It’s the Season 2 premier of the starz network drama BOSS. When we left them in the concluding episode of Season 1, Chicago’s Mayor, Tom Kane, was locked in his own bedroom, experiencing a seizure. He has the debilitating disease Dementia with Lewy Bodies. He was on his back, on the floor, helpless. His wife Meredith had returned from her good faith mission for the Mayor. She had just returned from having to sleep with Gerald “Babe’ McGantry (played by Daniel J. Travanti). The elder McGantry was the father of the lawyer representing the plaintiffs in the toxic waste suit. In return for Meredith sleeping with him, he would have his son drop the lawsuit.
Tom Kane’s political adviser Ezra Stone had been killed. Kane’s Executive Assistant Kitty O’Neill was pregnant and she had been trapped by Kane’s false rumor of stepping down. Alderman Lalo Mata had his teeth knocked out, then he was stabbed, and finally he was buried alive. Alderman Ross discovered that his wife had been sleeping with State Treasurer Ben Zajac. The newsman Sam Miller had been promoted to Chief Editor of The Chicago Sentinel newspaper to insure some silence from Kane’s most vocal opponent in the 4th Estate if only for just a short spell.
In short, Mayor Kane had bested his opponents, freed himself of the divisive members of his own staff, and had regained control of the City Council. It was true that Kane had turned in his own daughter, resulting in her being arrested in a drug bust. Things were now manageable for Kane. Except for one thing – his illness.
So with these facts in front of you – Season Two begins. Episode One of the second season is called Louder Than Words. Kane’s thoughts reach us: Every one who has plotted against me will feel the force of my wrath. No one will be left unscathed. Delusions of grandeur? Or is it reality?
Just like Episode 1 of Season 1 began, we again have Dr. Ella Harris laying it out for Kane.You’ve experienced a heightened acceleration of the disease. It is progressing faster than expected. Although he has been shocked by the effects of the disease, he believes he can handle it; even though as Dr. Harris speaks, Kane hallucinated that he is in a desert somewhere – at least until he can’t handle it. He says, ‘I have purpose‘, as if that mantra could keep the disease at bay.
As if to prove his purpose, and resolve, Kane says, It can’t have been easy, missing your friends, your family, and starting over. There’s an opening in the Neurological Department in the local hospital [where they are is undisclosed] for you. And arrangements have been made for admittance to a prestigious private school for your son Roman. Dr. Harris issues her warning to Kane: Mr. Mayor, you have to know that your best days are behind you.
As if to make the doctor’s words all the more prophetic, Kane hallucinates again that he is in a desert, and is being eyed by a large lizard as he’s being driven back in his limo.
Meredith visits Emma in the jail. Emma relents and tells Meredith that Kane has DLB, and has 3 to 5 years to live.
When Kane arrives back in town, he is accosted on the street by Darius, Emma’s lover. Kane shoos his protectors away saying that he will listen to what this man has to say. Darius is really upset that Emma was arrested. What kind of man would have his own daughter arrested, Darius wonders out loud. Kane leans in close to tell Darius that he has pulled strings to keep Emma in the precinct lockup rather than in the Joliet prison general population. Darius is in up close and mutters something threatening. Kane steps backs and loudly says (so everyone in earshot would hear) You had the unmitigated stupidity to threaten the Mayor of Chicago…
As Kane heads for his office, we hear that it took a very long time to get the O’Hare project going. Twenty-two goddamn years to stick a single shovel into the ground…that’s an abuse of power. All those obstructionists on the City Council…
Soon enough, we find ourselves in Alderman Ross’s apartment. His life has unraveled since his discovery of his wife’s infidelity with Zajac. The apartment is a mess, and he’s unkempt. His assistant is Mona Fredericks (Sanaa Lathan). They’re discussing the upcoming vote on Lennox Gardens, a onetime pleasing housing project that has fallen on hard-times. Mayor Kane wants to take over control of Lennox Gardens, presumably to tear it down and sell off the land to his favored business associates. Ross will have to call in some favors to sway the vote against the Mayor. But he doesn’t look like he’s up for anything. Fredericks secures his proxy.
