Finally, Battle Creek fans, we know the ghosts that haunt Milt Chamberlain.
We are presented with what seems like Milt’s regular routine: wake up, throw on a hoodie, chat in the elevator of his building and drive out to a park, where he chants his mantra — “forward, positive, embrace the day” — then screams his lungs out before going for a run. His run and workout are punishingly intense. You can almost sense his anger in the hard foot falls and the way he attacks the exercise equipment.
He returns to his car, sweaty and tired from the exertion, but when he turns the key, the ignition just makes odd little clicks. A flash of insight passes over his face before the car explodes.
The scene of the explosion is crawling with cops. A bomb was planted under the driver’s seat, but the car seems to be empty, and a search of the entire grounds produces nothing. A trace of the plate and the VIN yields nothing, too. Milt comes on the scene looking pretty un-exploded, but he’s agitated when he pulls Russ aside to drop a surprising truth bomb: The car that blew up was his. Russ doesn’t believe it at first (he never does) but he agrees to help Milt find the bomber without telling the others. Milt grabs a box of tagged evidence in order to take it to the FBI lab with Russ.
In the car, Milt confesses that he has no intention of taking the evidence to the FBI, so Russ immediately suspects that Milt is either going to kill the bomber or he’s trying to protect the bomber. Milt insists that he’s not out to kill the bomber, but he needs Russ’ help to find him because said bomber has no idea that Milt is alive, so they still have the element of surprise on their side.
Russ pulls up in a van in front of the gym that Meredith the ME is exiting. Russ tells her to get in the van, but she shoots that idea down until Milt asks her. They want to know what she knows about the car and who’s been asking about it, but she has nothing. Milt asks her not to release any info on the car and she agrees.
Meanwhile, Detective Font tells Commander Guziewicz that the exploded car was armored and that whomever was in the car could have survived the blast.
Milt and Russ are staking out Milt’s apartment from the van, but after three hours, they haven’t seen hide nor hair of their bomber. Russ suggests they stalk Milt’s stalker, so Milt finally owns up and gives Russ a description of the guy he thinks wants him dead. Milt asks Russ where he would go in Battle Creek if he wanted to lay low for a period of time while gathering reconnaissance on his target.
They drop by a seedy hotel in an out-of-the-way part of town. Russ flashes his badge and gets the room number of a guy who matches Milt’s description. He returns to the van to retrieve Milt who seems to be missing all of a sudden. Russ turns around and comes face-to-face with a guy in a ski mask who whacks Russ with a baseball bat.
When Russ comes to, he’s handcuffed in the trunk of a moving vehicle. Turns out, Milt is in the trunk as well — bruised, bloody and hog tied. Not a good day for either of them. Russ assumes that because he’s handcuffed their guy is a cop, but Milt says no. The real reason they’re tied up in a trunk going God knows where is because Milt killed the man’s son.
We kick into a flashback of Milt from a few years prior working a big sting out in Malibu, CA. He busted a kid for trying to buy pot, and Milt and his partner just need the kid, Casey, to hook them up with Roger Acevedo, a classmate whose dad is the biggest coke dealer on the West Coast. In exchange, he stays out of jail. Milt and his partner wire Casey, who manages to talk Roger into setting up a meeting with Rog’s dad to sell some ill-gotten cocaine.
Meanwhile, in the present, Font is having trouble getting any information about the armored car, until Holly suggests that since the armor is off the shelf, so maybe they can trace it to the guy who actually armored the car. Not only that but, they realize Milt’s evidence never made it to the FBI and nobody can get a hold of him or Russ. At the same time, Russ is trying to get Milt to tell him why he’s protecting the dude who just tried to kill him. Milt launches into the back story once again.
Milt and his partner wire their narc, Casey, for his meeting with Roger Acevedo’s old man, and watch the exchange from the surveillance van. Casey has a very tense Q&A with the dad, who is waving a gun around (at a sixteen year old kid whose parents have no idea what is happening!) trying to suss out that the kid was on the level and not an FBI informant. To everyone’s relief, the kid passed the test.
