Tuesday, March 1, 2011

TV Episode Review: The Chicago Code "Cabrini-Green

Tonight’s episode forces me to back pedal just a touch on my assertion last week that the show was going to be outstanding in the area of staging great action sequences each week.  This week’s opening was something of a letdown in quality, especially given the “explosive” nature of the premise.  The streets are cleared of civilians, we get a couple somewhat intriguing peeks at the video footage of the bomb robot (bombot?) taking a look at the “device” and then Jarek (I’ve decided I like this better than typing “Wysocki”, plus it evens things out since I’m on a first name basis with his partner, Caleb) screams for the building to clear and manages to tackle an errant civilian just so viewers are definitely clear on who the hero is on this show.  It was all part of a pretty mediocre A-story tonight that didn’t quite deserve the “ripped from the headlines” categorization, but certainly seemed comfortable borrowing amply from the real-life storyline of similar domestic terrorists The Weathermen, who had a similarly now-seemingly-above-board public persona in William Ayers (who you may recall President Obama took heat for associating with).  Let’s be clear.  I have no problem with a story borrowed from real life, even if it seems a bit late to be fictionalizing this particular headline, but if it’s going to be done, I do expect a show I respect to produce much more interesting results than this.

On the bright side, the B-story tonight involving an attempted hit on Alderman Gibbons (or rather a non-fatal warning attack, as it turns out to be) made for some interesting wrinkles in an already complex master story.  Unfortunately, the incident itself, a seeming robbery-gone-wrong resulting in Gibbons putting a bullet in a 15-year-old gangbanger’s leg, was poorly staged and unconvincing.   That is, to the point where when the kid pistol whips one of the barber shop employees, it looks so fake that I thought that what Teresa was going to point out to Jarek on the videotape was that the whole thing was staged and the employees were in on it—turns out it was just a really poorly rehearsed action sequence.  The use of the barber shop as the only place where upstanding inner city black citizens ever come together to talk is also getting a bit tiresome—I get that Gibbons is trying to stay connected to the people who put him in office, but it just seems like a narrow perspective of the culture (that’s not a knock on Code though, except in the sense that it’s one part of a much bigger TV landscape).  At any rate, the concept was interesting:  Gibbons is a target of black gangs because it’s pretty obvious that he’s looking out for the interests of the Irish organized crime groups, who are decidedly less black than his constituents and himself.
It makes for a rather plausible conundrum and plays very well against Gibbons’ voice over this evening.  Gibbons (assuming we’re taking the voice over storytelling as being honest and candid and not a character lying to suit his purposes) reveals tonight that his reasons for seeking the position of Alderman were noble ones indeed—so noble as to make him the poster child of both The American Dream and Politicians Who Care, which all comes off a bit heavy handed.  At any rate, he was a victim of the horrible state of affairs known as “daily life” in the projects named in the title (which are real buildings, my wife helpfully informs me—which may or may not actually still be partially standing though condemned), which led him to want to become an Alderman in order to help other unlucky residents of the area, especially ones like his father who was ignored despite repeated written pleas to the Alderman at the time, Cutter Lewis-Bell, who Gibbons would go on to thump soundly the first time he ran against him.  He ran on a platform of fixing problems for people who deserved a voice and it’s clear that he has been about fixing them ever since, whatever his ways and means may be.  It certainly doesn’t unravel our vision of him as the show’s antagonist, least of all after witnessing his handy work in quickly ridding the streets of the gangbanger who sent the young boy to put a bullet in him, but it does make him a bit more richly complex as an oddly moral character instead of as well as a selfish one.
Posed as a question instead of a cheap word processing trick, this actually makes for an interesting bit of character development:  What’s the best that can be said of Gibbons at this point in the show?  Until tonight he has acted only in his self-interests, despite a lot of schmoozing and mugging for PR moments at every opportunity (including tonight right after shooting a minor, which drew cheers from the gathered crowd and did little to help the credibility of the overall writing tonight).  I was immediately reminded of last week’s throwaway moment when Gibbons was seen congratulating a team of young black athletes who had just won a basketball championship.  I didn’t find the moment to be genuine, but it wasn’t anything offensive either—this would be a part of a public servant’s duties, and they have to act impressed and proud despite no personal interest in whatever trivial achievement they’re recognizing.  But now I wonder—given his soliloquies tonight in voice over, Gibbons may have been at least somewhat genuine in his pride for a group of boys from his constituency who had achieved something without the help of drugs, gangs or other urban blights.  Moreover, this week’s developments make pretty clear the point that there will be at least one price to be paid for taking down Gibbons:  A group of citizens who are already nearly voiceless and powerless will go back to being invisible and completely unrepresented in the city’s interests.  That’s not trivial, and I doubt that the show meant for it to be an incidental point in tonight’s proceedings (least of all with so much heavy handed—yet oddly impotent—stock footage of the “way things used to be” before Gibbons fixed things).  Nor do I think it will be used simply as a plot device to make him more politically difficult to remove—I expect more from the show’s creators.
Back in the world of bomb plots and 15 minute warnings, there just really wasn’t much to latch onto here.  Jarek gets some really nice moments, most notably his cut-to-the-chase interrogation of one-time terror suspect David Argyle (who was never officially connected to any conspiracies) and his later rescue of same by walking right into a room containing one irate young man and one ready-to-blow homemade bomb.  They’re both bold moves in keeping with his character, and it’s a lot of fun to watch him suddenly enter these zones where anything which might interfere with him getting the result he wants is just utterly cast aside.  The lawyer advising Argyle might as well be made of dust as Jarek sweeps her aside by appealing to Argyle’s sense of humanity and pointing out to him that if he didn’t want innocent blood on his hands back then, it certainly seems odd that he would be content to have it on them now by keeping quiet about information that could help the police.  It’s a simple ploy, or plea, as it were, and it works immediately.  In fact, it works so well that Argyle feels comfortable admitting inadvertently to his involvement in the Chicago Liberation Army during a time when he had claimed he had nothing to do with them.  Too bad for him Jarek’s devotion to the law won’t let him overlook that fact even though he only said it to protect lives.  As Jarek explains after arresting him at a ceremony to honor him, it’s “because I’m a cop, because you broke the law and that’s how things work.”

