‘The Chicago Code’ – ‘Bathhouse & Hinky Dink’: Undercover blues

Senior Television Writer
05.03.11 42 Comments


A review of last night’s “The Chicago Code” coming up just as soon as I treat you like one of the boys…

“Let’s be honest, Teresa: you could use a game-changer right now.” -Gibbons

We’re in the home stretch now for this season of “The Chicago Code,” with three episodes to go after this one and the show still very much on the bubble for renewal. And though I continue to think there are promising pieces to the series – as well as a level of storytelling competence that some other uneven young series often lack – I’m still waiting for that game-changing moment or episode that convinces me we’re about to switch from potential energy to kinetic energy.

I had hoped that “Bathhouse & Hinky Dink” – the first new episode in a couple of weeks, and the first in a long time to focus primarily on Teresa and Jarek’s attempt to take down Alderman Gibbons – might be that game-changer, but it wasn’t. There were good things in it, and I’d much rather be spending all this time chasing Gibbons and his pals than trying to muster enthusiasm for Jarek and Caleb taking over random cases around the city, but on a whole I was probably more engaged by the previous episode, which didn’t feature Gibbons at all.

Admittedly, this was a bit of set-up episode. Because the show has kept Gibbons in the background for a while, we had to reframe the conflict between him and Teresa, re-establish Hugh Killian, give Jarek a more personal stake in Liam’s undercover operation, etc. A lot of this may pay off very strongly in the final three episodes, and there were some good beats here, like Liam’s reaction to the juror’s blood spraying his face, or, especially, Gibbons needing his secretary/mistress to calm him down after getting the bad news about the garbage truck.

But I do worry about some more fundamental issues I’m starting to develop with “The Chicago Code” – specifically, that I don’t particularly like Jarek Wysocki.

It’s not that he’s prickly and pig-headed and judgmental. I have no problem watching TV shows where the central character is a colossal jerk – or, in the case of Vic Mackey from Shawn Ryan’s previous cop show, a homicidal thug. But for a character this abrasive to carry a series, he requires both more charisma than I think Jason Clarke is bringing to the part, and also needs to be clearly talented enough for everyone else to put up with him. Mackey stayed on the street because he got results. Ditto Greg House keeping his job on the show that leads into this one. Jarek has obviously closed a lot of cases already on this series, yet I rarely watch him and think, “Wow, he’s really good at what he does.” It feels like it’s been a while since he’s done something incredibly clever or ruthless to carry the day, and when I watch him bumping the crooked sanitation boss, he comes across like a petty bully and no better than the dumb cops he’s always being so dismissive of when he hijacks their cases. I’m not saying cops don’t do stuff like that with bad guys, nor that I couldn’t like a character who does it, but those moments felt emblematic of the issues I’ve started to develop with Jarek. If Mackey or Sipowicz or Kima Greggs had done it, to name three other TV cops, I’d have just shrugged it off because they had deeper reservoirs of goodwill and had previously demonstrated their skills in a way I don’t feel Jarek has.

And given how much of the show falls on Jason Clarke’s shoulders – particularly since Caleb still remains fuzzily-defined beyond the Boy Wonder nickname – that’s a problem.

I’m also not sure why they wouldn’t just bring Killian in on the murder charge and use the weight of that to flip him against Gibbons, rather than leaving Liam out there and risk having their key witness to a murder charge get killed if his identity was discovered(*). They know Gibbons is deep in bed with Killian, and while it would burn Liam’s cover, surely Killian would have so much dirt on their target that he’d gladly volunteer it to get a reduced sentence on a slam-dunk murder charge. Or am I missing something obvious here?

(*) Speaking of which, I really wish they hadn’t felt the need to show the flashbacks to Jarek seeing his brother’s body as Liam was wearing the wire to meet with Killian. Either trust your main actor to sell the moment – and your audience to remember a piece of information they were given earlier in this episode, and that was repeated in a later conversation with Caleb – or don’t do it at all.

I realize I’m coming across pretty negatively about this episode, when I did like a lot of it. Again, this is what the show should be about, and while it will be tough to sustain nothing but Teresa/Jarek/Gibbons tension for seasons on end, it’s a much more focused, compelling series when that’s the main subject matter rather than the C-story. But given the personnel involved in front of and behind the camera, the setting, etc., I’ve been itching for this show to make the leap. This seemed like the episode where that could happen, and it didn’t quite get there. I’m still in for these last three, but I’m feeling more restless than I might have imagined going into the season.

What did everybody else think?

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