Thursday, May 5, 2011

TV Episode Review: The Chicago Code “Bathhouse and Hinky Dink”

Tonight started off with another one of those trademark openings wherein a character narrates a bit of Chicago history to us, this time regarding public officials on the take (including those in the episode’s title).  It continues to serve as a nice grounding element for the show’s master story—they don’t do enough to link history with the show’s fiction, but I appreciate that the writers are making efforts to embed the characters of the show not just in the locations of the city but in its history, which is something of a glacial force pushing ever-forwards despite the best efforts of Colvin and others.  Thus do the proceedings tonight begin with a city official named Darren Wall getting off on a slam dunk embezzlement case (in the waste management department—those guys are always involved with the mob, if TV teaches us anything).  Jury tampering is the obvious conclusion, but the show at least offers a clever twist in how the tampering is accomplished.  More importantly, we get to see Irish mobster Killian in action again, and by “in action” I mean “infuriating and incriminating Gibbons and splattering Liam’s face with juror blood”. 

As usual, tonight’s best moments emerged from major plot developments, tense standoffs between characters and the undying energy of Jason Clarke.  Though the courtroom scene offers nothing we don’t expect from the moment we learn the basics (it’s not a good sign when you could replace an entire scene with a line of dialogue to the effect of “the smug bastard got off on a hung jury—somebody got to a juror”), but Jarek gets a nice moment exiting the courtroom when he “bumps” into Wall fairly aggressively and uses the opportunity to add a few insults to the injury.  Colvin remarks on his subtlety, setting up the night’s best line:  “Subtle is for plastic surgeons and poets.”  It certainly isn’t for this show’s writers who spend most of the rest of the episode telegraphing things way too openly (lines of cliché like “We need to proceed with extreme caution!” and “Are you up for this?” are in ample supply tonight).  Plot developments, though interesting, aren’t handled with much more nuance; Liam plows head first into the Irish mob and Jarek’s fear for his safety borders on caricature.  We get our first true look at the real motives of Jarek (at least according to the ad campaign before the show ever premiered) regarding the death of his brother when he was working undercover.  The flashback is a bit painful to watch, partially because this show insists on the polished, Jerry Bruckheimer version of reality even when moments like this require the gritty realism and restraint of a David Simon.  More difficult to swallow, though, is the suddenly simplification of Jarek’s usually free-wheeling character (he’s literally been slapping Liam around all season for not getting his head into the game) who knows the game well enough to have the upper hand regardless of the matchup into a sniveler who can’t get himself past the fact that Liam might end up dead like his brother.  Apparently this is only occurring to him now for the first time because Liam was recognized by an old high school buddy.  It makes Jarek into a cardboard character for a while tonight, which just doesn’t cut it when he’s the most lively element of your show (and often the only thing to draw out the more interesting elements of other characters). 

He eventually goes along with the plan to get Liam to set up the waste management department and Killian to work him into their smuggling operation which utilizes empty garbage trucks coming back from Iowa to haul in massive loads of electronics and who knows what else.  It’s something of a clever scheme (the criminals’ plan, not the cops), but what’s more important is that it operates under the approval of Gibbons himself, which means Killian is a minor target by comparison (despite the prosecuting attorney’s hesitation about leaving Killian be in order to snare Gibbons).  Gibbons draws some attention to himself when he suggests to Colvin (as a friend, of course) that her best route to get Wall is—get ready for  it—to leave Wall alone and do some other stuff somewhere else so that she can build up the political cache to go after him later.  Colvin reads through it, but in truth it’s actually pretty sound advice.  In fact, it’s exactly what we’ve watched him do in order to win the hearts and minds of every voter in his ward.  She’s certainly right that he wants her to quit sniffing around where he knows his stench is wafting, but she fails to recognize that she might do well to take a few pointers from Gibbons:  he’s a career politician who knows how to gain power and credibility (and very little of it is through illicit means—he only seems to be underhanded regarding financial opportunities). 

