Tuesday, January 5, 2016

REVIEW: 'Chicago Fire'/'Med' - Firehouse 51 Rallies Around an Injured Herrmann in 'The Beating Heart' & 'Malignant'

NBC's Chicago Fire - Episode 4.10 "The Beating Heart" & NBC's Chicago Med - Episode 1.05 "Malignant"

Firehouse 51 gathers at Chicago Med after one of their own is attacked. Cruz works to find Freddie. Choi and Will work on an attempted suicide victim. Mouch surprises Trudy. Brett and Jimmy worry about Chili. Herrmann takes a sudden turn for the worse as the doctors race to give treatment. Intelligence probe the case of a woman pulled from a fire.

The Chicago trilogy of shows kicks off its first ever three-tier crossover event. Fire and P.D. have already done successful crossovers - both between the two of them as well as with Law & Order: SVU. It's slightly precarious to already include Med into such an event considering "Three Families" is only its fifth episode ever. That does create a pretty major imbalance throughout these first two hours. The Fire part of the story is emotional and devastating. Herrmann is clinging to life and the entire house is rallying around him. They are counting on Connor to save his life. That's significant and meaningful drama because the audience has truly bonded with this ensemble of characters. That's something that can only come over time. The audience doesn't have that love and connection with the characters on Med yet. So that makes the second hour of this crossover feel especially plot driven and lackluster.

The crossover does keep Herrmann's fate precariously on the edge throughout the entire two hours. The episodes open with Gaby and Otis finding him bleeding out in the back room of Molly's. Even though they found him pretty early, there is still some pretty extensive damage. That mostly comes from the bleeding just refusing to stop. The transfusions create even more problems with his lungs which keeps these episodes tense throughout. This is Herrmann whose life is in danger. It's unlikely that the show would kill him off - especially since Boden refers to him as the heart of the firehouse. But it's still a possibility. However, the show better not just breeze past his recovery from these injuries either. His life is in danger throughout this crossover. He can't just be back to work in just a handful of episodes. That wouldn't feel genuine. These episodes are tense because of the precarious nature of his injuries. It's a quality that Fire has done plenty of times before. And yet, it's such an effective device for the show too. This is the best episode Fire has done since Gaby lost her baby. When the show goes for big emotions mixed in with life-and-death consequences, it does quite well.

It's also such a good thing for the firehouse to be united as a team and family again. So much of the fall run of episodes was dominated by tension within the firehouse that threatened to tear it apart. That wasn't an engaging storyline because the new characters thrown into the mix were so contrived and one note. They added nothing new to the story. It always felt like things would find a way to work out in the end. They did too. Boden is back as chief and Severide is captain of squad once more. Everything is back to the way it should be. Now, Herrmann just needs to get better. But the outpouring of love is so effective because the firehouse is able to come together as a family in this time of need. The show really didn't need some of the Med characters to take note of just how close they are. But it still shows just how personal this job really is and how much love they all have for Herrmann. They just want him to be okay - which then leads to Gaby and Severide questioning whether or not Connor is doing the best he can possible do with his job.

It also leads to Cruz blaming himself for what has happened to Herrmann. But he can't just mope around and linger in that headspace. He needs to do something in order to make all of this right. Freddie was a pretty horrendous character. Him stabbing Herrmann was a pretty laughable moment because it only happened to give the show a cliffhanger ending in that episode. But that doesn't take away from the severity of the situation or the power of the emotions. The search for Freddie isn't all that captivating. In fact, the show continues to portray gang life in an incredibly laughable way. However, it does lead to a pretty tense action set piece where Cruz has to rescue Freddie from a fire escape that's about to collapse. It shows the complexity of the situation in a way that's tense for a few minutes. Freddie believes that none of the firefighters will help him because of what he did to Herrmann. But the firehouse proves that they'll always put the job ahead of their personal feelings. So, Freddie is saved to face justice for his crime.

The search for Freddie is able to incorporate a number of characters from P.D. into this crossover. Ruzek and Burgess offer various updates. But the search for Herrmann's attacker really isn't the thing that is going to connect all of the three shows together. In fact, the Freddie stuff is primarily relegated to the Fire corner of the universe. That's good too because it really didn't have the weight to carry across three shows. So something else needed to be introduced in order to bring Med and P.D. together in a substantial way. The shows find that with the rescue of a mystery woman who attempted suicide. Fire saves her from a burning building. But then on Med, the doctors are stumped over the fact that she has fallen into a coma. She has mysteriously overdosed on chemo drugs even though she has never had cancer.

The Med part of this crossover largely plays with the introduction of this oncologist who has been harming several women - three of whom show up in the emergency room on the same day. It takes a while for the doctors to actually connect all of these pieces. As soon as all the stories started mentioning cancer with the patients, it seemed obvious that the show was building towards something. It saved this revelation for close to the end of the hour though as patients from Natalie, Choi, Will and Connor all have overdoses of chemo despite never having cancer. It's a reveal that leads to some horrendous dialogue like "so much for doing no harm." But that's mostly it. Sharon has called the police. So, Intelligence will carry this investigation for the third part of the crossover tomorrow night. But this case really doesn't do a whole lot to liven up a dull episode for Med.

Again, Med is still introducing stories and experimenting with its characters. When it's not busy with the crossover details, it's also setting up future story points for a number of other characters. Some of which are promising. However, the majority are just bland and continue to push certain dynamics to the forefront. It really isn't that great that the tension between Will and Connor persists. Connor is upset because something Will said about Herrmann's treatment got its way back to Severide. That was a mistake. But it still felt like the two doctors were reacting in some melodramatic and childish ways. And yet, that's the only way to keep things tense for this part of the crossover where the story largely just has to percolate. Herrmann's case is made more complicated by the decisions the doctors have made for his treatment. That's at least enough to bring a little heart and genuine emotion into the Med world. That's what makes "Three Families" a step in the right direction for the show - even though it's not quite there with the regular characters yet.

Chicago Fire - "The Beating Heart" B+
Chicago Med - "Three Families" C+

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Beating Heart" was written by Andrea Newman and directed by Reza Tabrizi.
  • "Malignant" was written by Jeff Drayer and directed by Nick Gomez.
  • Something is still clearly up with Chili but it's still being treated as some big mystery. It was really distracting and bad. There's simply no way any answer will justify all of this build up. It's simply something to give her, Brett and Jimmy something to do.
  • Mouch and Platt are a great couple. Both Fire and P.D. have teased their engagement. And yet, he only proposes because of Herrmann's critical condition. Platt had every right to react the way she did. She didn't need to apologize. So, it's annoying that she does - even though it's still happy that they are engaged.
  • It's awkward watching Jay talk to Natalie and try to get to know her a little bit since Will has apparently shared a lot about her. That's just needlessly complicating that relationship.
  • April's brother has joined the staff at Chicago Med as a new medical student. That gives Sarah some competition. That's made immediately apparent when they both become associated with the big crossover case.
  • Sarah also gets a love interest in a cute lab technician. It's awkward because it's never clear what he thinks about her. That seems to be the point but it has wonky execution. But also, how many of the Med characters are being defined by romantic relationships right now? Too many.
  • That moment where Natalie and Maggie went to some kind of birthing instruction class was very unnecessary. It simply felt like a way to pad the episode with story.
  • Severide is now officially a part of his second relationship with a character from another show in the Chicago universe. This time it's April - who he technically had a fling with last spring. It's weirdly reintroduced here. It's the first time that April has had a story on her own. And it's lackluster because it's dominated by a guy.