The Chicago Code 1.13 'Mike Royko's Revenge' Review
I knew I was going to be moved by the finale of The Chicago Code. I didn't expect just how much.
The show set up plenty of dominoes over the season, and in another display of its trademark efficiency, starts knocking them down within minutes. We learn that Liam/Chris isn't dead yet (just missing a spleen), Lieutenant Kelly is finally getting arrested for being a tool, and both Elizabeth Killian and not-so-innocent secretary Lily have been found. Things would be looking up for our heroes, if Alderman Gibbons wasn't on TV calling for Teresa's resignation, and privately trying to convince Jarek that Hugh Killian is the man who murdered his brother. You can't say this show skimped on delivery.
The heart of the episode is bringing the fight against Gibbons to a head, if not a definitive end. Given that at the time this finale was written, the show was still very much in contention for a second season, I wondered if things would be definitively concluded or left hanging. Imagine my surprise when the episode delivered the moment we'd been waiting for all season long - seeing Teresa and Jarek publicly arrest Gibbons. It was a stand up and cheer moment that was definitely worth the wait. Yet unlike a few other finales I've seen this season, achieving the show's main objective didn't throw The Chicago Code into disarray. Instead, the journey to finally get there opened up other stories that could've been told...not to mention that, as well as we know Ronin Gibbons by now, it wouldn't have been at all implausible to see him still be a relevant figure in season two.
Equally as important to the finale is Jarek's pursuit of his brother's murderer. The Chicago Code took what would be a meandering subplot on any other show and elevated it to the quality of a second major season-long storyline. The scene between Jarek and Teresa as he argues with her over the case is heartbreaking, because in all honesty they're both right. What she's saying about him risking everything they've worked for is true, yet at the same time, he deserves the opportunity to get justice for his brother. There's no winner in the situation, and the expression on Jennifer Beals' face at the conclusion of the scene perfectly shows the pain that Teresa feels, because she isn't just looking at Jarek as a colleague but also as a close friend. Likewise, when Caleb turns up and snaps some sense back into Jarek, Matt Lauria has such a confidence about him that we realize Caleb has risen to become Jarek's equal, and their relationship has matured to the point where Caleb would risk his own integrity to save his partner. Who didn't smile when Jarek referred to Caleb as "a friend"?
My best actor award, though, goes unquestionably to Jason Clarke, who turns in another riveting performance. Given the kind of juicy, emotional material actors kill for, he runs with it but doesn't oversell it. It's all the little subleties that have endeared Clarke to me, and they're still here, from the look in his eyes as Jarek watches Gibbons walk away, to how his grip on his gun wavers as he debates whether or not to blow Killian's brain out the back of his skull. Finding out that Vincent was a dirty cop may be a bit cliche, but I forgive it because to me, it's really about Jarek, and watching him not just battle with that knowledge, but have to follow his gut and go after the truth about the person he loved most. It's what he'd do and the fact that it's his brother doesn't change that. And I love how the show refuses to paint Vincent with the broad stroke of a villain; he's a man who used the wrong means for good intentions, and one still worthy of Jarek's love and respect - and ours as well.
In more personal news, Jarek's ex-fiancee Elena (Camille Guaty) turns up busted on a DUI. She's got reason to be drunk: not only has she lost Jarek, but her ailing mother that we heard about in the pilot only has a few weeks left. If I were her, I'd be out of sorts and belligerent too. The moment I saw her face, I said "Why did we have to bring her up again?" and I never felt like that question was answered to my satisfaction. On one hand, her return does give me hope that Jarek can have some real happiness in his life, but on the other, given how perfectly she left - and how I've never felt chemistry between the two actors to begin with - I didn't need to see her again. She was the one thing about this episode that I'll trifle with. Still, because I love Jarek so much, I'll pretend that he managed not to screw this second chance up.
I'm not too sure how I feel about Teresa (Jennifer Beals) pretending to be somebody else in order to pick up a random guy at a bar. I somewhat understand it - as she points out early on, her own identity comes with way too much baggage for dating - but it still feels weird to me. That, and with the return of FBI agent Cuyler (the always fab Adam Arkin), I have to admit that I was pulling for the two of them.
All in all, The Chicago Code went out the way that it came in: as a strong piece of storytelling without any hype, bolstered by some fantastic acting. In its conclusion, it continued to do what I always loved about this show, which is that it flipped the middle finger at TV expectations. When it hit a note that could have been cliche, with the exception of Elena, it turned it into something stronger and more complex. And in an age when the TV season finale has become an over-hyped affair promising shocking plot twists, character deaths, and other often gratuitous plays for attention, this show treated it like any other episode, focusing on telling a good story and remaining faithful to its characters. It didn't need to flail for our attention; the creative team had enough confidence in themselves to know that they already had it.
I have to admit that I'm typing this while wiping away tears, for a variety of reasons. For not just one but several of the main characters, people I've come to love who have closure and hope in their lives after we've watched them sacrifice and struggle all season long. For actors who got even better as their characters got richer, because I know that they'll probably get overlooked by critics and awards season alike. For the ideas about season two that this episode put in my head and that I know we'll never see. And for the fans who've loved and lost. This is not the first time The Chicago Code has made me cry. It's just that damn good.
It's the end of the journey, at least for now. But should this be the definitive end, I have no regrets. No unanswered questions. No moments I wish I'd take back. No weak episodes. This is as close to perfect as I've seen a TV show get. If this is all we'll get, I can look back on this not just as one fantastic season, but taking it as a whole, as one of the great journeys I've taken in television.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to raise a glass for Jarek Wysocki, because I feel like I should.
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