By the end of the episode, it seems that Jarek and Colvin’s ploys have paid off (remember, Jarek’s the one who set everything in motion by putting Wall on high alert regarding the police getting ready to bang down the entire operation’s door—he and Caleb have a blast storming his office and scaring him straight to the people they really want).  Killian is dead-to-rights whenever they want him given the undercover work of Liam and his successful brokering of a deal involving the garbage trucks all caught via a wire that nearly gets him killed.  For better or worse, all of this puts Gibbons in a state of despair—the news of Killian going down is enough to make him push everything off his desk (rather lazily, I thought.   Delroy Lindo seemed a bit off this whole episode) and demand a peek at that pair of panties he bought his secretary (he has good taste, give him that).  The reason I say “for better or worse” is that I can’t imagine Gibbons lying down for all of this.  Consider:  the show has gone miles out of its way to make the point that Gibbons is a man of the people and has enormous political clout (which he used to get Colvin into office in the first place) which in a city like Chicago means more than the truth.  The show makes that clear as well.  The prosecutor makes it a point to remind Jarek and Colvin that a “secret” investigation of Gibbons won’t stay secret for long in Chicago, but Colvin is adamant—her voice cracks with emotion when she demands the investigation; it’s a moment of triumph she’s waited a long time for.

Meanwhile, tonight’s B-story revolved around Isaac wanting to keep his relationship with Vonda a secret from their colleagues, which Vonda has no interest in.  The fact that she “playfully” ruins his chances to sell his car in time to snatch up a classic Trans Am that he makes it quite clear he has his heart set on doesn’t really come off as very endearing, either.  In fact, she continues to be a neutral character at best, with occasional forays like this one into a much more obnoxious place.  That said, the edge is taken off of her annoying little scheme to teach him a lesson by the fact that it’s only Isaac, and by comparison he makes Vonda as lovable as a teddy bear.  These two characters have been of no use to the show thus far, which would be fine if they provided some likeable distraction to break up the pacing of intense episodes or propped up other characters through their incidental involvement in things.  Instead, the show seems to be under the enormously misguided belief that we enjoy these two for their own sake and engage with them emotionally on some level that would lead us to care about whether or not A.  They publicize their annoying relationship or B.  They stay together at all.  They should consider C:  How much viewer commitment to the show would increase if they were both gunned down next week; preferably during an utterly inconsequential bust—ideally one that yields absolutely nothing so that no one can make martyrs of them.
Bathhouse and Hinky Dink:  crooked men from the era of stupid nicknames.

With three episodes remaining, I’ll admit that I’m not certain what the show’s pace is going to be in attacking the master story.  Gibbons seemed pretty broken up, but there’s no way he’s going down without a fight, which could make for some really fun politicking if Shawn Ryan and the writers are up for that thorn bush maze of writing, but he could also go down pretty easily and his political clout could be dealt with as aftermath and fallout that effects Colvin’s ability to do her job effectively next season.  I hope Jarek isn’t monomaniacally driven to protect Liam for the rest of the season because it’s probably the least interesting of his character’s issues, but it certainly seems to be the angle they want to play.  Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself though—next week’s preview seemed to suggest a self-contained burner plot with little relation to the master story.  I’d say any of the remaining major threads could easily use three full episodes to give their closure the attention they deserve, but perhaps they’ve decided to leave most of it open on the assumption of a second season, which the show has done more than enough for me to hope for.

Overall Rating:  8.1/10

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

I found the clever jury-tampering ploy to be interesting enough that I want to find out whether this is actually something that’s been done in the real world.  If it’s a creation of the show, it’s very sharp.

Usually off-limits daughters of mob bosses are crazy-beautiful in order to emphasize the temptation underlings must restrain themselves against.  Killian’s daughter?  Meh.

“Those J. Edgar Hoover panty sniffers only suspect we burnt them.” 

Liam makes less sense to me this week—why would a guy with 6 siblings go undercover?  He doesn’t fit the type in so many ways.  On a related note, why would you meet with an undercover agent in the wide-open space of the waterfront in broad daylight?

I’m with Caleb about them constantly toying with the FBI—it’s bad form and probably a bad idea in the long run.  Plus twice makes it borderline silly, if they do it again it becomes farcical. 

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