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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Chicago Code: "Wild Onions"

Illustration for article titled The Chicago Code: "Wild Onions"
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Boy, it’s amazing how much more interesting a character Liam is when he’s paired with Ronan Gibbons, huh? Following up on the strong “Black Hand And The Shotgun Man,” this week’s The Chicago Code, “Wild Onions,” continues to play to the show’s strengths, bouncing between the perspectives of characters who aren’t as different as they believe themselves to be. Nowhere is that more evident than in the continuing seduction of our not-so-favorite undercover agent by the city’s top political fixer. With Chicago suffering a heatwave and rolling blackouts, Alderman Gibbons has mobilized his machine to help him distribute bottled water and sandwiches to his constituents, many of whom have no air conditioning and low water pressure (because of all the hydrants that have been opened by the kids on the street). Liam is one of those called in by Gibbons, tasked to go door-to-door to check on the elderly. When Liam finds—and saves—a dying woman who’d been an anchor of her neighborhood for decades, Gibbons rewards Liam with one of those plum no-show jobs that Superintendent Colvin has been investigating.

I’m still not over-the-moon about Billy Lush’s performance as Liam. When Liam’s Irish Mob cohort asks him where he learned emergency medicine, Liam’s halting, “I have a… cousin, uh…” answer is a collision of weak writing and unconvincing acting. (Seriously, you put a guy undercover who can’t come up with a decent response on the fly without stammering and shifting his eyes back-and-forth?) Nevertheless, I’ve been enjoying watching Gibbons through Liam’s eyes these past two episodes. Liam clearly doesn’t have the personal connection to the Gibbons case that Colvin and Wysocki do, so all he’s seeing at the moment is a politician who goes the extra mile for his voters. Naturally, this discovery is making him feel more ambivalent about his assignment.

This week also continues to show Isaac as arguably the most fascinating character on the show. (Though I’m still an Evers man, overall.) Rarely has The Chicago Code’s multiple-narrator storytelling shtick paid off as well as in the contrast between Isaac’s flashback to playing in the open fire hydrant when he was a boy and him coldly ordering two young men to scatter when they complain about him shutting off a hydrant in the present day. I gather that the gap between Isaac’s nostalgia and his meanness is a follow-up on the flashback story he told a few episodes ago, about becoming a cop so he could order around the crooks and bullies on his block. But I loved that “Wild Onions” didn’t overstate the point. It just left the discontinuity hanging.

I also enjoyed the return to the Vonda-loves-Isaac thread. Honestly, I thought the first episode had established that Vonda and Isaac were already dating, but I guess that initial “I care about you and don’t want anything to happen to you” speech by Vonda in the pilot was just her broaching the subject, not sealing the deal. Vonda’s flirtation was well-handled in “Wild Onions.” We see her trying to look adorable around Isaac while poking him playfully—classic flirting behavior—and we see him respond with non-committal double-entendres like, “You know what they say about girls who drink Cherry Slushees, right?” Then a blackout hits, and Isaac comes under fire from those same young punks he chased away earlier, and when Vonda can’t reach him on her radio, she’s in a state of near-panic. Later, back at her place, he tries to make fun of her concern, but she says, “Don’t joke about it,” and he apologizes. Then she doffs her robe and gets into the shower with him. It seems to me that Vonda’s got blinders on when it comes to Isaac. She sees him buying pop for little kids, and she idealizes him as a good man like her dead cop dad. But I’m not so sure he’s as good a man as she thinks.

The other two storylines in “Wild Onions” aren’t as strong. In one, Teresa meets her new driver—Officer Bidwell, a former marine who did two tours in Iraq—and has him take her around the city as she supports all the officers who are walking a beat in the heat. Not much going on here, aside from Bidwell’s devotion to Teresa exhibiting the early signs of a full-on crush and the very exciting scene where Teresa answers a robbery-in-progress call and talks the perp into putting down his gun. (“You some kind of sergeant or somethin’?” Teresa gets asked. Or something, yes.)

Meanwhile, in what’s ostensibly the A-story, Wysocki uses his carte blanche to snag a nothing case—the murder of an ice cream man—away from a detective he believes to be incompetent. The main hook for this story is supposed to be that Evers over-promises, telling the ice cream man’s son that he’ll find out who killed his dad. But that didn’t grab me as much the smaller details: the way Wysocki helps Evers by burning a perpetually hungry informant, BigSexy; the way BigSexy tips them to a Russian gun dealer, Johnny Pavitch, and the way the bartender at Pavitch’s favorite watering hole (The Eastern Bloc!) doesn’t make any kind of big, “What’s it to ya?” kind of play when Wysocki and Evers walk in but instead just points the way to the suspect; and, finally, the thrillingly shot chase scene after the cops find the shooter, Squeak. It’s this kind of down-to-Earth detail I look for from a Shawn Ryan policier, moreso than the “young cop is touched by the plight of an orphan” stuff.


That said, it’s hardly insignificant that Bidwell’s devotion to his new boss and Evers’ personal connection to the ice cream truck murder come up in the same episode that Vonda beds Isaac and Gibbons sways Liam. Wysocki reminds Liam that Gibbons “cares about the money and the power that comes from their votes… don’t confuse the two.” But in “Wild Onions,” I’m not sure that any character’s motivations are as cut-and-dried as they may think.

Stray observations:

  • Tonight’s episode was directed by last ep’s guest star, Adam Arkin, who’s become a very good director of TV action-dramas.
  • Nice pan from Teresa’s clock to her sleeping face and then back to her clock as the alarm goes off, just a few hours later.
  • I’m glad this episode didn’t make as big a deal about the Cubs/Sox series as it seemed like it was going to. I also liked how when Evers suggested that whoever’s team lost would “have to write all the paper for a month,” Wysocki shut him down and said that Evers would be doing the paperwork no matter what.
  • The kids selling pop on the street offer Vonda a discount because she’s prettier than Isaac, but she’s “only 50 cents prettier.”
  • I heartily recommend The TV Club’s own Ryan McGee’s thoughts on The Chicago Code’s daring approach to storytelling, from his blog Boob Tube Dude. Check it out.