Wednesday, April 29, 2015

REVIEW: 'Chicago P.D.'/'Law & Order: SVU' - Two Units Race to Stop a Criminal in 'The Numbers of Rats' & 'Daydream Believer'

NBC's Chicago P.D. - Episode 2.20 "The Number of Rats" & NBC's Law & Order: SVU - Episode 16.20 "Daydream Believer"

Benson and Voight lead their teams in the investigation of a rape/murder that is frighteningly similar to a case from New York a decade ago. When they are forced to release their main suspect, Yates (Dallas Roberts), he warns of unintended consequences from what the units are doing.

"The Number of Rats" and "Daydream Believer" serve as the continuation and conclusion of the big May sweeps crossover event between Chicago Fire, Chicago P.D. and Law & Order: SVU. Like I stated in yesterday's review of Chicago Fire's "We Called Her Jellybean," the plot of these three shows truly kicks off in these two episodes. Honestly there's only so much the people of Firehouse 51 can do to offer professional assistance. Intelligence and SVU are police units that investigate crimes while 51 springs into action in moments of dangerous emergencies. Fire characters still appear in these episodes. Casey walks around the site of the first fire to re-explain how they figured out it was arson in the first place. That was the totality of the crossover plot in Fire's episode so it's a little weird that the information has to be restated here for the sole purpose of appealing to the viewers who didn't watch the Fire episode. Additionally, Boden pops up again to inform the units that the killer has struck again - but that is essentially meaningless in the long run. So again, the inclusion of the Fire characters wasn't completely necessary as they didn't serve a plot function. But that didn't distract too much from what these episodes were actually about. This was a story about the investigation into a crime with a killer who forced the detectives to spend two whole hours chasing him and making sure he faces justice.

These two episodes serve Chicago P.D. much more than SVU though. The story structure and subject matter is completely in tone with what SVU typically does. A horrific sexual crime where the unit tracks down some depraved individual so that he can stand trial. But all of the emotional beats come from the P.D. characters - which makes this event more about them while the SVU characters are just along for the ride. That's an interesting strategy to go with in this big crossover. Personally, it was more accessible because I'm caught up to date with P.D. while I stopped watching SVU regularly about three years ago. And yet, the emotional concerns of the SVU characters have no weight at all during this event. They simply popped up to force a change in Voight and Lindsay without having some big emotional moment themselves.

It takes a truly special person to convince Voight to do things differently than he and his unit typically handle their investigations. Even though they exist in the same universe, Intelligence and SVU operate very differently. Intelligence isn't afraid of torturing suspects and criminals in order to get the information that they need. Meanwhile, SVU is much more psychological and by-the-books because they are always thinking about locking the criminals up for good. The two units are different. And yet, their styles don't clash too much. This isn't the first time they've teamed up. So, all the awkwardness of having to experience things from each other's point-of-view is gone. Voight respects what Benson does in New York and vice versa. It's a friendship of respect that gives Benson the ability to tell Voight to do things according to the rules - and in a way that makes him listen. This entire event is about the P.D. characters doing things differently in the name of catching this horrific and disturbed criminal.

The investigation gets incredibly personal for the characters on P.D. At one point, Jay's doctor brother, Will, is seen as a suspect because he knew both the current victim and one from the case in New York over a decade ago. That's too big to be a coincidence. And yet, that's all it is. It upsets Jay for a little bit and gives her something pertaining to this case to be angry about. It connects him to the case in an emotional way that validates him being present for it through to the very end. More importantly though, the killer - Greg Yates (a perfectly charming/creepy Dallas Roberts) - finds an attraction immediately with Lindsay. She gets pulled into his orbit because she is exactly his type of victim. She is capable of going head-to-head with him. And yet, Yates isn't a criminal who will be caught easily. Once he has been isolated by the detectives, he enjoys playing games with them - starting with staging a meeting to give him an alibi during the second attack in Chicago and ending with the kidnapping and murder of Nadia.

Chicago P.D. has spent a lot of time giving Nadia attention and story despite her just being a recurring character. Her past was traumatic and crippling but she was able to turn her life around thanks to Lindsay. She truly become a part of the family at the precinct and formed friendships that were natural and genuine. It's horrible that she is made just another victim in Yates path to give stakes to this story that takes the unit from Chicago to New York again. However, her death is a little anticlimactic. Her story has certainly had more screen time than several of the regular characters. And yet, she is so easily killed off because she is just on the show on a recurring basis. This is an abrupt end to her story that wasn't building in this kind of trajectory at all. It's sudden and violent. She left the precinct and got taken because she was retrieving Lindsay's 30th birthday cake. It's those kinds of simple and nice acts that made her a good character in a universe where most of the detectives do bad things in order to get results. Her voice was important in the narrative. And now, that voice is silenced just to give an emotional urgency to this "biggest" plot of the season.

