Let’s talk about potential. The Chicago Code has the potential for greatness in the way it portrays city politics as a lot of infighting, glad-handing, and backstabbing, constructs characters with depth in Jarek and Alderman Gibbons (who gets a much more detailed backstory tonight) and moves through cases-of-the-week that have some kind of relation to the city of Chicago and tease out the way the show wants to depict its police force. The problems begin to show on the edges where it draws its minor characters too broad, like Liam the undercover cop in the Irish mob. This may just be that the show hasn’t had time to flesh out these characters like they do with Gibbons in this episode, but it could also be that in an attempt to connect black gangs, the Irish mob, city government, police and family life together in one large connected knot, the show is overreaching its grasp.
As with every Chicago Code episode so far, we’re divided between a case-of-the-week and the ever-complicated efforts of Jarek and Superintendent Colvin in their attempts to expose the corrupt Alderman Gibbons. Jarek and Evers investigate a series of bombings around the city, linking them to the fictional CLA, clearly based on the Weather Underground, a nice nod to the history of Chicago’s political anarchistic roots. The officers follow the trail in step-by-step fashion, going from a Bill Ayers-type former radical turned professor to other members of the group, and finally, to the son of radical parents, a father who died awaiting trial and mother in prison for 30 years. After tracking the young bomber to a hotel room where he’s taken the professor hostage with a bomb strapped to his chest, Jarek enters with the young man’s mother on the phone from prison. The scene is among the most tense The Chicago Code has accomplished and a good deal better than your typical police procedural this side of Homicide: Life on the Street.
Delroy Lindo gets another featured opportunity to stretch his acting muscles tonight as Gibbons, and he proves once again that he’s the strongest performer in the cast so far. His narration reveals his history, beginning with a housing project on the South Side, exposing his harsh childhood, and then rise to power, never forgetting that he reached public office on the votes of the community. It is this belief that leads him into a barbershop where a black youth attempts to rob the shop, but Gibbons shoots the boy in the leg and prevents anything worse from happening. His gun holds sentimental value, and much attention is paid to the item in the early goings of the episode. Perhaps it will be a vital piece of evidence in the longer arc of the season. The stickup proves to be not quite what it seems, and when Colvin reviews the security tapes with Jarek, it is revealed that the attempted robbery was actually an attempted hit on Gibbons.
This doesn’t stop Gibbons from showing interest in potentially fixing the life of the shooter, visiting him in the hospital, providing him with an HDTV and an Xbox 360, all in an attempt to appear trustworthy enough to get the name of the black gang leader who put the hit out on Gibbons in the guise of a gang initiation. Gibbons as a character is charismatic, wickedly sharp, and as Colvin and Jarek discuss, enough of a smooth operator to send all the right signals to the public while still operating the puppet strings behind the curtain.
Now that The Chicago Code has had a month to attempt establishing a base for the show to go on, it has become clear that it needs to prune some of the excess leaves from its palette. The show is spreading itself too thin and covering too many areas that won’t be revisited episode to episode. This approach works for shows that are purely serialized and meant to be chapters of a larger story, but the show’s episodic portions, though visually thrilling and compelling, tend to drift away from more focused originality into the Law & Order-type platitudes that ended up limiting the potential of that show 10 years ago. Right now, The Chicago Code is squarely above average, with the potential for greatness, it just needs to seize it, or double its viewership very soon.
Final Grade: A-