You Might Not Want To Live There, But It’s Still A Great City
Assessment of Season 2 of City on A Hill
I thought City on a Hill was a great show when I raved about a few weeks earlier, but the current season did a lot to make a case for being in the pantheon of great television. In Season 1, the series was a lot more about black and white — not necessarily literally — but this year, there were far more shades of gray.
Never was this more clear than with the character of Jackie Rohr (Kevin Bacon continues to do some of his best work). In my initial review, I basically laid out that Jackie no longer had the shreds of being a hero; he was a pure villain, a relic of a bygone era. But a funny thing happened halfway through the season. Perhaps seeing the walls finally closing in around him, Jackie became a lot more human. Granted, he showed in weird ways — after bullying a teenager to testify against Decourcy for two episodes — which started by getting his alcoholic mother loaded, he repented at the last minute even though it cost him. Then, as his daughter Betty — who spent much of last season in rehab — made a genuine attempt towards reformation- Jackie did something he hadn’t done in the entire series. He got honest. In a monologue that features some of the best work Bacon has ever done, he told with no bullshit a telling incident about his childhood and how it scarred him in ways he can’t imagine. Then he said his daughter was full of courage — one of the purely nicest things he’s ever said to anyone. And after spending much of the last year and a half treating his wife like dirt, they began to make general steps towards repairing the marriage that, frankly, I didn’t could be fixed. There may actually be something resembling a soul in Jackie, something I would’ve thought implausible at the beginning of the season.
And it’s interesting to contrast this with the arc of Decourcy. For half the season, Decourcy was at odds with his own wife Siobhan, as they found themselves on opposite ends of the murder trial of Anton Campbell. That all changed in a heartbeat when Anton freed on bail, took a shot at Decourcy, missed — and hit Siobhan, his own defense attorney. She would recover, but ultimately suffer a miscarriage of the baby she’d worked so hard to fight for. (Both Aldis Hodge and Lauren Banks did superb work as well) By this point, we’re inclined to suspect the worst of Jackie when he shows up anywhere, so we naturally didn’t believe when he showed up in the ICU that he wanted to help catch the man who Siobhan. And maybe Jackie, facing transfer, was trying to throw a Hail Mary. But it’s really hard to see the bad even in Jackie when he goes after someone who really seemed willing to spit in the face of everything his own mother had stood for. His mother believed in him, was willing to embezzle to save him, and that’s the first thing he does.
The entire story around the Campbell family was a compelling one. Anton was the least intriguing character, a thug who really didn’t seem to believe in anything and its hard to understand how he grew up in Grace’s house, much less was willing to be so utterly soulless to everything else. Kelvin was the more intriguing brother, a boy who genuinely wanted to try and help his own mother and twisted everything his brother did. His final act was actually truer to his character — he couldn’t stand to hurt his mother anymore, even if meant spending the rest of his life in prison. Which he did. Near the end of the episode, we learn almost off-handedly that he died in the prison yard, the final bitter twist of the knife.
And yes, maybe it was naïve that their mother was so blind to what her own sons were doing. But Grace Campbell was someone who believed in the good in everyone. That was her great strength and with her own sons, an Achilles heel. And it may have had more impact than she thought — after all her struggles to be a high-priced lawyer and a possible political run, Siobhan has decided to go back to work for the ACLU. City on a Hill tapped into the cycle of violence and hatred that we already knew about, but only seemed to care about it when white people are hurt. There are definitely links to The Wire this year, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that John Doman and Peter Gerety, both of whom played critical roles on that show, had important roles showing how badly the system of justice works in the season finale.
And admittedly, Jackie to seems to have found his soul too late to save his own job. The Board of Review in the Bureau did what we all saw coming and Jackie was terminated. Jackie seemed to acknowledge as much in the final moments of the episode; after going through the motions of fighting, he took of his badge and threw it in the Charles. Thing is, he was right about some things. We’ve been pissed off him for awhile for going after a priest who was trying to help Jenny in the early days of the series. Jackie wanted to get him, and it just seemed petty. Now we learned that the priest is an IRA supporter and has been embezzling funds from the church to do so. That scene between them showed you that before the bullshit and cynicism overwhelmed him, he was a good investigator and we see just how much of himself he lost.
I don’t know yet if City on a Hill will come back for a third season. What I do know is that has proven that is one of the best series of 2021. The procedural has been in trouble for awhile, but shows like this give me hope that there can be a way forward. And considering this is going to be a year that, by design, there will be a lot of room for new faces in the Emmys, this is a show that deserves of boatload of nominations, from Bacon and Hodge on down. This is a series that we need as television goes forward.
My score: 5 stars.