Nadia's death gives Voight, Lindsay and Jay something to rally around while Yates is standing trial in New York. Her death is the only case that Barba is willing to take to trial. That's surprising considering how important it was in bringing these two units together that Yates had been committing these crimes for over a decade. The fact that they couldn't try him for any of those murders is a fact the event looks over too easily. It makes it so Nadia's death hangs over the final part of the episode. The courtroom drama is what this whole case has been building towards. Voight and his unit played by the rules for the sake of Yates being tried in a courtroom. As is typical of SVU, Yates is actually positioned with some hope that he'll be able to wiggle his way out of these legal problems. By representing himself, he is able to craft a narrative that skirts the facts while appealing to the jury. It's that charm that has allowed him to get so close to so many women over the years. That places doubt. And yet, it is still a tactic that has been used a ton on the various Law & Order shows.

Yates seals his fate when he can't help but over share and torment the detectives with the amount of detail and pain Nadia must have gone through during her last moments of life. Barba wonderfully pulls him into that corner where his true identity is able to pop through for all to see. The entire courtroom saw Yates for who he was - and thusly the jury found him guilty. It's a side of the story that typically isn't seen in Chicago. Intelligence is largely focused on stopping criminals from further destroying their city - but aren't so focused on making sure that they face the criminal justice system. That's how the various Law & Order shows have been operating for decades now. So this story inevitably gets into those details in the end. Even though it is two episodes paired together from two different shows, it is still the Law & Order way of telling this story. Everyone was focused on tracking and stopping this madmen despite the personal cost.

However, the event ended with Voight once again pulling out his own version of justice by threatening Yates in the prison bathroom. It's a bit incredulous that he has that kind of pull in New York to get back there in the first place. And yet, it also insists that even though Voight is capable of playing by the rules, he'll never fully do so because that's simply not who he is. That's part of the appeal of the character. That he is able to get some personal justification and vengeance that is more than what the justice system can deliver. Sometimes it leads to torture and that's simply more meaningless and unnecessary violence on these shows. Here, he does have that personal motivation with Nadia's death - and yet, onscreen they hadn't been all that close in recent weeks. That makes his final act more about Lindsay and the pain she is in than anything he is going through.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Number of Rats" was directed by Nick Gomez with teleplay by Cole Maliska & Matt Olmstead and story by Matt Olmstead & Warren Leight.
  • "Daydream Believer" was directed by Martha Mitchell with teleplay by Julie Martin & Ed Zuckerman and story by Matt Olmstead & Warren Leight
  • "In the criminal justice system, some killers are so depraved that it takes multiple police agencies to bring them to justice. This is one of those investigations." That was a great opening narration to describe the events of these episodes.
  • So, Olivia needs to come to Chicago because of the severity of this killer. It's a personal case to her. She needs Voight to handle the investigation the legal way. And then, she has to head back to New York a few minutes later? That felt weird and abrupt.
  • Voight turned to Fin and Amaro and told them they would have to be comfortable doing things the Chicago way following the second fire. And yet, that didn't bring about any kind of personal conflict in them. They were okay with that and got to break into a building guns blazing like it was nothing.
  • The investigation and Yates' movements became so spastic and too elaborate once he returned to New York. Apparently he had enough time to kill Nadia, find and rape another woman and then return to his fiancé. That was just too much plot that made it clear the shows were struggling with how many more twists the story could sustain.
  • Also, the fiancé twist was so unnecessary and the shows didn't do a good enough job explaining why she is different than all the other girls he has attacked over the years. She appeared solely to point the detectives in the direction of where Nadia's body would be.
  • Platt and Nadia formed a very strong connection this season. More than anyone else, she was helping her prepare for her future as a cop. That was a meaningful bond. And yet, Platt isn't allowed a reaction. She appears briefly in the episodes but that's it. That's a disservice to the bond the two of them had.
  • So, Nadia got killed off because Stella Maeve has a role on a Syfy drama pilot that may go to series, right?