Wednesday, May 18, 2011

TV Episode Review: Chicago Code “Black Sox”

This episode played way too much like a “socially conscious” episode of a bad police procedural to be very likeable for the crime of the week.  It’s nice and all that everyone in the episode is so casual about talk of being openly gay—by golly, there’s even an old buddy of Jarek’s on the force who’s gay, and Jarek is totally cool with that; he even asks how the relationship is going—but ultimately it feels like a stale attempt to be modern and edgy while ironically drawing on pretty clichéd (and arguably offensive) storylines.  A really successful homosexual man is killed while trolling through Boys Town for tail, and the immediate suspect is, big surprise, a pair of brothers who must commute a LONG ways to work in the morning, because they certainly don’t seem like Chicago natives with their redneck tattoos and lynch-mob attitudes.  Forgive me for feeling like nuance and realism are somewhat lacking in an episode which can’t be bothered to go beyond the simplistic notions that minority groups still suffer hate crimes against them and the perpetrators are usually one-dimensional, hateful, undereducated country bumpkin types.  Dull. On top of that, the writers feel the need to cram Colvin’s mouth with an awful little speech about bigots and how horrible they are, just in case you weren’t keeping up with how atrocious hate crimes are.  

It’s too bad the central story conceit isn’t more intriguing tonight, because everything operating at its periphery is pretty interesting:  Colvin makes a really clever end-run to get around Gibbons’ influence regarding the filling of two new Commander positions and Jarek finally confronts his fiancé, what’s-her-face (I know her name, but could she BE any less developed?) regarding his ongoing relations with his ex.  Colvin’s conundrum with Gibbons felt very real in a political sense tonight—it’s easy to imagine an alderman who has the right to appoint one community figure but wants to have a say in a second one because, hey, he’s the one who really runs things around here and you owe him a couple favors.  In this case doing so steps on Colvin’s toes in the sense that her M.O. is to micromanage her police staff as carefully as possible and simultaneously puts her in a position where she can’t have her way and pursue a quiet investigation of him, which is clearly her priority.  I’ll admit it felt like a dead-end road and I was already wondering what role his new bug in Teresa’s walls would play in future episodes when she contacted the mayor’s aide and talked him into giving Gibbons’ man a job he couldn’t refuse:  working security for the mayor himself.  It was a clever play, and given that the mayor apparently favors her pursuit of Gibbons and his corruption (though I thought the conversation seemed a bit artificial at moments—is she being played?), it works like a charm and she gets her man in the Commander position after all.  Unfortunately, she still tipped her hand a bit too much for a wise player like Gibbons not to get a peek at her cards.  He calls it perfectly towards the end of the episode:  she either believes she won’t be in office in six months, or he won’t.  His plan is clearly to take further action to assure the former over the latter.  That should mean good television next season (assuming there is another season).

Jarek’s emotional roller coaster tonight isn’t nearly as clever, but still plays out well enough in rounding out his character and forcing him—to the satisfaction of Caleb, I would imagine—to behave as a mature adult while he’s not on duty.  Jarek’s duality—a cop who holds himself and everyone else on the force to incredibly high standards (recall when he chastised a new partner for swearing in the pilot) while on duty, but conducts himself rather recklessly and irresponsibly in his personal relationships—is one of the show’s potential strengths, but until tonight they hadn’t done much with it.  The setup for it is a thin excuse for a face-to-face between Vonda and Jarek; the idea that his brother’s ex-mistress would decide to send his watch along to Vonda after all these years seems silly at best, and sets up a non-starter of a suspense story that turns into a predictable argument where Vonda asks Jarek for the truth, forcing him to come to terms with infidelity and the damage it causes to children, while also providing an opportunity to get Vonda and Isaac’s relationship out in the open.  It also gives Jarek a chance to explain to Vonda, regretfully, that sometimes it’s better to “remember the best version” of someone instead of the “truthful” version.  Given that he tries to correct his personal life that night, it’s safe to say he doesn’t like his own advice.

It’s interesting that Jarek’s first thoughts are of reconciling with his ex-wife; I don’t think he confuses passion with rekindled love here, but he’s clearly rattled by memories of his own brother’s broken family, which seems like more than enough motivation to push him back towards the family he already created when the moment of choice is finally upon him.  The scene at his ex-wife’s house is a rather casual conversation considering what’s at stake—it’s actually a rather nuanced character moment on a show that has, as I’ve complained about at length, mostly insisted on very broad/overpolished elements for the most part.  Internally he’s clearly in something of a panic (the watch rattled his cage when Vonda confronted him with it, however much he might have tried to pretend otherwise), but outwardly he seems almost playful and careless when he tells her he wants to remarry her.  Her summation of their ongoing “romance” is a sad revalation, and one of the few times where dialogue exposition is fruitful in pointing out something other than the obvious:  “We took too long to say goodbye,” she tells him.  The idea of physical attraction being the final goodbye isn’t new, necessarily, but the show has done a nice job of misleading us into believing the spark between them might be something more—the character development alone has been entirely lopsided in favor of his ex over his fiance.  When she tells him to go home to said fiance, it came as quite an emotional disappointment, despite Jarek trying to laugh it off. 

When he does head home, I’ll admit that I found myself unable to predict the nature of the conversation he was about to have with Alaina.  Oddly, that seems in retrospect to be the result of a juxtaposition of strong and weak writing:  Jarek is so unpredictable and nuanced in personality that it seemed as likely that he would lash out at Alaina in frustration with the situation as that he would summon whatever affection for her he still had and handle things gently.  But if this is to be a two-way conversation, we’d require a second person in the room, and Alaina hardly qualifies as a three-dimensional human character given the miniscule screentime she’s been given this season (we’ve literally heard her voice more on the phone than we’ve seen of her in person).  The resulting conversation falls on some breakup cliches, but Alaina’s anger and grief are not without empathy from the viewer.  Jarek mostly carries the scene though, which I suppose is the point, but a little more development of Alaina here and there might have complicated our feelings towards Jarek’s personal life and integrity.  Instead, the entire episode feels like an inevitability, and Alaina’s pronouncement that Jarek has dependency issues feels more like a bitter and hollow dig than the transparent effort that it is to define Jarek’s character for us through poor writing. 

Everything was mildly entertaining throughout the night, but as has been the problem with Code at its worst, there seems to be no urgent desire to separate this show from other police procedurals (serial or no), which is problematic when looking at what’s clearly an expensively produced, low rated, character driven drama that needs to get current fans talking in order to draw in a few (hundred thousand) more.  It’s not perplexing, exactly, given the network, but it’s more than a bit frustrating when we do get to see glimpses of something much better than what we’re given on a weekly basis like this.  I’m a full week behind at this point on my viewing and reviews, so maybe this past Monday’s episode will prove all of this to be empty babbling on my part.  Or maybe I’ll be posting again in the next day or so to reiterate these complaints.  You know better than I do—sorry for the delay, I’ll get caught up as quick as I can.  Hopefully greatness awaits me.

Overall Rating:  8.0/10

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

“He’s a wysocki, he should have herpes.”

The Leviticus scripture scrawled across the windshield struck me as particularly silly and reminiscent of CSI-type pseudo-intellectual television.

“So your partner is gay now?” 
“We have no proof to the contrary.”

Teresa’s speech about what bigots do is boooooring—we get it.  Also, continued threats against her job are dull.

More great car chase stuff tonight—a couple shots felt like “Blues Brothers” cutting room floor footage, which is high praise.

“Stop playing with yourself, man, you’re under arrest.”

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