Tuesday, January 19, 2016

REVIEW: 'Chicago Med' - Natalie Goes Into Labor While Connor Treats Two Illegal Immigrants in 'Bound'

NBC's Chicago Med - Episode 1.06 "Bound"

Two airplane stowaways are brought in after suffering major injuries, prompting Sharon to receive a visit from the Department of Homeland Security. Connor's father is honored after making a big donation, forcing dark family secrets to the surface. Natalie's big day arrives and Will's good intentions are misconstrued by her mother-in-law. Sarah asks Dr. Charles for advice on how to deliver heartbreaking news.

The Chicago shows on NBC have embraced a surrogate family mentality with its three ensembles. It presents these professions as noble and the work that these doctors, firefighters and police officers do bonds them as a family unit. That has been a very enriching quality for Fire and P.D. It has allowed them to tell stories that are personally significant because of the close bonds. However, it's a quality that doesn't work as well for Med - largely because a hospital is a much bigger machine than the Intelligence unit and Firehouse 51. This show wants to be more than just the trauma room in this hospital. The inclusion of Sharon and Dr. Charles is enough evidence of that. Even though they spend a lot of time in the E.R., they are a part of other areas of the hospital. So, it makes it a little harder to buy in to the family bonding aspect that the show is going for at the end of "Bound." When everyone comes to celebrate the birth of Natalie's baby, Owen, it's a bit startling. Natalie just doesn't have relationships with all of the people in the room. Everyone who is a series regular (plus Annie Potts) is in the room. It's to establish that all of them are in this together. But it largely just rings false. It would have just been more rewarding if it was just Will, Maggie, April and Charles. Everyone else was extraneous.

In fact, Natalie's whole story this season has been a bit wonky. So much of her character has been defined by her pregnancy. It's the one thing that has made her unique. Otherwise, she's just another doctor in the E.R. who sees patients every week. It has been a way to make her a person. It was appealing at first. She was one of the few new characters to actually stand out. But that largely came from the amount of screen time the show was giving her. Plus, most of that screen time revolved around her baby. And now, she has given birth. It's a tad surprising to see it happen already in the season. The show is still just figuring itself and its characters out. So now, Natalie is already going through this arduous ordeal. The show is using the complicated birth as a way to define her character and create stakes for an episode. It opted out of spending the entire season letting the audience understand who Natalie is and then let her go through this whole experience. So it is a tad hard to connect with her as this trauma is happening. It always felt that no matter what happened things were going to be fine in the end. They always are in this franchise. It felt very unlikely that the show would kill off her baby. That's a dark avenue the show just isn't capable or comfortable going down. It's a show that lives in the romantic and everyday moments. Those kinds of tragedies do occur - just ask some of the patients in "Bound." But it was never going to be something the show would want to do with a character for the rest of the season. It's just too fascinated by the drama that comes from Will having a crush on Natalie and everyone knowing about it but Will and Natalie.

It has become increasingly clear that Will doesn't always understand what his actions actually mean. He's quick to act but unaware of what he is truly feeling. It is so obvious that he has a crush on Natalie. Everyone calls him out on it, but he denies it saying they are just good friends. It doesn't even lead to a dynamic scene for Annie Potts as Helen confronts him about it. It largely just amounts to there being more doubt on his mind. That kind of angst isn't a quality that the show dramatizes that well. It presents a conundrum for Will: whether or not to give Natalie the flowers he got for her. It's a nice simple gesture that could mean any number of things. But the show then just doesn't decide to give the audience an answer. Will does enter the room but he gets lost in the crowd of other people. The flowers could be there too but it's incredibly irrelevant. So it's increasingly pointless to watch these characters continue in this awkward dynamic. It also takes away from the soaring victory of Owen being fine after a tough delivery.

Will is also tough on Connor because he continues to believe that Connor has a pompous and elitist mentality to him. The show has continually shown that that is not the case. And yet, it is still using it in order to create conflict between the two doctors. That continues to be such a horrible way to define the dynamic between the two. It has become incredibly stagnant too. Will does learn the dark truth about Connor's mother's suicide. But him learning that doesn't change things. After that, they never interact again in the hour. So, it's completely unknown if that changes their relationship at all. Moreover, it just sets up a new mystery surrounding Connor. Apparently, there is more to the story than his mother battling depression and then killing herself when Connor was ten years old. Connor's father has been able to use the tragedy to his benefit over the years - including getting a new psych ward named after his late wife. But this story largely just sets up the tease of the darkness surrounding Connor's family slowly coming undone. Connor is here to stay and make amends for the consequences of his actions. It's just not all that engaging and treats this sensitive issue as a plot device.

Meanwhile, the two major cases at the heart of the episode are incredibly tragic. Connor treats a pair of stowaways who were injured when their plane landed. The brother was simply trying to help his sister escape a horrible situation in Mexico. It largely affords the show a chance to talk about medical repatriotization. But the show only puts in the minimum effort for a debate on the topic. It's something Connor takes personal for a few minutes and then the show cuts away to something else going on. And then, the doctors learning that a kid only has five years left to live (at best) was largely an opportunity to teach Sarah how to break horrible news to the family. It's the most difficult part of the job. But it has also been creatively mined to death by so many other medical procedurals. Oliver Platt brings the gravitas when he's telling Sarah what to do. His presence largely saves this story. But it is also a little interesting to see how all of this weighs on Sarah in a way that she wasn't expecting. That was a nice character building moment that wasn't too forced. The show should really be going for more complicated moments like that - which are personal to the doctors because of the choices they have to make on this job.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Bound" was written by Will Pascoe and directed by Michael Waxman.
  • Maggie also happens to be a midwife which creates tension when complications arise during Natalie's delivery. It largely just means the show gets to feature an intriguing shot of Maggie flipping the baby around while he's still inside Natalie.
  • This really doesn't feel like a good role for Annie Potts at all. She just lingers around to remind people that Natalie is a widow. But she doesn't actually have a strong or meaningful relationship with Natalie. It's all told in the abstract.
  • Also, when is the show going to give S. Epatha Merkerson something to do? Everything she does in this episode happens offscreen - her meeting with the Homeland Security agents and the board. Scenes that feature her are almost never told from her perspective. It's so frustrating because she's a great actress.
  • Choi's little subplot stitching the teenager up only for him to be brought back in following a drive-by shooting was very extraneous and unnecessary. It was mostly just something for him to do this week. But it also took away time from other stories that needed it more.
  • The scene where Dr. Charles tells the kid that he has a terminal illness was pretty great. Easily the best thing the show has done so far.