Tom Kane is back in his office, once again hallucinating. That couldn’t be a real lizard on his mantel, could it? Kane allows the thought to flee of its own volition. Meredith arrives at Kane’s office and blows through the attempted blockade by Kane’s assistant Ian Todd. Meredith tells Kane that she has visited Emma. Kane says, Did she tell you …, about me? Rather than answering directly, Meredith says, What’s our plan Tom?
The next few scenes fly by. We can’t really measure how valuable they are:
1) Zajac and his wife talk about Senator Walsh’s anti-felon rules ( a method that could reduce the Cook County voter rolls.
2) Kitty is at home doing nothing. She ponders when and if her pregnancy will show. Zajac calls her but she doesn’t answer the phone and she deletes his message.
3) Sam Miller and his lead staff discuss her submitted story. The assistant tries to get Sam back to the news rather than his Mayoral conspiracy theories.
4) Tom Kane and Ian Todd in Tom’s office – Todd says he has a copy of the Zajac speech at the O’Hare groundbreaking ceremonies. Kane says Zajac won’t need it. No speech, no press for anyone.Let them just sit there and listen and keep their damn mouths shut.
5) Senator Walsh (she’s the one running for governor against McCall Cullen) and her daughter and aide, discuss plans. She says, While we’re out here campaigning Kane is spending money on O’Hare like a drunken sailor and abusing the Housing Authority. Someone want to tell me why we’re not capitalizing on either…?
At this point we are approaching 40% of the way through. Most of what we’ve seen has purpose and enlightens rather than entertains. What we are seeing are a series of scenes to enable us to reconnect with some characters, and to set us up (or stage) what is to come – which can be summarized simply. The Vote over Lennox Gardens and the Groundbreaking Ceremony for the O’Hare extension. We’ve not seen much of anything that can be called ‘exciting’. So we look for improvement over the remaining part of the episode.
Kane meets with some City Council members. The ones he can count on to support the Lennox Gardens issue to be voted on at the City Council meeting. Adriana Driscoll, a council member says, It will be a tough sell…
We next have a brief moment in Zajac campaign headquarters when Zajac finds out that the introduction speech he had planned on giving, has been cut from the ceremonies.
Soon enough Kane is having lunch with his boyhood pal Ryan Kavanaugh. Kane wants Ryan to introduce him at the groundbreaking at O’Hare. Kavanaugh, an ex-cop, says, I’m no politician. Kane says, That’s why I want you to do it. You know who I am, who I was. It’s just a few words.
Sam Miller (above), now the Editor of The Chicago Sentinel has a visit from Baine, who is the newspaper’s owner and a media mogul. He tells Miller that his editorial against Kane has given some of the paper’s major corporate advertisers cause for concern. These corporations have a stake in the redevelopment of Lennox Gardens. Baine says, This isn’t about the Mayor. It is about the bottom line. Ours. So Baine instructs Miller to back off Kane once more. And get those advertisers back.
At the Rutledge apartment, Meredith is visiting her stroke-ridden father as a caregiver bathes the old man. Meredith talks to him but he doesn’t react. Meredith instructs the caregiver to have the TV set to news channnels rather than a talk shows. This doesn’t seem like much at the moment. But we’ll see what it means later on in the episode. Just before this scene closes, Meredith leans in and says (about Tom), He’s sick Daddy. You might outlive him after all.
Tom Kane meets with Mona Fredericks and Alderman Alverson. Fredericks is against the proposal. She’s been diligent. She’s fighting against what she calls permanent displacement (for the Lennox Garden residents). Alverson sides with the Mayor. When Kane has heard enough from Fredericks – that Ross and the Black Caucus have 14 solid Nay votes, Kane walks out saying, Maybe the Black Caucus needs new leadership. As he says this he places his hand on Alverson’s shoulder, which Fredericks notices. So the line has been drawn. Maybe the Mayor’s proposal for Lennox Garden is facing a difficult challenge.
