Battle Creek, Michigan has fallen on hard times and and the Police Department is feeling the pinch. But they’re about to be blessed with a savior and not everybody’s happy about that.
CBS’ new drama, from Breaking Bad‘s Vince Gilligan and House‘s David Shore, opens on a play — young children in a variety of nature costumes are putting on an adorable show for an auditorium full of parents. A shadowy figure emerges from the back, approaches a man videotaping the play. He flashes a badge and grabs the camera.
A small car hurtles around a corner and pulls up behind a van. Inside the van, a man, Detective Fontinelle “Font” White not able to capture something on his smartphone. Behind him, a large shirtless man, Teddy, is complaining loudly that he’s going to get killed, by these guys. The door pops open and Detective Russ Agnew piles in brandishing the captured video camera that he hands to Font. Agnew then tries to get a gadget to work, and Teddy continues to bemoan his fate at the hands of these guys.
They are trying to record a drug sting but their gear isn’t up to the task. Agnew has a brilliant idea. Font’s sister lives nearby and has just had a baby…
…Inside the restaurant, Teddy attaches the Baby Monitor to the underside of a table and waits for his dealer. The dealer, a scary looking hulk of a man, joins Teddy who hands him an envelope with money in it. While the dealer is counting the dough, the baby monitor starts beeping because Font placed fresh, defective batteries in it. The drug dealer looks, sees the baby monitor under the table and flips out.
Agnew and Font bolt for the diner and make it just in time to stop the dealer from pouring hot coffee on Teddy’s head. Agnew attempts to taser the dealer but, of course, the batteries are dead. Seeing his chance, the dealer throws Font across the room, grabs Agnew by the throat and punches him in the face….
Agnew, nursing a black eye is writing a letter to Leslie Stone, hoping to entice her and 60 Minutes to do a show about Battle Creek and the under staffed, under funded police department. As the voiceover rolls we see, next morning, Agnew parking, going in to work. In the squad room he gets his props for making the bust, and learns that his request for the PD to move to the empty City Planning offices has been denied. But, he did get a nice write up in the paper, though not by name. “we’re cops, not movie stars.”
In the Commander’s office Russ and Font give Commander Guziewicz the low down on how bad things have gotten but she tells them she’s got great news and there’s help coming.
Cut To: FBI Field Office, Detroit. The entire staff is gathered to wish, apparently beloved, Special Agent (and super Boy Scout) Milton “Milt” Chamberlain a fond farewell before he leaves for his new post… Battle Creek.
Back in Battle Creek the members of the PD are scoping out the new FBI Resident Agency (a satellite office) across the hall where Agnew was hoping the Police offices were going to go. The office has two occupants. Meanwhile, Agnew fields one of his daily crank calls from a woman who wants Thomas Magnum arrested for wearing obscenely tiny shorts. Font comes by and comments about the sad news in the paper, and Russ agrees that it’s a shame their names didn’t make the paper, but Font’s talking about the story of a girl who died of an OD.
Milt makes his big introduction to the squad, charming them to a person save for Russ, and the Commander introduces the team. The phone rings, Russ avoids taking it, assuming it’s the Magnum P.I lady, so Milt picks it up after Russ warns him that if he does’ he’ll be the primary. It isn’t the old lady, but a double homicide, which makes it Milt’s case.
At the Horton Street Manor, the apartment complex where the homicides occurred, the cops are interviewing the Pizza Boy, Ricky, who didn’t see anything or anybody that looked like a killer. On top of that, there are no cameras in the building or nearby, because they weren’t needed. It used to be a “decent crappy neighborhood,” explains the Pizza Boy. Inside the apartment/crime scene, Russ lays out, to the other detectives on the scene; Milt, Jacocks, Niblet and Funkhauser, his take on the events of the crime. Milt’s interjects that Russ’ opinion is fine but he prefers not to conjecture until the facts from his team are in.
Russ is bitching about Milt as he and Font exit the apartment. To show up the Boy Scout, Russ want’s to do things the old fashioned way: by canvassing the neighbors. None of the neighbors heard any gun shots because their TVs were on. The detectives do get offered a lot of coffee cake.