Back at the station, Font has come up with some intel on the armored car. The car was seized a drug bust of one Rodrigo Acevedo (he of the flashback), and the car was seized. The lead on that particular bust was one Milt Chamberlain — who is likely the owner of the car and the bomber’s target. Beyond that, the record is sealed because something seriously bad went down. It’s assumed that Acevedo is in jail, but the sealed file is suspicious, leading Font and Guziewicz to speculate that he may be in witness protection and therefore free to go after Milt. Guze heads to the FBI office in Detroit to have the file opened.
Turns out Acevedo Senior is still in prison, not in witness protection, but when Guze asks about Acevedo’s son Roger, Milt’s old boss — the one who hates him — tells her he can’t be the bomber.
Milt convinced Casey that he would do everything in his power to make sure he was safe. The kid met with Acevedo Senior and Junior at the beach to exchange bags. They are obviously under surveillance. As soon as the drop is made, Milt and the FBI swoop in. Roger grabbed Casey and held him at gunpoint, freaking out that his life and his dream of an Ivy league education were destroyed. Mr. Acevedo tried to calm the hysterical Roger, but Milt put Roger down with a bullet to the head before he killed their informant.
In the trunk, Russ is somehow unimpressed. Milt had done everything correctly and shouldn’t feel bad about shooting a kid who was brandishing a gun. Milt tells him that’s not the kid he’s talking about. When the whole thing was over, Milt and his partner had a chat with their informant while waiting for the kid’s dad to come pick him up. The dad arrived, and Casey went out to meet him as a black car rolled up out of nowhere, hitting Casey’s father. Then one of the goons in the car turned a shotgun on Casey, killing him right in front of his dad.
Russ thinks he gets it now: Milt was blackballed for the botched job and shipped off to Battle Creek. But the FBI didn’t care about the collateral damage and Milt and his partner received commendations and promotions. Wracked with guilt for using a good, innocent kid to further his career, Milt rededicated himself to going by the book and becoming a super cop. Milt got so good, in fact, that he was shipped out to Battle Creek because he made everyone look bad. In Battle Creek, there was nobody to make look bad.
The car finally comes to a stop. The trunk opens and we realize their stalker isn’t Acevedo or any of his gang. It’s Casey’s dad! He pulls Russ out of the car and tosses him to the ground in the middle of a corn field. Milt asks Casey’s dad to let Russ go, and the dad agrees, but Russ refuses to leave his partner. Casey’s dad tells his story about losing everything after his son’s murder, and how he spent the last few years under an assumed identity becoming a janitor at the FBI in order to eventually gain access to the file implicating Milt as the lead in the investigation. Russ makes a move and Casey’s dad kicks the crap out of him.
The dad turns his vengeance on Milt, and aims his pistol at his target, still stuck in the trunk. Just as he’s about to pull the trigger, a police SUV rolls up and Font and another cop step out with guns drawn, giving Milt the chance to kick the gun out of Dad’s hand.
Font gives them the rundown about how he found them, and just as things look wrapped up, Milt aims the pistol at Font, telling them to put down their weapons, which they eventually do. Milt removes the clip but returns a round to the chamber and hands the gun to Casey’s father.
Milt tells the man, Brock, that his son was a good kid and that he would trade his life to bring Casey back, but since he can’t, he’s been trying to atone by being the super cop that he is. But, says Milt, Casey’s dad has earned the right to stop Milt if he chooses. After a lengthy pause, Casey’s dad shoots Milt. Font and the other cop swoop in and arrest Dad, while Russ goes to comfort his partner. Russ tells Milt that he’s going to be okay and Milt says, “I know.” They both laugh as the camera cranes away to the sound of the Rolling Stones.
Closing thoughts: Battle Creek was definitely not the best show on TV, but it is solid, well-made and has a different take on the all too familiar cop drama formula – and it is a formula, believe me. I was surprised when CBS put it on at 9pm on Sunday, one of the most competitive nights for television there is (AMC didn’t even try with Better Call Saul), and left it there to die. There was no way a light drama stood a chance among the titans of the midway. The time slot was way too late (9pm Seriously?) and they really never promoted the show even though they had Vince Gilligan as a producer. Why order a full season of a show just to watch it die?
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