The Chicago Code, “Wild Onions”

Heat wave episodes are fun. It’s a go-to gimmick for television series, but one of the better ones. “The heat makes people do crazy things!” is an easy, but effective premise to start building an episode around, especially on a police drama that requires people to do crazy things on a weekly basis. The Chicago Code‘s “Wild Onions” doesn’t overdo it with the crazy, heat-impacted people, but uses the device to tell a few stories that have a solid influence on the development of some of the series’ characters. Water’s scarce, the power goes out and that makes the town more dangerous.

For Jarek and Caleb, the heat wave brings them a dead body in an ice cream truck with the driver’s son now terrified that he has no one in his life. For Teresa, it means continuing to take calls and protect the streets even though she’s just now trying out a new driver. For Isaac and Vonda, it means walking the streets and making sure people aren’t losing their minds on every corner. And for Liam, it means helping Gibbons deliver water to the community folk who can’t bring themselves to go outside. Some of their days end terribly, some end pretty well, but there’s no doubt that the heat wave has had a major impact on their work, if only for a short period.

As the series has gotten more into the meat of its season, Delroy Lindo’s Gibbons character has become less directly important, which at first seemed like a bad idea since that character was the star of the first few episodes. However, the last few episodes have done a very nice job of sliding Gibbons to the fringes of the story while still keeping an eye him so that the police characters not named Jarek can have more to do. “Wild Onions” continues that trend by giving small, but well-developed stories to Isaac and Vonda, Liam, Caleb and Teresa. If you’re keeping track at home, that’s every police character we know except for Jarek. Whereas early in the season it felt like Gibbons was the center of this universe and all these characters were just swirling and circling around him, the framework of the series has changed just bit, where now episodes of their own catalyst that impact all the characters, both police and not. It’s sort of a subtle change and one that might not last as we kick into the final few episodes of the season, but it’s ultimately been a smart approach for the middle of the season because we all know that Jarek and Caleb couldn’t chase down Gibbons in every single episode only to be foiled at the end.

In the post-Hill Street Blues era, the sign of a good procedural series means the cases often become secondary to the character interactions and even though the characters on this series were always interesting, moving Gibbons to the back for a short time has really moved The Chicago Code onto a different level. It’s not some all-time great series already or something, but the last three episodes have done a lot of good work in developing the characters, especially the ones that weren’t particularly interesting in the first few efforts.

Four or five episodes ago, Liam was really terrible character weighing down everything, but now that he’s been fully integrated into Gibbons’ operation and separated from his little meets with Jarek or Teresa, he’s tremendously compelling. Since he’s officially been in Gibbons’ employ, he’s only really done good things and he can see that despite all the surely illegal stuff Gibbons partakes in, he absolutely does care about the people of his ward. By the time this episode is over and he’s spent all day carrying water and helping an old woman survive from heat stroke, Liam recognizes that things aren’t so black and white with this investigation. The confused undercover cop isn’t an original story beat, but it’s still well-executed here, especially because Liam’s bosses have completely tunnel vision on as far as Gibbons goes. Jarek and Teresa aren’t going to listen to any of this “but he really cares!” crap, their view of this job and the people they’re trying to catch is a lot more black and white.

And focusing more on the Liam-Gibbons relationship has also benefited Gibbons as well. Everyone knows that he’s the main target and he’ll eventually have to show his cards a bit more, but there was no way that the series was going to sustain itself by having him cackle like a Bond villain at the end of every episode or even be mostly suspicious in his actions. If The Chicago Code wants to be a great series, and we know that it does, it has to work not in the black and the white, but in the gray and the last few episodes have gone a long way in showing us the things that Liam now sees in Gibbons. He does have some good intentions, which makes his illegal activities more complicated, and¬†ultimately, interesting.

Isaac and Vonda weren’t weighing down the series as much as Liam was a few episodes ago, but the two of them were probably even less developed and appeared only to be there so that the series had some more boots on the ground at investigations Jarek and Caleb weren’t working or hadn’t shown up to yet. This episode doesn’t give them an overwhelming amount of things to do, but through their little treks on the sidewalk and through the streets, we get to actually spend time with them, which is all that really matters so far. It’s still episode eight so these characters don’t have to be shockingly complicated, but we just need to see the series make an effort and I think this is really the first episode where there’s a directed effort to actually know these two. By the time this one is over, we understand that Vonda is attracted to Isaac’s quality character and ability to stay cool under pressure, she surely thinks he will protect her and himself in ways that maybe her father couldn’t. And I think it’s clear that Isaac likes Vonda because she’s mostly up-front and honest, not to mention something of a bad-ass (relatively so). It’s not a lot of information, but it’s a very good start.

Caleb and Teresa are certainly more developed than the previously discussed characters, but they still come in a moderately long second to Jarek, so it was also nice to see them get well-developed stories here. Caleb’s strong desire to catch this week’s killer in hopes of doing right by the victim’s son was simple, but well-conceived. I enjoyed how his compassion contrasted with Jarek’s frankness about the whole situation. There’s still something they’re not telling us about Caleb, or at least it feels that way, but I liked the story enough. And I actually found the scenes with Teresa and her new driver Ray to be pretty great, as the two of them have really great chemistry. Of course, that automatically makes me think the series might be leading towards a romantic pairing, but I’ll reserve judgment for now. I really liked how Teresa slowly put her guard down as the episode’s events unraveled and their final conversation on her stoop was very well done.

All in all, The Chicago Code is still figuring itself out, but the way this one relied on atmosphere and character development suggests they’re getting closer.

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