Too many questions left as 'Chicagoland' winds down

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Chicago Tribune senior writer Rick Kogan reviews CNN's "Chicagoland" Episode 7, explaining that the film makers may have been better off titling the series, "Rahm Emanuel and the struggle for the soul of Chicago." 

A headline in Monday's paper: "32 hurt, 4 killed in 36 hours."

There is great, untold sorrow behind those numbers, 32-4-36, but we have become almost desensitized to much of the gun violence we read about in newspapers and see on television. We see the numbers, and we observe the violence, and then they fade away, quickly.

The CNN series "Chicagoland" has been offering us plenty of violence, and violence remains a large portion of the seventh of its eight hours, mostly in the form of guns and how painfully easy it is to get them and use them. It is a relief, of sorts, that we do not see dead bodies during this hour.

This episode begins in a jarring manner, as co-writer/narrator Mark Konkol tells us, "Crime has taken a nose dive" and that has given Mayor Rahm Emanuel "just enough time for a late-night date with David Letterman."

How nice, how positively and falsely upbeat. After those few yucks with Dave, the mayor "cuts short meetings on the East Coast and came home to visit victims" of the mass shooting that took place in September at Cornell Square Park in the Back of the Yards neighborhood: 13 shot.

What sort of meeting on the East Coast? Fund-raising? Business-seeking? Vacation?

The show doesn't tell us (though the Tribune reported it was a fundraising trip), and questions linger. It seems impossible now that this ambitious series will be able to wrap up the various storylines it has given us or update us on the lives of the interesting people it has introduced. Is the young man still working at Alinea? What's happened to the tiny orator Asean Johnson? The trauma doctor at Stroger?

We will see more of Emanuel and Fenger high school principal Liz Dozier, the certifiable stars of the series. (Dozier even threw out the first pitch at Tuesday's White Sox game.)

There is another interesting character here, a white woman named Sally Hazelgrove, who 13 years ago founded a boxing club for at-risk youth in Englewood. Admirable work, but who is this woman and what motivates her? We do learn that she gave up "a life of comfort" on the North Side, that she was once a thief and carried a gun. Intriguing, yes? But we never know her in any detail or depth.

Ditto two other good-fight fighters, Rob and Amy Castaneda, a married couple doing good things in their Little Village neighborhood. How about more of that, rather than seeing them travel to Manhattan to pick up some award?

The show's main focus is guns, guns and more guns. We hear from a very frustrated police Superintendent Garry McCarthy calling for stricter gun laws. But likely to stick with us longer than those pleas that fall on seemingly deaf legislators are such lines, from criminals and kids, as: "You can't even come outside unless you've got a gun." "The whole city's strapped." "I fear losing my life every day."

To that point, the Rev. Michael Pfleger, who has spent nearly four decades fighting against all sort of inequities here, says with resignation, "I have never seen more poverty, more hopelessness, more people in desperate situations. … This is a genocide. People don't give a damn."

The hour notes, without supplying any actual figures, that the mayor "has lost ground in the African-American community, and he's trying to regain it." But it will take a great deal more, I imagine, than showing up at youth basketball games and making a speech to senior citizens, as he does here.

I am aware that many of you — ratings are holding steady and even rising modestly, according to CNN — are watching "Chicagoland." Many others have fled after one or a few episodes. It is impossible to envy the task the filmmakers tackled. Fewer than eight hours of the 1,000-plus shot last year have made it onto national television. At this point — and in the face of more numbers: eight and 1,000 — one has to wonder what potential revelations and insights and answers might now lie on the cutting room floor.

Rick Kogan will review the finale of "Chicagoland" next Thursday in A+E.

rkogan@tribune.com

'Chicagoland'

9 p.m. Thursday; 7 and 10 p.m. Saturday; 9 p.m. and midnight Sunday; 3 a.m. Monday; CNN

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