Wednesday, April 20, 2011

TV Episode Review: The Chicago Code “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre”

I really liked the opening of this week’s episode, which found Colvin in a hot seat even more uncomfortable than the one a police superintendent would normally have to sit in:  the interview chair of a radio talk jock/moron named “Man Cow”, if I heard him correctly, who clearly runs one of those shows where people who are angry and uneducated get to call in and berate the guests and other listeners with their ignorance and rage, completely unchecked by any standards of honesty, accuracy, ethical boundaries or common sense.  The scene didn’t play as entirely believable—radio stations don’t generally take calls from “anonymous” since it would encourage callers coming on and breaking FCC rules of decency, and even a jag like “Man Cow” would not cut high profile guests off from responding to personal attacks against their jobs before a commercial break if he expected to ever have guests sign on to do his show again (speaking of which—why would Colvin agree to an interview on a show like this?  It seems more like shock/schlock radio than news/opinion.).  Nevertheless, it played to the intriguing subject of populism ruling a city or an organization and why it’s a bad idea. 

The other clever conceit to “Valentine’s Massacre” was an effectively played parallel between Colvin’s struggles to be a powerful woman ruling a traditional male organization and a corrupt court official doing the same thing with her dimwit brother’s gang the “Two Corner Hustlas”.  It didn’t amount to anything show-stopping as a thematic element, but it played nicely as a small tweak on the not-entirely-original “surprise, the sister is the real villain” conceit.  Colvin points out to Wysocki that Bernadette was overlooked as a suspect because “a woman couldn’t be in charge of a well-armed group of men.”  It’s half friendly ribbing and half frustration venting, but it’s an interesting truth that the show has only addressed lightly thus far:  Colvin seemed an unlike candidate for her job as a woman at such a young age, and now she’s a walking target as a young and seemingly successful woman fulfilling the duties of a job that is a magnet for all critiques of law enforcement but thankless for any of its successes.  The mayor casually threatens her job in front of police, anonymous boys in blue challenge her on live radio, and the police union feels entitled to a vote of no confidence in her without even giving her the respect of a visit to her office in order to address their grievances.  None are problems specific to a woman in her role, but collectively they seem to be suggestive of a silent consensus that she isn’t really capable of succeeding in her position. 

The frustrating side of the same storyline, however, is that the show engages in some odd evasions to make it seem like her job is less secure than it realistically would be.  We’ve already seen how sharp Colvin is in action, and we have to assume that she showed something impressive to get herself the job in the first place.  Tonight, though, her new bodyguard/assistant, Ray, out-strategizes Teresa regarding how to deal with the anonymous police officer’s phone call.  It just doesn’t play well; I can buy that he’s sharp and that’s why he got the job, but Teresa is way too savvy to require him to explain the best retaliation against such a dimwitted attack. 

To make matters worse, when she’s given chances to prove her worth, Wysocki has to talk her into it the first time (which ends up not working out, but he was clearly right in theory) and then when she gets herself a chance to talk to the union before their vote, the writers give her a leaden, uninteresting speech about cops being “mothers and fathers and sisters and uncles and kissing cousins and great-great-uncles half removed on their mother’s sides” and whatnot when she should have pointed out the following to them:  She has advocated repeatedly to get them new vehicles and radios, and seen success in doing so.  She has had an open door policy and a willingness to suit up alongside street officers repeatedly in dangerous situations because she doesn’t see herself as better than the average beat cop.  She has—just this morning actually!—gotten 200 more officers added to the force to help all of them do their jobs more effectively and feel safer working the streets and improve the public perception of them.  None of it would necessarily sway their vote, but it would have played better than her hokey speech, complete with requisite shots of various stubborn union members nodding their heads quietly as they soften and yield to her mesmerizing words.  At least they made the vote believably close—it allows for a bit of ambiguity regarding whether her speech actually had an impact or whether she just happens to still have a little better than half of the force’s support (which doesn’t seem unthinkable).

