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TV Review: The Chicago Code – “Black Hand and the Shotgun Man”

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FOX’s The Chicago Code had a great pilot, but to my surprise, it continues to deliver extremely well-made episodes every week. Those expecting just another cop show are mistaken, as this series is certainly much, much better than most of its peers on television. The series gets into some real human drama, the heart of the people that make up the city of Chicago. The main characters struggle with moral compromises and how far to go for justice. There are cases of the week, but there are also much larger plots that consistently get plenty of screen time, too. It is expertly written and acted. I cannot recommend this series enough.

This week, Jarek (Jason Clarke) and Caleb (Matt Lauria) bust a drug dealer named Romero, only to find the situation is much more complicated than they have assumed. Romero’s son has been kidnapped by a rival gang, and while Jarek is fine with using Romero to save his son, federal agents show up and demand Romero be handed over to testify in another case, after which they intend to stick him into witness protection. Jarek is not one to give up easily, and is not about to let Romero’s seven year old pay for his father’s mistakes, so he has his niece, Vonda (Devin Kelley), and her partner, Isaac (Todd Williams), distract the F.B.I. men long enough to allow him to save the kid.

Jarek often crosses the line, but doesn’t get into trouble because of his results. While this may not be entirely realistic, it is easy enough to explain away, as Police Superintendent Teresa Colvin (Jennifer Beals) has given him a long leash in an attempt to go after a very big fish. As such, even when the case is not connected to Jarek’s main target, he is allowed to defy orders more than other cops. Which, of course, makes for extremely good action sequences. If you are missing Jack Bauer, Jarek Wysocki should help ease the pain.

Teresa herself pushes boundaries, but as she has to play politics, she isn’t able to go as far as Jarek. Which may explain why she goes so easy on Jarek. He gets to do the things she cannot. He is her tool to get done what needs to be done. Last week, it went so far as to Teresa staging a suspension for Jarek, a real suspension, but pre-planned between the two of them, so that she can maintain a public image, but the job can still get tackled. This week, Teresa uses her more diplomatic talents, convincing the F.B.I. chief (Adam Arkin, Sons of Anarchy, Chicago Hope) that both they and she can get what they want. She is tough, but fair, and doing a heck of a job cleaning up quite a mess.

I absolutely love the dynamic between Jarek and his partner, Caleb. Caleb is a goody two-shoes, who is well educated and wants to go far in law enforcement. It’s Caleb’s unique combination of reminding Jarek not to stray too far from the right path, but also not to get in his way, that has allowed Caleb to stay Jarek’s partner, despite the high turnover rate that position holds. Caleb recognizes the value in Jarek’s methods in a way others have not, and seems to have a good moral compass and wisdom. He doesn’t always agree with Jarek, but he knows how to pick his battles. For instance, he is now harping on Jarek’s large consumption of energy drinks, but doesn’t try to talk Jarek out of fooling the feds to save a little boy.

Caleb also gives Jarek crap for cheating on his fiance with his ex-wife, a plot that sees some serious development this week. Jarek’s son catches Jarek and Dina (Amy Price-Francis, Life Unexpected, The Cleaner) together in the middle of the night. Dina wants Jarek to leave his very young fiance and come back to her, but knows him well enough to not force a choice. However, once Jarek affirms to his son that he has no intention of getting back with Dina on a more permanent basis, Dina accepts a date with another man, annoying Jarek.

Perhaps it is cliche in TV that the man who is super good at law enforcement has a screwed up personal life. But that doesn’t mean it’s not entertaining. Jarek is a deeply flawed man, but that may be why he is able to understand the bad guys well enough to take them down. He knows flaws better than most. Jarek doesn’t seem particularly enamored with his fiance, so I do find it strange he doesn’t just dump her for Dina, whom he seems to value more. However, not knowing their back story all that well, it’s hard to know exactly what is informing Jarek’s decision making process in this case.

Speaking of back story, this series has a cool element where one of the major, not necessarily main, characters narrates some history, often times with brief flashback scenes, informing on what has brought them to the point they are currently at. It’s not like Lost where the flashbacks take over the narrative, or are extremely important to the ongoing plot. But I do like to know how past decisions influence present ones, and it is accomplished in an unobtrusive way. Very neat.

Finally, in an ongoing arc, Liam (Billy Lush) continues his undercover investigation into Gibbons (Delroy Lindo). Last week, to keep his cover, Liam committed arson, later finding out his deed led to a man’s death. Thankfully, rather than just forgetting this twist, Liam is really struggling with guilt over what happened. Gibbons, who orchestrated the arson and murder so that Liam is under his thumb, asks Liam to be his driver for a day. But it’s a ruse. He takes Liam to visit grieving families, including that of Liam’s victim, basically letting Liam know he is now owned.

I am not convinced that the man died in the fire. His body may have been dumped there to blackmail Liam. Even if he did die in the fire, he was certainly placed there on purpose. I don’t see Liam facing long-term consequences for the man’s death, other than the personal demons he must wrestle with.

Of course, Liam isn’t owned, because he’s a cop, and was ordered to participate in the fire. Gibbons doesn’t know this. It is done cleverly, with Gibbons never actually saying anything threatening to Liam, actually smiling and acting like a mentor. Yet, there is a cruel ruthlessness underlying Gibbon’s friendly disposition. What Gibbons doesn’t know is that Liam is about ready to quit the operation, until Gibbons’s strategy backfires, renewing Liam’s commitment to the take down. Had Liam quit, it likely would have taken a long time to get a new undercover office in as deep as Liam is. Gibbons is causing his own downfall.

Which makes me wonder what the long-term story will be for this series. Gibbons, obviously, is the first big target, and a main character. But I don’t see Gibbons staying in power more than another year, at most. Any longer, and the show risks growing stale. Chicago is know for corruption, so surely there are many paths that can be taken after Gibbons goes down, though hopefully the next will be in a different direction. Rather than getting ahead of myself, though, I’m going to force myself to slow down and enjoy the ride. Because it is extremely entertaining.

The Chicago Code airs Monday nights at 10 p.m. ET on FOX.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com
  • Lisa

    Great and amazing show….not a fan or Caleb ,Vonda (acting is not good) and Liam (acting is really bad)
    but writing,Beals,Lindo ,Clarke are good,really.
    Go TCC