But then, Argyle owes his life to Jarek’s single-minded devotion to the law as he works a small miracle in his one man storming of Argyle’s hotel room as he’s held hostage by a young man named Trey Stine who rightly blames Argyle for ruining his parents’ lives.  It’s the second great moment of Jarek’s tonight and it’s almost too quick to really take note of.  He announces himself to Stine and quite literally narrates himself into the room (I’m a cop, I’m unarmed, I’m putting the key into the slot, etc.) and then takes emotional control of the situation by pulling out a cell phone with Stine’s mom on the other end of it.  His calm, collected tone throughout all of this seems nearly impossible given the shaky hand holding a detonation wire less than an inch from a battery node, but he’s fully devoted to his job (and apparently little else—we haven’t heard a word about fiancĂ©, ex-wife or anyone else since episode one) and getting it done every time.  Hopefully the show doesn’t continue to imagine a world where that can always happen, but so far it’s still fun to watch when he quite literally wills things into going his way.  Or at least to whatever extent he can control—turns out Mama Stine isn’t much happier with Argyle’s role in her life than her son is, which makes it highly unfortunate that the police have chosen to give her a moment of time on speakerphone while her son has Argyle wired up to a bomb.  Luckily the rest of the crew breaks in in time to stop the detonation.
So it’s a funky entry into the files of The Chicago Code this week—an intriguing new take on an already interesting bad guy, but very little growth or insight regarding Teresa or Jarek or their ongoing investigation.  So far the show has done a really nice job of balancing a weekly issue with master story development, and given Gibbons’ manipulation of Blakey’s (the boy who came to shoot him) emotions and family to get what he wants while keeping Blakey out of both jail and gang life (I won’t go into how trite his speech and Blakey’s reaction were regarding him steering clear of “thugs”) I’d say tonight managed at least the back half of that balance, as Teresa and Jarek’s pursuit of Gibbons is now hamstrung by a PR victory that makes him really hard to take down politically (plus the afore-mentioned nuance which provides us with at least some reason now to understand that there are reasons to want Gibbons to retain his office).  Unfortunately, the show is going to have to tell a quality A-story within the episode to help carry the weekly momentum that these tiny developments aren’t meant to provide—especially since the show’s primary task right now, like it or not as a fan, is to gather up new viewers at every turn.
Overall Rating:  7.8/10

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

Gibbons gets the line of the night when he tells young Blakey he shouldn't go through with the robbery because "You didn't even think this through long enough to put a pair of your mama's pantyhose over your head."

The Strawberry crates as reference to the CLA's old nickname was a clever little touch, and I really like the scene where Jarek tells Caleb his brain can either keep up with the pace of things or go home.  Caleb steps up and points out that the karaoke bar must have been something more important before.  The point I'm not getting to very well:  I still thought they solved the bombing mystery too easily.

Two issues with the aftermath of Gibbons shooting the kid:  First, as I've mentioned, there's not way that crowd cheers him openly at a scene where a boy has just been shot.  Second, wouldn't he be detained at the very least (I can see them not arresting him, but the idea that he gets to speechify and then drive off in his own car strikes me as highly unlikely).

On a related note, anyone else think it highly unlikely that the alderman would just be allowed to bring HD TVs and video games into the kids hospital room and hang out there indefinitely given the kid is part of a crime, Gibbons was the shooter, and there should probably be some sense of order maintained while the police sort things out?  

I thought the show did a nice job of earning the final moment where Blakey's mom tells Colvin that the only people harassing her son are the police.  Clearly Gibbons has gotten to her, but if you think it was the video system or TV that allowed him to get into her head, you weren't paying attention to the episode--the people in Gibbons' district trust him because he listens to them where everyone else (police included) turn away.

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