Next up we see Darius handling an automatic weapon. He is at the apartment of Trey Rogers, a former gangbanger but now a player with designs on City Hall. Rogers is both a conduit to an Alderman and a grass-roots organizer ( a Ward boss) via his gang. According to the cast notes – this represents a symbiosis between politics and crime in Chicago. Darius needs Trey’s help. He says, I need you to get to someone.
We get no further clue as to what that means.
Senator Walsh is out stumping at the adjoining precincts to Lennox Gardens. She tells the residents that the Mayor’s Urban Renewal plan for Lennox Gardens will place those folks from Lennox Gardens into this neighborhood – a neighborhood that is already overtaxed and under serviced by city government. She’s playing the fear card to get the residents to see things her way. One resident says – We don’t have enough cops as it is. How are we supposed to protect ourselves when these project people start moving in?
There it is. The undisguised ugliness of racial issues. For Senator Walsh it is politics. For the neighborhood it is fear. Walsh says, This is not about race. It is about money that is being spent on everyone but the working class.
Zajac meets with Kane in Kane’s office. Walsh is being discussed. Zajac says, I think it is important that I have your clear and visible support as soon as possible. It is important. Kane says, Twenty years of fighting, cajoling, and struggling to get things done for the city – things that must be done. That is what is important. Not making a pitch for a candidate that has become visible only in the last month.
In short – Kane is plainly dismissive, and to dot the i, he tells Zajac that, At the O’Hare groundbreaking ceremony, don’t talk to the press while you’re there. At all.
Mona Fredericks meets with Alderman Vukovich. A deal is about to be struck. Vukovich is voting for the Mayor’s proposal to strip away Lennox Gardens from the Housing Authority. Fredericks wants her to change sides and vote with Ross and the Black Caucus. The quid pro quo – Alderman Ross and his friends would join in with Vukovich to get the ordinance for new parking meters about to be installed in Vukovich’s wards overturned.
Kitty ponders the death of Ezra Stone. Kane works on his speech at O’Hare. He is still struggling with the phrase, The City of I Will…
Just then, Ian Todd comes in. The whip count is discussed. Mona Fredericks has locked in the Black Caucus except for Alderman Alverson. Todd has been unable to reach Vukovitch who they think is a solid Aye vote, but she might be wavering. It looks like a tie is possible. Todd says, You could break the tie with your vote, or we could postpone the vote. This gets an explosion out of Kane,
“What part of I don’t want to postpone the fucking vote do you not understand?”
When Todd says, I can track Vukovich down. Kane waves it off saying, I’ll handle that, and he reaches for a phone. The next thing you know, Vukovich is being pulled over by a traffic cop. This cop asks her to step out of the car for a sobriety test.
Governor Cullen gets a call from Zajac who apologizes about the ‘mess up’ in the primaries. When Zajac asks for Cullen’s advice, Cullen says, Eat shit. And hangs up. So that was a Definite No. Zajac now lacks support from either Kane nor Cullen.
Of course, Vukovitch is now in a police lockup for refusing the breathalyzer sobriety test. Here comes Ian Todd, and he has a deal. He wants Alderman Vukovich’s proxy for the vote in exchange for ‘expediting’ her release and the dropping of the charges for the DUI.
Next we have the City Council meeting. This is the meeting about Lennox Gardens. The debate begins. Mona Fredericks and Tom Kane keep looking at each other. She’s checking the time. When Kane sees Ian Todd enter the Council Chambers, he immediately cuts off the debate.
Move to close the debate. Adriana Driscoll seconds the motions. So per parliamentary procedure, Kane has just ended the discussion. Which means the voting shall begin, to remove Lennox Gardens from the Housing Authority’s jurisdiction.
Fredericks signals for her assistant to find Vukovitch. The vote continues. Kane watches passively but we know that he’ll do what he needs to do.
