little shootout scene which managed to make itself quite interesting without really involving a whole lot of gun play.  The show continues to excel at handling action sequences very well with camera movement and editing, giving even brief episodes a nice intensity and sense of fluidity.  The cleverness of Teresa and Jarek to outplay Romero’s hand of cards and “beat” the FBI without really undermining or cheating them was well played, especially since the show seems to be learning that too much cleverness on the part of these two characters is going to make them “larger than life” and spoil the show’s sense of realism.  Jarek playing little games with them by switching prisoners as a stall tactic played quite nicely, but I was worried that when he told Caleb that “we haven’t played our last card yet” we were in for an unrealistic “local hero cops outsmart the bumbling G-Men” type of outcome, which mostly play as silly and unbelievable.  So good for the writers to put a much smarter spin on it:  Teresa makes a reasonable offer which makes things a touch more difficult for the FBI, but also makes sense given that as enforcers of the law they certainly aren’t fighting to keep Romero out of prison—they just need him to play his role in taking down bigger fish. 

Meanwhile Liam isn’t growing on me at all as a character; I continue to find it hard to believe that the CPD would vet someone for an undercover position without realizing he would require weekly slammings against walls in order to keep him on task.  At least tonight he was finally involved in some interesting scenes though (if only as a sounding board for Gibbons’ fascinating philosophies on leadership, politics, citizenship, and life).  While Liam needs to be downgraded in terms of his fragile mental state by the writers, he could become an interesting character in terms of his potential fate given tonight’s developments.  Once Gibbons delivers him to the house of the man he unintentionally burned to death in the arson incident, their relationship became a point of tension which Delroy Lindo plays really, really interestingly:  As far as I could tell, the visit to the widow’s house and the ensuing meeting in his office with Liam were all completely on the up-and-up. 

Even if they weren’t, his various speeches to Liam certainly seem to be those of a man of strong convictions:  “Looking out for the people of Chicago is not something you can go half-assed at,” he tells Liam just before welcoming him to the “family”.  He also gives a wonderful speech to Liam about the fact that he’s inconsiderate of other people because he’s been conditioned to “mock and ignore” the plight of his fellow man, as are all young people today.  It’s a fantastic monologue on the part of a strong, black leader who was clearly raised under a certain code which he insists on upholding and sharing with others.  More important to understanding and appreciating who he is as an alderman, he has learned to do so in a contagiously positive manner.  It plays very well and I can’t help but assume it’s meant to continue to win us over to his good side.  I like it. 

Liam reports to Teresa that Gibbons is sending him a message that he’s on to him (though whether that means as a criminal or as a police plant is somewhat ambiguous), but I’m not at all certain that that’s the case.  I see why we’re supposed to assume it, but Gibbons’ philosophical lessons to Liam throughout the episode reinforce the notion that there are a lot of very good reasons to pull for him to retain his position.  He’s a bad person in many respects, and he’s crooked as hell, but he’s also incredibly knowledgeable about how to lead effectively and inspire and motivate his constituents despite the fact that they are mostly helpless and hopeless as Chicago’s forgotten citizens.  The point being, his relationship with Liam could prove to be a very interesting parallel construction of two men who are engaging in dual lifestyles—one in defense of the city’s citizens and the other at their direct expense, and I don’t think it would be unreasonable to wonder whether both men might eventually show some mixed feelings about those dual roles. 

The episode had a lot of other nice little touches and moments in it, most notably probably being the return (finally) of Jarek’s ex-wife and fiancé as issues to be dealt with.  The show seemed to be purposefully avoiding them almost as much as Jarek has been, which is fine except that it kept the real tension of his personal life at arm’s length for viewers (the speaker-phone calls in the cruiser rarely represented more than a chance for a bit of humorous banter with Caleb).  It was nice to see Dana again tonight, partially because she’s just nice to see, if you know what I mean.  I mean she’s hot; I want to be clear about that.  She’s also something of a cool character to toss into the cauldron of strong relationships brewing together on this show.  Her monologue is one of the better ones we’ve heard of late; she lends some nice relevance to her character (and potentially to the fiancé, who knows nothing of what she’s signing on for) by explaining that to be the wife of a Chicago cop is to lead a lonely life most of the time, and a life where you wish you were lonely instead of surrounded by cops and their world the rest of the time.  It plays well, especially capped as it is by a melancholy shot of Jarek rolling down a city street at 3 AM lit by the lights of the city and a police cruiser. 

