As I and other, real critics like to talk about, second episodes are tricky, especially for series’ with a lot going on. Pilots are intended to hook the viewers in with great characters, big moments and a nice, established world, but when the second episode rolls around, it’s time to really think about what the series is going to be like on a long-term basis. Sometimes, even though writers and producers might know the answer to that question in the abstract, it’s a bit difficult to every facet of that vision in the next 42 minutes, leading to busy or sloppy episodes that continue to show potential but lose their way.
The second episode of The Chicago Code, “Hog Butcher,” feels like one of those episodes in a lot of ways. This is a particularly jam-packed episode of television with a good amount of moving pieces trying to rev up for the long haul. Thankfully, Shawn Ryan knows how to shepherd a series to life and there aren’t any major problems or dead spots in “Hog Butcher,” there’s just so much going on. Ultimately, this is an enjoyable episode that accomplishes a lot and mostly avoids the second episode troubles because of the smart writing and good performances. It’s busy as hell, but by the time “Hog Butcher” ends, I wasn’t too concerned about whether or not The Chicago Code had long-term potential as a series or anything.
Another big feature of second episodes is removing the foot from the gas pedal as far as the long-term arcs go. At the end of the pilot, it seemed like Colvin and Wysocki had Alderman Gibbons in their sights, but this episode does a lot of work to throw them off the scent while Gibbons manipulates some circumstances in the background that don’t directly influence their primary directive to tie him to the Irish Mob. Of course this had to happen, otherwise Gibbons’ nefarious activities would be discovered in episode eight and the series would have to recalibrate his primary antagonist. Again, this is something that comes along with depressing from a fantastic, fast-moving pilot episode and trying to make sure there is long-term stability in the narrative so no complaints from me.
Moreover, I thought the direction of the actual investigation into Antonio’s shooter provided an additional fantastic look at how Chicago (or at least this version of it) operates. In the end, Antonio’s shooter is not directly tied to Alderman Gibbons at all and instead tied into a relationship with the cop Colvin sent to the broom and mops division in the pilot episode. When Jarek and Colvin start to sniff around this cop, there’s a huge argument about the difference between corruption and “how things get done” and I thought that was a great way to shine a light on the fine line these two characters are trying to walk, particularly Colvin and her idealistic attitude. As the investigation continues, the episode does a good job of building up the underground kind of world that the police force has in this Chicago. Jarek takes Caleb and us to the secret dive bar that only a select few members actually get to be a part of and there are other little moments that add to the depth of this world we’ll hopefully be spending a lot of time with in the future.
Although this episode is busy, I think it still also finds time to deepen the relationships between some of the characters. Jarek and Colvin have the argument I mentioned above and also another great one about trust and respect, which features great work from both Beals and Clarke. There’s a real sense that the two of them actually did work the streets together for years and even though they share this bond, there is going to be a whole lot of tension, especially when going up against such a stacked deck of circumstances. I liked how the episode is setting up the idea that when there’s only two people trying to fight this massive framework, there’s going to be pressure on their relationship and if they don’t trust or respect one another, they’re screwed and Gibbons and others like him “win.”
Caleb gets his little moment with Twitter, which is kind of funny and effective as a nice contrast with how Jarek apparently likes to get things done. And of course, that final scene with Jarek in the church with the nun, a former teacher of his, is probably the series’ best moment thus far. I wasn’t completely sold on Jason Clarke just because it seemed a smidgen awkward in the role in the pilot — maybe that’s just me — but by the time that scene ends, I was in on his performance as Jarek Wysocki and totally in on The Chicago Code. Busy second episode or not.