After having been little more than the whipping boy for Mayor Tom Kane (Kelsey Grammer), embattled gubernatorial candidate Ben Zajac (Jeff Hephner) has not only risen from the proverbial ashes of his otherwise unviable candidacy, but also taken a surprising and commanding lead as one of the more interesting characters Boss has to offer late in its second season.
While it does mirror his arc from season 1 to some degree, Zajac’s sudden desire to free himself from the burden of Kane has proven to be quite the difference maker in the character, and once again illustrates how, when it finds time, Boss can be an intriguing political drama capable of handling multiple threads and a cast of characters doing seemingly disparate things until it becomes clear they’re not. The problem is: However intriguing or convincing the series manages to make its cast, it will eventually have to return to the discussion of Kane’s affliction and the destructive force of his dementia. Proving the real trick to be juggling the series’ defining characteristic with a storyline that is arguably better written and, at times, far more captivating.
As season 2 races toward its finale, there’s been a sense of calm that has fallen over Tom Kane since his experimental treatment in Toronto. And while the Alternative procedure managed to abate his hallucinations and restore the mayor’s rather seasoned and opinionated demeanor, it’s managed to do little for the crisis he now faces in the wake of Chicago’s riots.
In terms of the episode’s content, ‘Consequence’ manages to have a fairly literal title – especially after all the bridges the Kanes burned in ‘The Conversation.’ Surprisingly, the one that could hurt Kane the most is Zajac’s unexpected return to the governor’s race, and his sudden encroachment on the headway Walsh (Amy Morton) made following the scandal that nearly obliterated his campaign. Early on, Zajac’s character was merely a way to justify the show’s crutch of putting unnecessarily lurid images on the screen. As a result, the character – as did the show in those moments – felt decidedly one-dimensional. And while Zajac still manages to find himself in plenty of scenes where women are in a particular state of undress, it’s felt like the actions that led up to those moments, and, coincidentally, their consequence, have actually meant something.
Suddenly, Zajac’s not just the overly confident candidate who’s unfaithful to his wife. He’s an intriguing underdog who is aware of his foibles, and is smart enough to use that knowledge in a way that not only gets him noticed, but turns around the public’s perception of him. After agreeing to an interview about his candidacy, and having it blow up in his face, Zajac’s recorded outburst works better than any scripted mea culpa, in terms of potential voters, and suddenly he’s once more a threat to Walsh.
More importantly, after the humbling he was dealt during the debate, Zajac seems to have a clearer understanding of who he is as a man, and what he’s hoping to accomplish as governor. For once, it doesn’t feel like politics for the sake of power, but rather politics as a means to promote positive change. Of course, power corrupts; so, should Zajac see a win come election day, there’s no telling which version of the man will be running Illinois.
That shifting balance of power looks to have left Mayor Kane out in the cold. Faced with a budget crisis, the mayor scrambles to find anyone who can help push through a bond measure that will cover Chicago’s unforeseen expenses. But the mayor’s ranks are as depleted as the city’s coffers. With Zajac declaring his independence from Kane, and Gov. Cullen (Francis Guinan) slipping Kane a $10 million dollar bill for the riots, there’s no one left to turn to but Alderman Ross (James Vincent Meredith). Ross and Kane strike a deal that would grant him four ward bosses of his choice, in exchange for securing the vote on the bond.
In doing so, Ross’ up-and-coming ward boss, Trey (T.I.) has a meeting with Mona Fredricks (Sanaa Lathan), and she attempts to recruit him in order to better serve the Lennox Gardens residents and offer him the legitimacy he so craves. As far as subplots go, it’s becoming clear that the housing issue is no longer viable for Kane and the rest of the mayor’s office, and it seems likely that Mona will be hung out to dry for its failure.
Other subplots pertain to the seedier side of Boss, and while the tryst Emma (Hanna Ware) has with her alleged half-brother Ian (Jonathan Groff) is interesting in a pay-cable’s favorite subject kind of way, it’s punctuated by a shot of Darius (Rotimi) leering at the two from outside the living room window. While it’s good for an uncomfortable laugh, it highlights just how unnecessary some of these scenes are, and the bizarre relationship Doyle (John Hoogenakker) has with his associate only serves to augment that notion.
Despite those speed bumps Boss manages to do what it did earlier in the season: make a vote something compelling and integral to the episode’s plotline. While Kane relaxes in his office, secure in the knowledge his deal with Ross will grant him the bond issue he needs, things slowly begin to go awry. As votes begin to slip away from Kane, he scrambles to intercept those who’ve turned on him, but falls short – not that there would’ve been much he could do anyway. It turns out McGantry (Dan Travanti) offered Ross and his men something more immediate than the lure of eventual power: money.
We saw how Kane dealt with such betrayal at the end of season 1, but here, it feels far less melodramatic, and the hope is that Boss will find a way to settle things that is more in tune with the way the last two episodes have gone.
Boss continues next Friday with ‘Clinch’ @9pm on Starz.