Tuesday, April 12, 2011

TV Episode Review: The Chicago Code “Wild Onions”

This week’s episode opened with another great series of shots and scenes embedded nicely in the cityscape of Chicago, most notably a nicely off-center shot of Jarek calling in a suicide in the street while the L train passes by above and behind him.  The show is at its best in these moments; it seems to know how to do certain little things really, really well, and it was doing some of them tonight—there was also another nicely shot chase scene which started off with some fast paced, high angle shots of the action followed by a very tensely filmed walk down a blacked out hallway in a poor neighborhood apartment complex where it seems highly likely Vonda is looking for her partner Isaac’s body and maybe walking into an ambush.  Unfortunately none of it quite carried the intensity of the Chicago heat wave the action all played out against—for all of the voiceovers and radio hosts reminding us how ca-razy people in Chitown get when the thermometer starts to rise, the whole episode felt mostly constrained and almost annoyingly slow paced despite a few nice moments.

One problem with the episode was it took on quite the task in trying to humanize for us the obnoxiously self-assured (I’m talking about the actor as much as the character here) Isaac, who has done nothing for me this entire season except give me headaches from rolling my eyes too much in a single hour.  He’s not a well-developed character and tonight it seemed like they were trying to correct their course with him quite a bit—almost as if they’d taken some focus group surveys and said, “Hey, they really don’t like this guy, we better give him some scenes to make him seem like a great guy so we can play up this boring romance thing that we’ve been hinting at with all the subtlety of a sock full of quarters to the face every third episode.”  So tonight they emptied the quarters out of the sock and refilled it with candy hearts and started bashing the viewer in and about the face with that instead:  Oh look, Isaac banters playfully with Vonda in the locker room!  Oh look, Isaac takes the time to encourage two young black boys being entrepreneurial and gang-free during the heat wave!  Oh look, Isaac fell in love with a “beautiful” girl being sprayed by a fire hydrant when he was a kid.  The last one came off a bit creepy given his sultry-voiced adult narration of the moment, but the message was painfully clear and really not internalized at all, at least by me.  We’re supposed to be big Isaac fans now.  But there’s still no real reason to like his cocky attitude or his sense of accomplishment every time he does something that someone in his position is paid to do anyway, nor do we have any reason to see him with the googly-eyed love goggles with which Vonda looks at him. 

Which brings up a separate but equally pressing problem if these two are to continue to be major players on the show:  The writers don’t seem to care to develop Vonda at all.  Besides being her uncle’s well-trained protégé who knows when to put her neck on the line to cover for a friend, the writers have given her absolutely nothing in the way of character development besides lacking the ability to steady her voice or act like a full grown woman and sworn-in, experienced police officer any time poor Isaac is in any sort of danger.  It makes her into an unintentional (I presume—they don’t seem to want us to find her unfavorable) female foil in stark opposition to Teresa’s powerful, independent superintendent character.  Whatever the reasoning, it makes for some really disappointing proceedings tonight as she whimpers her way through the halls of a darkened apartment building on the verge of tears.  What should play as a very tense, harrowing scene (and actually comes pretty close despite her) ends up feeling sappy and disappointing on several levels.  Here’s a woman who was supposedly well trained by her uncle—who we know is an awesome cop—who can’t even hold herself together and do her job to find and protect her partner and arrest a fleeing suspect not because she fears for her life but because she’s rendered rubber-legged by the very possibility that dear, lovable Isaac may have been taken from her by the shooter.

And worst of all, the entire B-story of their beat-the-heat adventures tonight are all transparent set-up for the entirely predictable hookup scene which takes place in the least sexy shower hookup scene in the history of television—she can’t even nail her seduction lines, playing clumsily with “the pizza’s here”, which, if that’s a euphemism, then, gross, I guess, and then trying again with “I thought you might need some soap” which works a little bit better although Isaac seems more confused and passively accepting of her presence in the shower than excited to discover (what blockhead wouldn’t have noticed her doe-eyed affection for him after all this time?) that his trusted partner is in love with him.  I’m not sure where they want to go with these characters from here, but if they plan to use the budding romance, which I’m sure runs afoul of some police force rule about relations between fellow officers, then things can only go downhill for our feelings for these two characters in general, which is a shame because Vonda could be a rather interesting figure in that she’s indebted to Jarek for her police skills but also eager to be out from under his protective wings by proving herself independent.  There’s the better angle for you, writers:  develop, please.

