Boss Season 2, Episode 6: “Backflash”
Written by Bradford Winters
Directed by Mario Van Peebles
Airs Fridays at 9pm (ET) on Starz
“Backflash” – an uncharacteristically tricksy title for Boss – answers almost every question one might have about Kane’s past: his involvement with Mayor Rutledge at the beginning of his career as Mayor, the occurrences at Lennox Gardens two decades ago that still haunt him, the true identity of Ian Todd, and – more a surprise than an answer to any implied question – that Kane and/or Meredith have been keeping Rutledge in a drug-induced subdued state for years.
In laying out those cards, the air of mystery surrounding many of the plotlines and characters during the first half of this season is cleared – good timing, as it was beginning to seem as if implication and mystery were Boss’s main currency in the absence of substance. We now get to speculate on how the rest of the season might play out (and, indeed, whether this season will be wrapped up at all, or will bleed into the next).
Kane has escaped to Toronto to receive alternative treatment for his disease. During this treatment, which involves many opportunities for hallucinations and, crucially, flashbacks, Kane relives a few significant moments involving the overbearing presence of ex-Mayor Rutledge at the start of Kane’s mayoral career, his egoistic decision to let Lenox Gardens burn during an uprising, and one or two interactions with Ian Todd’s mother in which Kane threatens to burn her “to a fucking crisp” should she approach him again about his alleged paternity.
Meanwhile, Stoney is mostly reduced (or expanded?) to a berating inner-voice, which Kane’s unconscious deploys to remind him that he is bad to the core, that he is simply incapable of positive change.
In Kane’s absence, the Lennox Gardens eviction is underway, but the genuine protest comes from the middle-class ex-home-owners who have lost their homes in the financial crisis and who must now watch as the Lennox evacuees move into those homes. (And Zajac, recently disgraced, abandoned by Maggie, and his campaign apparently dead, is now able to assert his independence; he chooses to side with those disenfranchised by the banks and Kane). Protest from the poorer, blacker side of the story has to be manufactured by Ross, who uses Trey’s criminal connections to spark a “theatrical” uprising at the Gardens.
There is a strong tragic note to Kane’s absence, as the renewal of Lennox Gardens offered an opportunity for his redemption. The riots at Lennox Gardens are a repeat of tragic events of almost two decades ago, to which Kane was instrumental. If things go awry this time, how could Kane possibly recover, politically and personally? In short, we’re watching to see if Kane’s treatment works, so he can return to Chicago and fix the situation – or at least spin it in his favour (“to provide context” for the events). Some of us are going to be rooting for him, some not, but both sides are compelled to continue watching by the same set of events.
Kane’s absence, furthermore, opens the floor to Meredith, who springs into action, having been lying dormant for the season’s first half. She assumes the role of leader – with a familiarity that suggests the behind-the-scenes power she has always held during Kane’s mayoral career – and calls in the National Guard to quell the unrest at Lennox Gardens (a move Kane didn’t make during the first uprising, to his detriment).
The execution of Kane’s hallucinatory state under treatment at ‘Alternalive’ is competent, weaving Stoney’s voice of conscience into the backstory exposition. It does the job, but little more than that. However, the treatment’s resolution, following ECT therapy, in which Stoney is ‘exorcised’ successfully and Kane is once again lucid, offers a welcome and effective relief from the dark and hostile inner workings of Kane’s mind. What’s more, he has again ‘won’ – we can assume that in this vastly improved condition he will return to Chicago able to take the reigns and continue his plight towards redemption.
Again, it’s a hard story to predict – a very odd thing for what is otherwise (stylistically, in particular) such a conventional show. It’s easy to speculate about what may happen, based on the information revealed in “Backflash”, but there are, fortunately, so many possible connections between characters and plotlines that we really are left guessing (and hoping).
Finally, the morality of Boss continues to be fuzzy, resisting the reduction of events to a black and white situation. The Lennox Gardens migration presents two sides to the story of disenfranchisement: the ‘white’ side, middle-class families who have had their homes taken away because of the economic crisis; and the black side, those evicted from the Gardens and relocated to those middle-class homes. This doesn’t conflate the two stories of disenfranchisement, but it does draw parallels, and represents the commonality between citizens – rich and poor – under the rule of the King.