Weeks of careful world-building on The Chicago Code begin to pay off in “Black Hand And The Shotgun Man,” the best episode since the pilot, and to my mind, the series’ best episode overall (if only by a fraction). The difference between “Black Hand” and what came before is minute. There are still moments when the dialogue feels like it was copied from an old Police Woman—“We got him in bracelets… but can we keep him that way?”—and still a fundamental lack of surprises in the plot. But a big part of what makes a TV show worth watching week after week is whether we want to spend time with the characters in the places where they work and live. The Chicago Code has done an excellent job thus far of turning the city into a character, and the actual character-characters have had a lot of surface appeal. This week though, we moved more beneath that surface. There was less set-up and introduction, more “you are there.”
Maybe that’s because we got to spend so much time with Jarek Wysocki outside the job, including getting some follow-up on his affair with his ex-wife Dina and even getting to meet his long-teased fiancée. Wysocki’s been doing his best to avoid going home—where there are wedding invitations scattered all over the coffee table—by pounding energy drinks and spending a lot of nights at Dina’s. Evers chastises him for his bad habits, noting that energy drinks make him irritable, forgetful, and dehydrated, and saying that “as long as you keep moving, you’re fine” is no kind of strategy for playing a love triangle. Sure enough, Wysocki gets sloppy and gets caught sneaking out by his son J.J., forcing Jarek and Dina to sit down with their teenager and have a frank discussion about what they think they’re doing. The problem? They don’t really know what they’re doing. This sets up one of the best-written scenes on The Chicago Code to date, as the two exes passive-aggressively hash out their relationship status by explaining it to J.J.
It was great to see a return to a storyline that had largely been referred to only in passing since the pilot, but I also liked how it tied into the other two big threads in “Black Hand.” The episode opens with Wysocki having a nightmare about tailing an unkillable suspect in the old Cabrini-Green projects—the ones Gibbons had a hand in tearing down, remember—and mere minutes later, his son sees him walking out the door half-dressed, which is its own kind of bad dream. There are two other main characters in “Black Hand,” and both of them are trapped in nightmares of their own, literally and figuratively. And both also have something to do with family, literally and figuratively. Each man has to decide if he’s going to extricate himself from his predicament or burrow in deeper.
Wysocki essentially burrows. He stays with his fiancée and keeps seeing Dina on the side, even though Dina lets him know she won’t be exclusive if he won’t. The story is different for Daniel Romero, a big-time heroin dealer whom the cops find on a boat full of cash in Lake Michigan. It turns out the money he’s toting isn’t for a drug deal; it’s for a ransom. Romero’s son’s been kidnapped, and while the FBI is ready to take the dealer in to complete their end of a witness protection negotiation they’ve been working, Wysocki wants to allow Romero get his kid back first, by having him deliver the ransom money. The cash-drop proves to be a botch, because Romero has his own snipers on the roof, which shoos the Nigerian kidnappers away. But one of the kidnappers drops a cell phone, which contains the number of one of Romero’s men, who points the cops to where the little boy can be found. That particular nightmare is over for Romero. And when it comes to the larger nightmare of how he’s going to protect his wife and son in the future, Romero decides to extricate. He takes the new deal that the FBI is offering, which will put his family under protection while Romero goes to jail, where he’ll never see them again.
As strong as those first two plotlines were this week, I have to say I was most impressed by the third plotline, involving undercover cop Liam Hennessey. (I know, I know, I can’t believe it either.) Liam, too, is dealing with a recurring nightmare, waking up in cold sweats, thinking about the man who died when Liam showed off his skills as an arsonist to the Irish mob. On the upside, Liam’s firebuggery has drawn the attention of Alderman Gibbons, who summons the kid to his office and offers him an assignment: driving him around to visit people in his district who’ve lost loved ones. On the downside, one of the families on Gibbons’ docket is the one left behind by the man Liam killed.
I knew from the moment Gibbons explained his itinerary that Liam would be facing the widow he made by the end of the episode. I knew also that his day with Gibbons would convince Liam not to quit his undercover gig. Now that Gibbons thinks he can subtly manipulate Liam by holding this manslaughter over his head, Liam is taking his mission personally. Still, I dug the ruminations on how his constituents are his family, which again digs deeper beneath the surfaces of the villain’s character. As I’ve said before, what I like about Gibbons as The Chicago Code’s bad guy is that he doesn’t think he’s a bad guy, any more than Rod Blagojevich did when he was accused of trying to sell a Senate seat. He sees himself as a person doing an excellent job for the city. Or as he explains to Liam, “Looking out for the people of Chicago isn’t something you can be half-assed about.”
- Mini-cupcake? It’s red velvet!
- Evers has a clean dollar bill for the vending machine, because he’s Evers.
- Wysocki wakes up next to his ex-wife when he gets a phone call. We get a little insight into their past relationship woes when Dina says, “That’ll be your fiancée wondering where you are… I don’t miss that feeling.”
- Another example of this episode using its pieces well: Because Vonda and Isaac are still “on lock-up” for taking responsibility for Moose’s screw-up, they get to help Jarek by pulling the wrong prisoner for the FBI and buying the CPD some time with Romero. I don’t know how realistic that scene was, but it was funny, and it was nice to see those two characters integrated into the plot, rather than isolated. (Also: What is that smell? Vomit or urine?)
- As Evers is noting that Romero was shot once in the arm and once in the vest, he sighs, “I’m afraid you’re going to be okay.”
- Though I liked the Liam storyline, I still have problems with the character and the performance of Billy Lush, who was still pretty stiff and/or over-the-top in this episode. The bit where Liam makes a scene at the station in order to get a private moment with Wysocki was some serious hambone, for example. That said, I liked Wysocki’s tough-love treatment of Liam, telling him that he can’t count on Colvin to hold his hand all the time. “Maybe she has better things to do,” he says coldly. I also liked the moment where Liam psychs himself up to get thrown against the wall by Jarek. Nice touch there, in the writing and in the performance.
- Gibbons delivers a neat little history lesson about Chicago’s love of funerals—using Lincoln as an object lesson—and explains his own emotional/intellectual connection to the funeral-fetish, saying, “It’s about compassion, and ritual.”
- New character alert! Adam Arkin (a sometime director for Shawn Ryan shows) plays an FBI special agent and hits on Teresa by admiring her softball trophy.
- The Code is in repeats for the next two weeks. See you in three.