The show’s examination of women’s power expanded in a few other directions as well as Vonda played loyal new girlfriend to Isaac, with unfortunate results in regards to a domestic abuse case they handled together.  Vonda “following Isaac’s lead” doesn’t do much to help either one of them and ultimately leads to him feeling frustrated and defeated…at the hands of a woman openly flaunting her power, Anna Chase (played by Vic Mackey’s wife!).  It made for more interesting, if less direct, parallels.  Chase openly mocks the law at the end of the episode, pointing out that she’s used her money and power to create her own protection which operates outside of the law.  In contrast to Colvin who has gone out of her way to serve the law and conduct herself with a level of integrity bordering on mania, she’s a true monster.  Much more so for what she accomplishes tonight:  her victory pays her a handsome cut of a $75K settlement against the city which, as Isaac accurately explains, results in the city paying a man for breaking the law and beating his wife.  Such is the power of an effective female—she can even get a man paid for beating another woman who lacks such a position of power.  Thought provoking, Chicago Code. 

Obviously I agree completely with Isaac’s frustrated observation about what it means for Chase to get away with what she does, and it speaks quite highly of the proceedings tonight that they managed to finally make Isaac a sympathetic character for me.  He and Vonda are incompetent for filling out police reports so casually (or inexactly), but it’s not hard to share in their frustration when they put their lives at risk daily, intervene in cases as frustrating as a clear cut case of domestic violence, and then actually have to be subjected to a humiliating dismantling of the finer points of their solid police work because there are unethical lawyers in the world who have built 10 foot walls around their homes paid for with the money from just these types of settlements.  Besides making Isaac more sympathetic, the storyline also helps to lend a bit of credibility to the otherwise hot-headed (and two-dimensional thus far on the show) Fraternal Order of Police.  It becomes a bit easier to understand their restlessness and eagerness for change of any sort when you realize they’re taking it from all sides just as much as Colvin is (she certainly hasn’t been lenient on their ranks), and their compensation isn’t nearly what hers is (Vonda even goes to the trouble of pointing out for us that the settlement amount exceeds their yearly salary).

Despite the absence of the good Alderman tonight, the episode did a nice job introducing some other pieces to the chess board of the show’s master plot (or at least I’m going to assume their roles are larger than what we saw this evening).  Mayor McGinnis has made an interesting character of himself; more than ready to put other people’s jobs on the line over isolated incidents beyond their control, and quick to “apologize” for political purposes when they prove more up to the task than he gave them credit for.  Meanwhile, Judge Walker seems like a player bound to be pivotal in the proceedings of the final four episodes:  He’s about as anti-cop as a judge can get, he’s insulted by Teresa’s suggestion that there’s corruption inside of his office (and we certainly don’t get an apology scene from him after she’s proven right), and he struck me as the type of guy more likely to hold such good police work against her as opposed to begrudgingly admitting that she not only did her job well but tried to give him a chance to get on top of it without becoming guilty by association. 

Long story short, with our final four episodes comes the promise of a potential conclusion (or at least advancement) of the case on Alderman Gibbons in much grander fashion than I would have hoped for a few episodes ago.  If the show can tie all of these public service characters together in a manner befitting Shawn Ryan’s track record, then this show could finally “turn the corner” in quality as its own final argument for redemption next season.  Looking forward to it.

Overall Rating:  8.8/10

Great Lines, Interesting Moments, Whatnot and Occasionally What-Have-You:

Another great chase scene tonight on the stairs up to the L platform—I don’t even know how they got a camera up the stairs that quickly in pursuit of the action. 

There weren’t a lot of great lines tonight, but the best moment for me was easily Bernadette starting to get mouthy in interrogation until Teresa tells her clearly and tonelessly to sit down and she pretty much melts back into her seat.

To be clear, Deion and his buddies are going to be a gang in prison, correct?  This wasn’t one of those weird deals a-la The Shield where cops do the little fish favors in order to catch the bigger, high profile fish?  That just doesn’t seem like something that would interest Colvin.

It wasn’t fiercely original, but I liked the simple conceit of bringing down Bernadette by showing her brother the video of her telling the cops what a loser he is and that they can have him.  “blood runs hotter” as Caleb tells Jarek.

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