“The undercover guy, well, he never gets a second off. One slip-up could mean his life.”
— Jarek (voiceover)
The Chicago Code is not a cynical show. It is ultimately a tale of good and evil, cops and robbers, samaritans and thieves. It also has an optimistic view of its titular city, that it represents a higher ideal than the citizens who inhabit it. But The Chicago Code is also grounded in reality, and while it celebrates the great multicultural melting pot that is Chicago, it can also show what happens when cultures and ideologies clash. From a misunderstanding between a Chinese and a black community to a cop working undercover in a criminal organization, “O’Leary’s Cow” is about what happens when different people who have very different understandings of the world interact.
This is most apparent in the episode’s case, in which a young black boy is found murdered in Chinatown. It turns out to be a case of vigilante justice gone wrong. Because of a recent spate of muggings by young black men of old Chinese ladies, the boy was mistakenly believed to be a thief. It’s an awful misunderstanding, but Teresa uses it as leverage to get Gibbons to set things right. She reminds him that his ward is 40% African-American and that failure to help her with the case would reflect poorly on him to the African-American community. It’s uncharacteristic of Teresa to speak so plainly on the matter, but she is learning how to take advantage of Gibbons, the same way that he has taken advantage of her. In any case, what Teresa and Gibbons have in common is an ability to understand people of various backgrounds: Teresa, because she grew up in a mixed-race household; and Gibbons, because he escaped poverty to get where he is now.
But while Teresa might have a nuanced understanding of cross-cultural interaction, she isn’t prepared to deal with the difference in ideologies between her and her brother-in-law, Robert. Robert thinks that he can get Teresa to grease the wheels a bit and put a local parking lot out of business. But Teresa is a woman of integrity, and she won’t allow it. Unfortunately, she’s completely unprepared to deal with this. Her job as superintendent has removed her so far from her family that now she now has no ability to deal with family matters. As far as she’s concerned, Robert is a criminal before he is family, and for that, he has to own up to his crime.
On the other hand, Liam can’t own up to his crime, lest his cover be blown. In a sense, he’s living through the ultimate culture clash: he’s a lawman working undercover in a criminal organization. Every day, he’s working to bring down the people who surround him. That leads him to commit an arson, which inadvertently kills someone. Liam is now a murderer: the very kind of person he’s working to put behind bars. The very thought makes him retch, but in the end, Jarek convinces Liam that he should use this as motivation to redouble his efforts.
In the end, none of these conflicts are fully resolved. The Chinese-American and African-American communities don’t have a big “hug it out” moment. Teresa becomes even more distant from her family. And Liam still hasn’t fully come to terms with the fact that he’s a murderer. Police work can be a profoundly isolating experience, as Caleb finds out when tries to ask the cute nurse, Natalie, out on a date, and she turns him down because she wouldn’t be able to deal with dating someone with a dangerous job. Being a cop means having to give up a part of your regular life. As Caleb now knows, it’s almost a culture in and of itself.
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