Tuesday, October 27, 2015

REVIEW: 'Chicago Fire' - Gaby Finds a New Suspect in Her Arson Investigation that Signals More Trouble in 'I Walk Away'

NBC's Chicago Fire - Episode 4.03 "I Walk Away"

When it appears that game-changing evidence comes to light that would bail out Chief Boden, new twists emerge that put his head right back on the chopping block. Brett and Chili respond to a routine call that quickly becomes a life and death situation. A stuck elevator tests everyone's mettle. Jimmy is conflicted when his older brother looks to get him transferred to a different house.

The accusation against Firehouse 51 that says they were slow responding to a call because the fire was in a poor neighborhood had no legitimacy. The characters were slow because the citizens were blocking the road with their cars in order to let the crack house burn to the ground. The audience knew that. But the truth doesn't always determine the outcome of these kinds of cases. A full blown investigation was opened to look into the actions everyone took in their response to that fire. The investigation carried major consequences for the house. Boden could be relieved of his command just because his boss is making a play for fire commissioner.

Because the audience knows the truth though, it wasn't a story that could be expanded beyond a couple of episodes. It was a complication that everyone had to deal with. But it wasn't that complicated. Someone from the neighborhood just had to come forward to share their side of the story about how the firefighters did nothing wrong. Fortunately, one appears in "I Walk Away." The trucks are called back to the street where a new accident has occurred. A moving unit has fallen on a man's leg. They do everything in their power to help both him and his wife through this trauma. He losses his leg but his wife is so grateful that he is still alive. He is because of the firefighters doing their job. She makes sure that none of them are punished for their actions on the previous fire. That's a satisfying moment that needed to happen right now and not be delayed into the future due to some contrivance.

Just because the official investigation into the trumped up charge is over doesn't mean the show is down with the crack house fire though. There is still the mystery of who started the fire in the first place. Gaby and her new co-worker discovered that a professional arsonist started the blaze. No one in the neighborhood believes one of them started the fire. They were just willing to let it burn and were scared of coming forward after a man died because of it. This mystery has much more of a sustainable arc to it. However, the show is also pushing a little too hard with it. Gaby collects a ton of evidence against a real estate developer who has recently been purchasing lots that had burned down buildings on them. She was tipped off about it by Severide's new girlfriend. And now, she believes she has enough of a case against this man even though it's extremely difficult to prove arson - which people are constantly mentioning. In this case, the unit is actually investigating the murder that came from the fire. That brings severity to the situation. But a couple twists happen in the end that feel like a way to prop up this story with some sensational twists.

Gaby's new boss doesn't believe she has enough evidence against this man yet. He wants her to continue collecting data. That surprises Gaby. She has been a part of these kinds of investigations before. She believes there already is enough evidence for this man to be brought in to give some answers for the questions they have. She takes those concerns to Boden who then promptly flings an accusation against this man through the newspaper. Boden should be informed about the state of the case. But he also crossed a line in making a statement to the press. That could make everyone's jobs more difficult. It puts his head back on the line a moment after he was cleared with the other investigation. It's a bit ridiculous. But not anymore ridiculous than Gaby and Boden going back to her desk to get the evidence and it's all missing. That twist means something is amiss here and her new co-workers may not be as nice and forthcoming as she's been led to believe.

As if that twist wasn't enough to close out the episode, that scene also features Gaby being doubled over in pain all of sudden. She notices that her files are gone and then starts feeling a sharp pain in her belly. That's enough to get everyone worried because she's pregnant. And yet, it's such a lame way to derive tension out of the story. It's a happy occasion where people aren't allowed to be happy for very long. She's already developing some kind of complications that force immediate attention. Her pregnancy was always going to be a big story this season. But there's more ways to make that dramatically interesting than putting her and the baby in distress like this. Plus, that moment happening right after the missing files reveal felt like a little much.

That could actually be the overall impression of this episode. A lot of great stuff is happening on the show. There is just a lot of it. Some stories are able to cut through the clutter. None of them are particularly bad. Some are just more bothersome than others. The Sylvie caring about the baby too much story ends in a weird way. So basically it was only about her not being able to move past this baby that she helped bring into the world. Her only concern was in making sure the baby had someone there for him. It's weird because it initially played like a story about her mental state or her wanting this baby herself. But that's not what it ultimately was. Similarly, the only reason the audience should care about Jimmy right now is because Casey briefly mentions that he may be the best candidate they've ever had. That doesn't make his storyline with his brother anymore interesting. It just makes it more tedious because it feels like it's going around in circles with no meaningful action.

And yet, all of these problems go away because of how well executed the various action set pieces continue to be. Sure, the call where Sylvie and Chili are held at gunpoint was a bit silly. It showed that Sylvie may not be in the best head space - even though that is later proven not to be the case. But the other two major calls were very compelling and tense. That was especially true in the call with the stuck elevator. Those calls are routine for these guys. It's serious but not usually the most tense or life-threatening situation they are called to deal with. And yet, the show finds a way to make it very tense and exciting. This family has to walk across a wooden beam for a few feet in order to get to safety. It's a precarious situation that could go wrong any number of ways. It doesn't though. It was such a relief too when nothing went wrong. This family escaped largely unharmed. But the show was able to create such a captivating and intense moment with such phenomenal precision. That's what makes this show so interesting to watch.

Some more thoughts:
  • "I Walk Away" was written by Sarah Kucserka & Veronica West and directed by Tom Dicillo.
  • There is absolutely no reason to care about Severide's new girlfriend betraying the firehouse in order to represent the real estate developer Gaby is investigating. This hour tries desperately to make her appear different and more important than his previous love interests. She gets to drive his car and wear his hockey jersey. But those don't build character. She is a bland love interest while this twist doesn't build any kind of real excitement.
  • Jimmy's brother is still a dick a whole lot of the time. He likes to speak for Jimmy even though he wants to be his own man. All of it is suppose to be okay because they had a mother who got sick and died a few years ago.
  • So the show forgot about Sylvie and Roman hooking up in last season's finale until this episode. It's played very awkwardly. Not quite sure how to read into that.
  • Dr. Charles helps Sylvie get closure with this baby by technically helping her break hospital procedure. If that's suppose to endear him to the audience for the upcoming spinoff, I'm not sure it worked so well - even with the knowledge that Boden told him to do so.
  • Patterson is still not winning over a ton of respect as the new commander of squad because he has a problem with Severide being at the informal breakfast amongst the leaders of 51.