Back at the crime scene, the FBI is in full CSI mode with agents crawling all over the place. Russ admits that he got nothing but posits that that nothing is actually something. Russ speculates tha the crime is drug related and Milt confirms it by saying there were traces of 2CP, a new drug, in the air. Russ suggests they run the victims through the DEA database but Milt has already ID’d the bodies by talking to a neighbor over coffee cake.
Back at the station, the detectives have gathered. Agent Chamberlain has requested a partner, and everyone but Russ volunteers. To Russ’ surprise and annoyance, Milt has chosen him.
In the car, Russ and Milt hash things out, sort of. Milt presents a phonebook-size list, prepared by his office, of everyone who has been arrested for dealing, buying or being hospitalized with drug related issues. Which would be great, if the Battle Creek PD had a much larger staff. Russ tosses the list because there’s only one guy, the supplier, they need to talk to. Unfortunately, he doesn’t know who that is.
Milt and Russ are parked across the street from a corner grocery, checking out the scene. They’ve got Teddy “the Snitch” with them again, this time Teddy is wearing a shirt. They’re looking for the guy who can name the supplier of the two homicide victims. Teddy fingers a short guy in an Armani shirt, Omar. When the detectives try to question Omar, he flees down an alley. It looks like he’s about to give them the slip when he turns a corner and gets clotheslined by Detective Funkhauser, who, along with Niblet, is canvassing the neighborhood.
Russ and Milt take Omar aside and inform him that his boss, Dante, and pal, have had a negative reaction to a bullet in the head. They question him to determine the suppler and who might have a reason to kill his boss. Eventually, Omar breaks down when Milt pressures by convincing the kid that an NSA database search will expose him to the cops and to his family who might not want to know he deals. He rolls over on one Travis Taylor.
In their car, Russ is impressed by Milt’s NSA bluff. Of course, Milt doesn’t bluff. He has access to the NSA, and probably never had to worry about a dead battery in his entire career. Milt calls a personal friend and Federal Judge to get an instant warrant to search Travis Taylor’s house.
Later – that night? – in an upscale neighborhood, a SWAT team emerges from the darkness. They converge on Mr. Taylor’s doorstep. He lets them lets them in moments before they bust down his $5000 solid maple door.
The detectives question Taylor about the homicide but he only knows one of them, Dante. Taylor admits to hating the kid, he’s terrible for business, but didn’t kill them. The search turns up nothing, which, Russ points out, only proves innocence or guilt. Helpful. Sick of playing it by the book (the BCPD can’t really afford a book) Russ states that there’s only one way to catch the guy – “The Battle Creek Way.” Which is, basically, bluffing.
Russ and Milt bring the Pizza Guy in, to convince the kid to point out Travis Taylor in a lineup. They hope that Taylor’s lawyer will believe the kid and get Taylor to take a plea deal, sending Taylor to jail. Milt watches while this is going on and, surprisingly talks the kid into doing it. Did I mention that Milt is a total Boy Scout? The kid goes along with the plan and fingers Taylor in the lineup.
“This is why I wanted to work with you,” says Milt to Russ while they wait downstairs for the results of their subterfuge. Milt then goes on to basically dismantle Russ’ entire premise and how the whole thing is likely to blow up… and it does. Taylor’s lawyer doesn’t bite, leaving Russ and Milt without a case and with a whole lot of explaining to do.
Russ storms out of the station and proceeds to murder his reserved parking sign. Milt comes out and tells Russ that he’s fessed up to their scheme and that he’s taking the rap for it. Russ takes this as you might expect, that is, by insisting that Milt is trying to play him. In the middle of his rant…
…A black car rolls by behind them and opens fire, almost hitting the Pizza Boy and Milt. Russ is hit and goes down. The car gets away.