When Vukovich’s name is called, Ian Todd steps in with her proxy and votes Aye. This changes everything as Fredericks had thought that she had secured Vukovich’s Nay vote. Kane looks pleased. Now the key vote will be Alverson’s. And he’s in Kane’s pocket.
Only Fredericks has her own game to run on Alverson. She steps over to Alverson and threatens to expose his ‘crazy shit‘ all over the internet. She demands that he change his vote to a Nay. Alverson says we have a deal. Fredericks says we have a new one and walks off.
Alverson votes Nay. This changes everything. Kane no longer has the tie breaking vote, he’s one vote short. So he gives a signal to one of the Latino councilmen who immediately jumps up saying, This is bullshit, and starts a fist fight. The City Council erupts into chaos. Kane has no choice.
The Vote is suspended. Clear the chamber. Clear the chamber. As they exit, Fredericks is ready to let the Mayor have it. But before she can start he says, Not today. So while the Mayor’s proposal wasn’t voted in, it wasn’t defeated either. Chicago politics, make that Kane’s politics, as usual.
At the Rutledge apartment, the care giver turns on the news broadcast. The old man doesn’t appear to be listening.
At O’Hare the ceremonies will commence soon. Kane is reassuring Kavanaugh that everyone wants you to succeed. It’s easy – just speak, like you are talking to me, the kid with smart mouth. Kavanaugh says, I stared in the face of killers. Never once blinked. Up there, I just might piss myself.
Meredith arrives for the ceremonies. Also arriving are Zajac and his wife. When Sam Miller’s reporter asks if Zajac still has Kane’s support, Mrs Zajac answers, We are very grateful for the Mayor’s support. Zajac had been warned not to speak to the press – but Mrs. Zajac has decided to ignore that ‘memo’.
In the City jail, the TV is about to broadcast the ceremony at O’Hare. Emma doesn’t want to see it. She repeatedly demands that the channel be switched. Emma says, I said, turn the goddamn channel. This sets off another woman prisoner. You think you get to decide, BITCH? You don’t get to decide shit. A fight is about to breakout. Emma is going to be beaten up. Only a very large black woman steps in to protect her. So the threat to Emma has been staved off.
Emma says to this woman, I don’t know why you’re doing this. I don’t need your help. The woman replies, Someone think you do… Is this some one Darius has arranged, or is it someone who Trey Rogers has told to protect Emma. We don’t know.
Sam Miller had gotten a call from someone at the Rosewood Cemetery. We don’t know who had called him. I think we shall find out as Miller arrives at the cemetery. It was some one at the cemetery who Miller asked to call him if someone else showed up at the grave of Ezra Stone. It is Kitty Miller. He questions her about what happened to Stone. Kitty declines to answer.
At O’Hare, Kavanaugh introduces Kane. I’ve known him since we were 10 years old. A man of honor. A man with vision. A man of his word. He’s the best friend I’ve ever had, and the mightiest warrior I’ve come across, and the greatest Mayor that’s ever been. Ladies and gentlemen – Tom Kane!
So Kane gets his grandest moment. Kane steps up to the stage holding Meredith’s hand. His speech begins:
The city of I will. Born against the battle of slough and swale, city that showed me its mettle. With hammer and concrete, with our own hands, forging and building. This airport expansion was necessary twenty-two years ago. Yet it is only today that we break ground. I’m not going to ie to you. I’m proud that it was on my watch that the obstructionists were vanquished. But there is more to do, and it can’t wait. Not twenty years, not ten, not two. There are areas in our city that are in need of our immediate attention. Areas of neglect, and if time is the justice that examines all offenders, then City Hall is guilty of inaction. Public housing is such an area. Lennox Gardens, John Robertson Homes, Washington Heights –
at this moment, Kane’s disease kicks in – he thinks he sees Ezra Stone seated in the front row. The dead Ezra Stone.
Kane freezes for a few seconds before reality comes back. His speech continues.
