Wednesday, December 9, 2015

REVIEW: 'Code Black' - The Doctors Are Immediately Placed in Perilous Situations When They Go Out to the Field in 'Black Tag'

CBS' Code Black - Episode 1.11 "Black Tag"

The doctors find their own lives in danger when they arrive at the scene of a massive multi-vehicle accident on a highway covered in thick fog. Jesse's confidence is shaken following his heart attack. Carla's condition becomes critical.

"Black Tag" is a special stunt episode of Code Black meant to increase the tension further than it is on a normal basis. This is a show that often thrives on chaos and how that disrupts its characters lives. The show has gotten pretty good at that - though the characters themselves aren't as fully formed as the show would like them to be at this point. New emergencies pop up all the time that the characters have to quickly deal with or risk their patients dying. That has been the structure of the show from the very beginning. This episode takes the majority of the doctors out of the hospital for most of its running time. That makes this episode slightly more distinctive than the previous ones this season. This is the episode where many of the doctors go out into the field where a massive car accident has created a mass casualty incident where these doctors have to determine who lives and who dies.

The stakes are appropriately raised in this hour. The life and death tension is different because the doctors have to face practical challenges out of working in the field as opposed to a fully stocked hospital. That is an intriguing place to find drama. And yet, this episode suffers from the same kind of structural flaw that most of the episodes have this season. The hour has the stories it wants the audience to care about. However, it starts and stops those stories in odd ways that largely keep them from building meaningful momentum. Angus, Mario and Heather treat the patient trapped in his car with cooling concrete on him. And then, that story just abruptly ends. Getting him out of the vehicle is the only resolution it gets because they all need to move onto the next case. Mario and Heather black tag a woman. Then, her husband later claims she woke up only for no payoff to come until the very last moment of the hour. Lily and her family are away from the main crash site. That's a looming threat established early. But it takes some time before Christa finally finds them and treats their injuries. All of this chaos is good for the show because it knows how to execute it well. However, the chaos keeps the stories that are suppose to be meaningful for the hour and to the characters from feeling all that important.

It's also a tad weird that the hour cuts back-and-forth between the field and Angels Memorial Hospital as the patients start arriving. First of all, the only regular character who is still working as a doctor in the emergency room is Guthrie. The rest of those scenes are carried by somewhat familiar recurring faces such as new ER director Gina Perello and a handful of nurses. Plus, the hospital features two subplots that have nothing to do with the crisis of the hour. They simply are there to add even more chaos to the overall episode. It's understandable that Jesse would have doubts about his health following his heart attack. But all he reasonably needs is to feel in control of a situation again. He freaks out about his condition - to the point that it annoys everyone around him. But he actually gets to be the hero who saves a life for once. When his roommate flatlines, Jesse is the one who shocks his heart back into rhythm. And yet, this story ends on the rather silly note of the doctor coming into the room and apparently being the only person in this entire hospital not to know that Jesse is a nurse.

Similarly, the story with Carla feels like it should be important because Malaya cares about it and Shiri Appleby is giving a pretty good performance. But it's hard to connect with the emotional beats of it. Carla is defined as Malaya's ex-girlfriend who is pregnant and dying of cancer. That's about it. Malaya's relationship with her is the only thing that defines her character as well. And yet, the story hasn't had enough time to make it actually be a true definer of character. It's important for a few moments and then it just goes away as new patients need to be dealt with in the ER. It's one of the few ongoing stories this season. The show works when it's just a medical procedural. But in trying to flesh out its characters with personal storylines that play out over multiple episodes, it doesn't really do anything. Carla is admitted to the hospital and forced to consider delivering early because her cancer has spread to her brain. But it's hard to especially care seeing as its just a really formulaic twist in the story.

It should also be significant that Leanne is out in the field helping people in this crisis. It's personal to her because of the accident that killed her entire family. That accident has defined her so much as a character this season. The audience has grown accustomed to the show using that as an excuse to explain her somewhat reckless behavior. She has made mistakes because of her personal feelings before. She potentially makes one out in the field too. But it's not as significant because it's hard to understand why she does what she does. The audience knows how important this job is to her. But this episode really doesn't focus on her a lot. She is placed in the main surgery tent. She's upset about it but really isn't forced into conflict until much later when she makes a promise to a young boy to save his mother. And that conflict isn't that interesting to watch because she will continue to do whatever she wants. Her only opposition is the field leader who is an incredibly one note and annoying character. She may have utilized too many resources to save this woman's life at the expense of other patients. But that's a consequence that won't play out until the next episode.

This hour certainly wanted to tackle a lot of plot. It has a scope unlike anything else the show has done. That's admirable. Plus, it created some memorable situations that were entertaining and tense to watch. And yet, it's not all that surprising that the hour ends on a major cliffhanger with the lives of several characters at risk. Christa found a way to treat Lily and her family when she too fell to the ditch where they were. She was resourceful because she was clinging to life as well. She had great assistance from Lily. But it's still a tense situation because everyone down there is just hanging on by a thread. That's a cliffhanger that really works because it had time in this hour to actually develop. The twist ending with Mario and Heather felt like it was just tagged on in the end. The show needed to place more characters in peril. The easiest way to do that is by adding a gun. It really wasn't that thrilling or earned. That patient was important for a moment and then disappeared. Plus, neither Heather or Mario are important enough characters that the audience should actually be worried about in the future.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Black Tag" was written by Molly Newman and directed by Omar Madha.
  • It's only okay for Jesse to be returning to work already because of how slammed with trauma the emergency room is at hour's end. Plus, it gives Gina her first genuinely funny moment when she sees him willing to work.
  • Neal is the only person aware that Christa, Mario and Heather are missing. Gina telling him to return to the hospital is a bit unnecessary in order to derive tension. But it still provides the show a way to get all of these characters out of this mess in the next episode.
  • The only way that things can get worse for Christa is if Lily suddenly falls unconscious due to some injury that no one was aware of. That didn't happen but it still might.
  • Mario had a genuinely heroic moment when he saved that woman with a broken leg as her car was about to explode from a fire.
  • The fog wasn't as eerie of an effect as it could have been. It still had its moments though.