The parallel of Romero’s eventual loss of his family—which didn’t quite feel deserved, given that we only hear second hand of his worst offenses—and Jarek’s insensitivity and lack of commitment to his own makes for some interesting considerations.  Romero’s willingness to never see his family again in order to keep them safe is clearly the tougher of the decisions the two men face, but despite the fact that Jarek has trouble watching the family broken apart, it’s not quite enough to make him change his mind about the choices he’s making with his own.  In other words, he can’t quite bring himself to stop sleeping with his ex-wife, even after their son catches them and puts an accurate name on what it is that they’re engaging in, and he certainly can’t bring himself to break things off with his fiancé who he avoids like the plague but clearly cares about in some sense, as evidenced by the broken, torn look she leaves him wearing in front of a table full of wedding invitations at episode’s end.  He manages to look both trapped and guilty in the same moment.  I almost wish the show would be a bit more aggressive in playing up the fact that Jarek is not an entirely heroic figure; he’s cheating on his fiancé with his ex-wife, making his son’s life uncomfortable at best, and diving into his work as a police officer as much to avoid his responsibilities as to clean up the streets.  Caleb’s ribbings start to hit too close to home and he gets quite feisty about it, it’s a nice touch that the youngster gets to smack sense into him with his sarcasm. 

Sadly, the episode definitely reaffirmed my ranting thoughts last week—the show is committed to the dumbest demographic of its viewers.  Terrible, on-the-nose dialogue was running rampant tonight, none of it worse than the moment in which we discover that the money on Romero’s boat was ransom money, not drug money.  This is all but closed-captioned to us during the painful conversation between Romero’s wife and Jarek and Caleb, who pry the information from her with promises to help her son (which are genuine, if dual-purposed).  But apparently the crystal-clarity of the scene’s exchange is too subtle for some segment of the viewing population Fox thinks is tuning in to their network, because as soon as she leaves the room, Jarek and Caleb have to recap the conversation by exclaiming, “The cash on the boat wasn’t for a drug deal—it was ransom money!” like Fred explaining things to Shaggy before they hop into the Mystery Machine to chase down the kidnapper.  It destroys the show’s other subtleties and intelligent moments so thoroughly that it’s hard to get used to.  Similarly horrible is the 3-way exchange between Teresa, Caleb, and Jarek regarding Romero in which the three of them literally tell one another why Romero is a dangerous criminal who needs to be taken off the streets.  Apparently the writers felt it might be too much to have one of them just look into the camera and say, “Tonight we’ll be chasing a heroin dealer who kills police officers and does other horrible things.”

So next week is a week off, which my aching typing fingers are somewhat glad about.  Any speculation about the thinking here on the part of Fox?  I have to assume it’s both a good and bad sign—they’re re-running the pilot in the hopes of drawing in new viewers before the show’s April return, so they seem committed to it, but I couldn’t say whether the break from new episodes itself was pre-planned or if this reveals Fox’s concerns about the low ratings and should come as a predictor of the show’s demise if things don’t improve by season’s end.  I certainly hope that latter isn’t the case, but I admit to being ignorant of the inner-workings of networks to a degree that makes me entirely unqualified to speculate here.  Just keep your fingers crossed, and keep tuning in when the show returns.  See you in a couple weeks.

Overall Rating:  8.8/10

Great Lines, Interesting Moments, What-Not, and Occasionally What-Have-You:

“Now I gotta throw you against the wall…are you ready?”

I’ve been meaning to bring this up for a while now:  The show makes odd decisions musically.  If you’ve noticed, most action scenes are set to non-descript rock music.  It has stuck out to me at least three or four times and then I forget to mention it (the shooting outside the Chinatown convenience store sticks out as the other recent incident of this).  It happened again tonight during the brief shooting on the rooftop.  I don’t like or dislike it at this point, but it’s a bit perplexing as a dramatic choice.

Caleb’s increasing confidence in letting Jarek have it with both barrels gets more fun every week.  His ongoing assault on Jarek’s energy drink habit results in a bunch of funny exchanges tonight.  For example:

Caleb:  “how many is that so far today?”
Jarek:  “Get a hobby.”

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