With your support, and hopefully with that of the City Council, I will soon have an opportunity to address that neglect, and be given the tools to start over. To re-imagine, rebuild, and reclaim the dream that once was. They say that greatness is not a matter of chance, it’s a matter of choice. I say that greatness is not something we wait for. It’s something we achieve, and we’ll do it together, because we are the city of I Will. Thank you.
Thunderous applause. The crowd stands to cheer for Kane. He grabs his wife’s hand, and as they start to descend the few steps from the stage to the ground, Kane again ‘sees’ Ezra Stone at the foot of the steps waiting for him. He freezes for a second.
But Meredith doesn’t stop. She takes the next step down and is one step lower than Kane. Just then the sound of two shots ring out. Kane and Meredith both fall. Kane has not been shot – but apparently, Meredith has.
However at that precise moment we aren’t sure. She remains down. Again we aren’t sure.
What we are sure of is that old man Rutledge was watching the news, and it looks like he was capable of understanding what he has just witnessed. The TV headlines reads: Shots fired at O’Hare.
A shocking climax to the season opener. We aren’t shown who fired the shot. All we have to go on is that Darius may have threatened the Mayor and we saw him at Trey’s apartment handling an automatic weapon. I think we can safely state that even if Meredith has been shot, it won’t be a serious wound. It doesn’t seem that she will have signed on for a second season, then taken out of the story with a serious wound in just the first of this year’s 10 episodes.
We have three new main characters. First, there’s Mona Fredericks. She seems like a savvy and sharp politician. She can not only smell out some of Kane’s moves, but she can also make some plays of her own. We just saw it with her deals with Vukovich and Alverson. Just because Kane outflanked her as well as pulling some dirty tricks of his own, doesn’t mean that Fredericks has no game. Looks like she sure does.
Trey Rogers has successfully lived through his days as a gangbanger working those mean streets on the South side of Chicago. He’s exchanged his bling and street threads for the shirt, tie, and fine suits. He’s aiming for something higher than being a Ward Boss. He wants City Hall, ‘maybe an Alderman some day‘ are his words. We will have to see if he had a part in the Kane assassination attempt. Was it he that gave the weapon to Darius? Or was it one of his men that took the shot?
As for Darius, did he take the shot, and was it he that arranged for Emma’s protection in jail.
The third new player is Ian Todd, who has replaced Kitty as Tom’s Executive Assistant. He seems quite youthful now, and is currently having to take the abuse Kane tosses his way. But he too will learn the political ropes. That youthfulness will soon change to usefulness.
I think this opening episode took its time to reach its full stride. But you can see how the story will play out. Kane is a demagogue and he’s sick, so he has a limited shelf-life. However, he’s not going away any time soon. I love the way Kane can maneuver and think. He exudes power in everything. And he is adroit at the game of politics.
I think the writing of this show is not in the same league as Sorkin’s as far as speeches, and dialogues, but this show trumps The Newsroom in terms of being a bit more realistic. None of the story lines seem forced. The situations defy credulity but that’s because we aren’t politicians and we can’t possibly know what goes on in those back rooms in the corridors of power. Am I really surprised that Kane has so much power, and that he can press levers and push buttons and what he needs done – gets done?
Not really. I think that we watch and we are frightened that Kane has the power, yet we are wary of doing anything about it. We’ve already seen how easily Kane can regain his political stride, his momentum, and how quickly he can wrest control back into his own hands.
The arts of deal-making and the dark arts of political survival are the central themes of what this show is about. Kane is a master of the Universe in this particular setting. But he is not invulnerable, nor is he healthy. Both the forces of nature, as well as the fact that he makes enemies easily, are our indicators that Kane will face a struggle to survive. And this struggle is what will bring viewers back for each episode. It is easy to hate Kane, yet he’s the one character that we like. Kane says that Chicago is the City of I Will.
What he means is that Chicago is his city, and he is the only one who is able to say, I Will because I Can.
See you next week.