Meanwhile, Jarek and Caleb get a sad case to deal with as a local favorite who Caleb recognizes from his own childhood as the neighborhood ice cream man is shot down with a Mack 10 automatic weapon for reasons that never really become clear, aside from the fact that the killer, Squeak, is an immoral criminal type who bought a powerful gun from a sleazy Russian named Johnny Pavitch, who rolls over easily enough with some by-the-numbers threats from Wysocki after they take him into custody.  His arrest, though, is a fun little moment where Jarek and Caleb get to liven up the night’s proceedings a bit with some back-and-forth banter about the Cubs/Sox game that night (an ongoing feud between them that the show has done a nice job of using as a relationship building block without making it annoying) and having some fun with Johnny at the same time.  It’s probably a top-five Jarek moment when we get to see him cool Johnny off with a face full of water straight from the bartender’s fountain while asking “You want an umbrella with that, man?  Maybe an olive?” and then relieving him of his weapon and arresting him and asking “Am I bothering you now?”  Caleb gets in his own dig suggesting that Johnny’s mom probably sewed his name into his underpants, so they could check for his real ID that way since he doesn’t seem eager to cooperate.  It’s all a bit of much needed energy surrounding what’s otherwise not a real exciting case. 

The past few weeks the show has done a pretty good job of finding some rather interesting angles to play with otherwise fairly traditional storylines, but this week the episode falls into the trap of lazy cop drama tropes without even trying to hide them.  Jarek makes the rookie mistake of promising a kid he’ll deliver his father’s killer and by the end of the episode he’s fist-bumping the kid and giving him his card because they have some great friendship now, and young Carlos seems momentarily relieved of the burden of the loss of his father/last surviving family member just because some police officer did the job he’s supposed to do and then gave him a business card.  Also, Southland did this exact storyline about six weeks ahead of you, Code, and they did a helluva better job of selling the drama across about three episodes than you did lazily packing it into about 20 minutes of screen time tonight.  The stuff in between doesn’t play out much better—Jarek “calls in a favor” from a CI named “Big Sexy” (because he eats a lot, get it?) who fulfills the favor without any trouble and exits as needlessly as he entered about five minutes later in the episode.  They take the tip and track down the afore-mentioned gun runner Russian and use him to finger the dumdum he sold the gun to who then gets arrested and ID’d easily by young Carlos.  Not a twist or hurdle to be found in the entire proceedings. 

Teresa gets a similarly dull new development to work with tonight in the form of ex-Marine and intolerably-job-devoted Ray, her new assistant who refuses to leave her side, or sleep for that matter, since she wakes up to find him still sitting on her porch after having left him out there the night before after what seemed like a roughly 12-15 hour workday.  That’s devotion for you.  Of course, it’s also needless stupidity since now he’s sleepless and exhausted and, I assume, has to do his job all over again when she actually has to leave the safety of her own home and go back to the office.  But hey, the point is he’s really devoted.  And he’s an ex-Marine.  A really devoted one.  And he’s not going to let her die, which, according to his own calculations is apparently incredibly likely as a general possibility and equally likely in the safety of her own home as in broad daylight in public or in the line of duty.  Makes no sense and fails as a dramatic arc for the plotline.  Also, the actor portraying Ray is smug and wooden in what’s supposed to be “playful” banter with his superior, resulting in a character who not only feels unnecessary but unwelcome.  Maybe they’ll take it some place interesting, but if Teresa’s charmed smile as she peeks out her bedroom window to find him sitting there loyally on her stoop is any indicator, then I would like to beg the writers in advance to kill the romance story you have brewing before it ever sees the light of celluloid. 

Things were pretty sub-par across the board tonight.  Gibbons actually gets the most significant moments in the least screen time as he yet again proves himself a most devoted alderman who really doesn’t seem all that concerned about votes or power compared to the simple well-being of those he serves (despite what Jarek tells Liam on the phone).  In doing so, he continues to become an interestingly complex moral character whose personal gains from the position of power he holds seem like a small price to be paid for the great good he seems to do on a weekly basis for the constituents he serves.  He also seems to be winning over Liam, which seemed like a possibility in the last episode but makes more sense as a real possibility here, especially given Jarek’s impatience in dealing with Liam (consider how Gibbons is nurturing him to understand why public service is the most rewarding job in the world, in contrast to Wysocki, who browbeats and shames him into doing his job as an undercover cop every time they speak).  At any rate, the episode at least leaves us with a most interesting development:  Gibbons offers Liam what sounds like a do-nothing job on the city payroll working for a man named Doyle to the tune of $50K/year after Liam impresses him with a moment of heroism.  Hopefully it’s as interesting a development as Jarek seems to think it is; in fact, hopefully even more interesting since it could represent the defection of Liam to the wrong side of the fight in the Gibbons corruption case.  The coming weeks need something meaty to grind their teeth on, because tonight’s heat wave episode left me pretty cold. 

Overall Rating:  7.2/10

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

Why does Teresa wake up in bed with a sheen of sweat on her chest that reminded me of Ashley Judd’s sweaty hotness in “A Time to Kill”?  Doesn’t the superintendent of the Chicago PD make a good enough living to have AC?  Her power wasn’t out—the alarm clock went off.

It’s a fun little detail that Jarek has embarrassing Halloween costume photos of Teresa to hold over her head when necessary.  And it fits their relationship that he would only use such a thing when he wants to do something that’s for her own protection.

Best line of the night:  Jarek playfully tells a detective he dislikes “stop looking at my ass, Lastner” as he crabwalks away from him on the roof during the stakeout. 

No comments:

Post a Comment