“If there’s one thing Chicago knows, it’s how to punch back.”
– Jarek Wysocki (voiceover)

The Chicago Code is one of the most misunderstood dramas of recent years. Coming from The Shield creator Shawn Ryan, it was expected to be a dark drama of ambiguous morality. Furthermore, the fact that its setting was part of its title led people to believe that it would be an examination of crime and society in the American city, a reflection on the ills that plague the country’s urban centres and what can be done about them.

But The Chicago Code is neither of those things. It’s a classic tale of good versus evil, of heroes and villains. Chicago is merely a backdrop. The show doesn’t present a positive analysis of Chicago, but instead presents two opposite normative views: Chicago, the city where you grease the wheels to get things done; versus Chicago, the city that fights back.

“You wonder why the same guys get elected over and over again? It’s because someone got the Fitzgerald family the zoning variance they needed. It’s because someone got the Williams boy’s drag racing citation knocked down to a simple speeding ticket. Someone did that for them, and that someone was me.”
– Alderman Ronin Gibbons (voiceover)

Delroy Lindo’s Alderman Gibbons represents the former view. For him, corruption and influence are simply the way things get done in Chicago. Pay a guy off here, promise a favour there, it’s just business. But Gibbons isn’t stupid; he know what his constituents want, and he’ll fight tooth and nail to get it.

Teresa: When we rode together, you know what you said to me once, made me know you would do this now?
Jarek: No.
Teresa: You said your father hated politicians like Gibbons.

Superintendent Teresa Colvin and her former partner, Detective Jarek Wysocki, represent the latter view. Teresa is on a mission to clean up the city and rid it of corruption, and she’s willing to do it with our without the support of Alderman Gibbons. For her, a clean Chicago is a sort of abstract ideal to which she aspires. On the other hand, for Jarek, this fight is more personal. His brother lost his life chasing after Gibbons before. Jarek distanced himself from the investigation afterward, but Teresa manages to start pulling him back in, knowing that her former partner can’t resist a good case.

But by episode’s end, there is a massive shift. When Teresa’s bodyguard and driver, Antonio, is murdered in a gang retaliation, the fight becomes personal for her too. There may not have been a direct link between Gibbons and Antonio’s death, but Teresa knows that corrupt politicians indirectly support and finance organized crime, which leads to gang violence. In her mind, Gibbons may as well have murdered Antonio. The murder also spurs Jarek to devote himself to Teresa’s task force. Previously, he was helping Teresa as a friend, and also because he was enjoying the investigation. But now, witnessing the gravity of what just happened, Jarek is in wholeheartedly, and there are hints that he’s about to devote himself to this as passionately as his brother.

It’s interesting to see, over the course of the show’s thirteen episodes, how the idea of two Chicagos presents itself. Both Chicagos are romanticized ideals, with Gibbons representing the “old way” and Teresa and Jarek representing the “new way.” Neither is an accurate reflection of how Chicago actually is, but the latter is clearly more heroic than the former. Our heroes aren’t perfect – Jarek is cheating on his fiancée with his ex-wife – and our villains aren’t pure evil. The Chicago Code is never that facile. But ultimately, this show is about fighting the good fight and the costs that may result.

For more information on The Chicago Code rewatch project, please click here.

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