Wednesday, December 9, 2015

REVIEW: 'Chicago Fire' - Boden's Legal Troubles Come to a Close While Patterson Makes a Major Decision in 'Short and Fat'

NBC's Chicago Fire - Episode 4.09 "Short and Fat"

Firehouse 51 is less than thrilled when Patterson steps in as replacement for Boden while he deals with clearing his good name. When Severide learns of the potential whereabouts of Serena, P.D.'s Atwater and Ruzek try and uncover additional clues. Herrmann and Otis give Freddie a job that keeps him close by. Jimmy and Chili elicit more attention than either bargained for, causing some friction between them.

Chicago Fire has had a number of problems this season that all stem out of stories that just weren't working and weren't engaging to watch. It's such a relief for so many of them to be over with by the end of "Short and Fat." This is the final episode of the year. It brings to a close so many of the things that weren't working. And yet, it still spends the entire hour getting to that point. It put in all the work building up to this moment. But the resolution is just so damn predictable. It further showcases just how formulaic the majority of these storytelling decisions were this season. They didn't add a whole ton of value to the show either. But it's a very good thing that most of them are over with so that the show can find new and potentially more interesting narrative drive in the new year.

Last week's episode ended on the very tense moment of Boden being arrested for the crimes being thrown at him. That moment was truly devastating and disruptive of his life and his management of the firehouse. And yet, this week treats that moment as barely important. It's enough to get Riddle to replace him with Patterson as the chief of 51. And yet, it's not enough to actually keep him locked up. In fact, the lead detective on this case doesn't even appear at all in this episode. He isn't given a moment where he apologizes to Boden for just how much damage this case and investigation has done to his life as of late. Instead, the show goes the very predictable route of Intelligence coming in to solve everything and clear Boden's name. Boden literally doesn't do anything except talk about all the pressure that is dangling over him right now. This is a new low point for him as a character. And yet, that's completely irrelevant. It's because of other people that he emerges from this hour as a free man. That shows just how much support he has. But the show goes about that in the most unimaginative way possible.

The show does have some fun in allowing Patterson to be the man in charge for the week. But he's basically a stern authority figure and nothing more. He has been that way ever since he was first introduced back in the season premiere. He came in as a replacement for Severide and slowly grew in prominence as a leader who stands opposed to the way that 51 has been running things for years now. He comes across horribly in this episode because he's against fun. He wants people to be professional in the workplace. He wants these firefighters and paramedics to have more respect for the job. Yes, he is right to scold Jimmy and Chili after he catches them having sex in the shower while on shift. And yet, he's completely in the wrong when it comes to telling Connie she can't use this space for her ornament decorating business and telling Cruz that Freddie is no longer welcome at the firehouse. Those actions have consequences that are both amusing and tragic. But it never leads up to something meaningful. It just leads to more nasty fighting amongst the leaders of the firehouse.

It is thrilling to watch as the team comes together when a gas tanker is about to explode. It's in that moment where the show truly finds itself again. The show has always been able to do these tense action set pieces well. This is the most thrilling and exciting thing to happen on the show in a while. It's something that reminds everyone at the house just how important the work is that they do. They saved a neighborhood from going up in an explosion. It's gripping to watch that happen. It comes on the heels of Patterson and Casey having words with each other regarding just how disrespectful the house is to Patterson's leadership. But in this moment in the field, the two are able to work together. It's exciting and quite a rush for them afterwards. It's in that moment that brings unity to the house. That is an earned moment on the show's part. It's understandable how that experience gets Patterson to change his views and actually stand up for the brave people he serves alongside.

Of course, the show then massively fumbles with the resolution that will actually take Patterson and Riddle off of the show. Patterson stands up for Boden and his style of leadership. Not because of anything Boden does but by the kind of respect it gives him amongst the house when he does so. It's not really important that Patterson finally stands against Riddle and his cartoonish and evil ways. It's simply an explanation for how Boden, Severide and Casey can go back to doing the jobs they are really good at. Patterson will take over command at a different firehouse while Riddle is being reassigned to a district that's laughable to all the firefighters. It's a lame resolution because the show just needs to end things with these characters. Riddle especially goes out twirling his mustache with very empty threats. This better be the last the audience ever sees of those characters because they really didn't challenge the ways of the firehouse in any meaningful ways.

And lastly, there's a cliffhanger ending in this episode that literally comes out of nowhere. Freddie is a character who was distractingly awful from the first moment he appeared onscreen. It's been hopeless trying to figure out what the show has been wanting to do with that character. He's twitchy and nervous. That's about it. After Patterson kicks him out of the firehouse, Herrmann and Otis give him a job at Molly's. That really could have gone wrong any number of ways. And unsurprisingly, it did simply because Freddie doesn't have a sense of humor. He stabs Herrmann in the gut because Herrmann called him short and fat. That's a horrible ending because it just doesn't make any sense. Freddie isn't a character anyone really cares about. The show can't even produce a rational explanation for why he does anything. Placing Herrmann in a life or death situation is a new twist for the show - after it's done so for a number of other characters. How this affects him on the job should be interesting. But it also seems predictable that he'll be back to work in no time. So it's not really that great of a cliffhanger.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Short and Fat" was written by Michael Brandt & Derek Haas and directed by Joe Chappelle.
  • Casey trying to sympathize with Gaby about being harassed on the job was an excruciatingly painful moment. This show really doesn't have a solid understanding of gender politics and the types of things women have to put up with on a daily basis without losing their cool.
  • Also, who the heck knows what the show is trying to do with Otis right now with his flirtation with Brett? It's another instance of a guy trying to do a good thing for a woman but it coming across as nothing more than desperate, manipulative and trying too hard.
  • Something is clearly up with Chili due to her willingness to be overly happy and sexually active. And yet, it's not a mystery that is overly engaging because she's not much of a character besides this romance at the moment.
  • Boden is fine having Intelligence take on his case now because he's so defeated. And yet, that doesn't payoff the moment earlier this season when Voight actually reached out to help him. In this episode, it's just Antonio, Ruzek and Atwater who do all the work - and that's only because Gaby asked them to.
  • I'm also guessing this will be the end of Severide's dynamic with Jamie as she points the investigation in the right direction to find Serena. That really wasn't as difficult as she always maintained it would be.
  • The shot of Herrmann bleeding out while the bar was active with people just on the other side of the door was a moving final image. And yet, it didn't need to be repeated.