Russ is in the hospital and Holly, the office manager, comes in with news that the bullet passed through his shoulder and he’s going to be fine, and that Milt has taken the Pizza Boy to a safehouse. Oh, and Milt sent him flowers. Russ has a brief crisis of confidence because his cynical ways have been trumped at every turn by Milt’s naive, simplistic and well connected approach to police work.
Later, Russ drops by the safe house located in an old industrial building. Russ meets Funkhauser sitting in front of a brick wall. The detective pushes a button and the brick wall swings open to reveal a swank apartment. When questioned about the relative luxury of the safe house Milt admits he’s just crashing there until he finds a place.
Russ lays out a new theory to Milt that he no longer believes that Taylor is the killer, because, at the time of the drive-by, Taylor couldn’t have put a hit on a witness he never knew existed, and, by the time it all went down the whole ID situation was a known scam (or something like that). The Pizza Boy chimes in that Taylor could hate him for just trying to put him away, but Russ doesn’t buy it. The kid has a mild freak out imagining that the detectives are never going to solve the case and he’s be stuck in the safe house forever.
Milt assures the kid that there is evidence they just need to find it. Russ is more sanguine and admits they’re going to try, but they just might fail.
Out of the blue, Milt gets a call that the murder weapon has been found.
The gun was found in a dumpster by a homeless man. Milt is in said dumpster combing for evidence and securing the scene while Russ is hanging outside. Milt is examining the gun and spots what appears to be flesh on he hammer of the pistol, but Russ, via the well worn police method of tasting the evidence, makes the substance to be anchovy, It’s then that the detectives realize that the Pizza Boy had hidden the pistol in a pizza box, making him their prime suspect for the double homicide.
They try to get Funkhouse to secure the safe house, but the Pizza Boy has already fled.
Russ and Milt race to Travis Taylor’s realizing that they didn’t lead Travis to the kid, they led the kid to Travis! Russ gets a call from Font who also suggests that the murderer is the kid. Why? Font followed the lead about the girl who OD’d and discovered The Pizza Boy is the dead girl’s half brother.
Meanwhile, The Pizza Boy, Ricky, is at Taylor’s house with a gun pointed at the guys head. Ricky has the man on his knees with a gun at his head, and is explaining, to Taylor, that his half sister had just gotten out of rehab making Taylor responsible for her relapse and OD. Taylor admits he sold drugs to a guy, who sold drugs to a guy, who sold drugs to a guy, but at that point he’s not responsible. “we’re all bad guys kid,” Says Taylor, “we’re all good guys too.”
Milt and Russ kick down the door, guns out. To calm the situation, Milt puts his gun down to try and reason with the kid by appealing to his better nature and basic goodness. Russ takes the other tack by telling the kid if he kills Taylor then Russ is going to kill him. The kid takes a moment but ultimately surrenders his weapon to Milt.
Leaving the scene, Russ claims the kid gave up because of the threat while Milt claims it was the right thing to do. Milt accuses Russ of being a good person, and Russ replies that Agent Chamberlain is the Devil.
Later, at City Hall, Milt gives a press conference where he publicly shares credit for the bust with Russ, to much clapping and smiles and good feelings all around.
Next morning, Holly is looking at the front page of the paper and paper and sees that Russ, once again, has been cropped out of the photo from the press conference. She smiles, folds it up and throws it away.
By and large, this is a promising start to the series. If there is anything that hobbles the episode it’s that they try to cram too much into it. They do a good job of introducing the characters in fairly broad strokes, but there is more work to get done. The plot winds up fairly confused and has some major holes – most notably the random drive-by. It’s also a bit of a drag when a major clue turns up in a totally unearned way. The anchovy bit, while cute, felt like a gimmick.
There is definitely enough here to hope for and I expect a lot of this will be fixed as the show finds its feet. The acting is uniformly good, the characters have a ton of potential and the show is generally smart.
What were your thoughts on the premiere of Battle Creek? Do you sense trademark Vince Gilligan and David Shore sensibilities? Sound off in the comments section below!
New episodes of Battle Creek premiere Sunday nights at 10/9CT on CBS.
Photos: Robert Voets/CBS ©2015 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.