Tuesday, February 2, 2016

REVIEW: 'Chicago Fire' - The Firehouse Works Together to Save Lives from Crazed Gunmen in 'The Sky is Falling'

NBC's Chicago Fire - Episode 4.13 "The Sky is Falling"

The firehouse is on high alert when mysterious threats begin to emerge throughout Chicago. The situation turns dire when news of a mass shooting brings them into the middle of a dangerous and harrowing scene. Casey investigates the missing money from the recent fundraiser. Jimmy agrees to represent the firehouse in a boxing match against the 21st district police department. Chili's erratic behavior continues to be a major issue for Brett.

The Chicago franchise has spent time focusing on horrible displays of gun violence before. Both Med and P.D. have dedicated episodes to it this season. And yet, Fire has the most confidence to actually spend an entire episode dealing with a rampaging threat against the city. This hour shows just how skilled and wonderful this show is in comparison. That's not really a ding against the other two shows. This is just an area of expertise where Fire typically shines the most. These firefighters and paramedics are out there in the field putting their lives on the line in order to save people from the worst acts imaginable. That's true of the other two professions as well. But there is just something so gripping in actually spending time with these characters in the field. This hour never really rushes to hit the plot points. When the firehouse is called to the scene of this crime only for it to be a trap, it creates a thrilling and tense sequence that's easily one of the best things the show has done this season.

Getting to that point is a little awkward though. The crew heads into this shift knowing that the terror threat to the city is high right now. In the wake of the recent tornado, something shifty has been going on. Severide has been assisting Agent Ward from the Department of Homeland Security. But that subplot has largely been dominated by the fact that they are sleeping together and how that's creating tension with their professional relationship. That's still a defining factor of their relationship - even when they are out in the field together. It's also a story that was setting up a twist that never really came. Ward was just paranoid because she didn't want her superiors finding out about this fling. It had no importance to the actual investigation. Plus, when they say goodbye later on, it's not as if there was a lot of time to actually be invested in them as a couple. She was just the latest sexual conquest for Severide - who just continues to impossibly struggle in the love department for some reason.

Moreover, the firehouse is also preparing for a big boxing match with the police officers from the 21st district. That sounds like a fun opportunity to integrate the casts of those two shows in the future. But it's also a very introductory plot beat in an episode that really shouldn't have one in order to keep itself as tense as possible. It is significant in showing that Gaby is the most skilled boxing at the firehouse. She proves it by knocking Herrmann to the ground within a few seconds in the ring. But it's also a story that's kinda pointlessly about financing Mouch and Platt's wedding. A development that doesn't linger for too long as the public servants find a much better cause to promote later on with this tragedy.

And even with the high alert, Casey still finds the time to have multiple visits with the corrupt alderman who might have taken the money raised at the recent fundraiser for the tornado victims. Casey is personally motivated to fight for these victims. He formed a connection with one of the families who lost their father during the disaster. But that's not the only reason why he is pursuing this matter. He spoke at the fundraiser hoping to make a difference for everyone injured by this natural disaster. He wants the money to go to good use. Now, he doesn't know what happened to it. The alderman continues to just be a very shady, one-note character who tries to buy Casey's happiness in the hopes of dropping these accusations. It's a fight that's only going to get more personal. But it's still just a ton of rising action that doesn't have a whole lot of meaning or purpose yet.

Additionally, the hour has to show the tension between Brett and Chili at its absolute worst before they are bonded over facing death together once they are trapped and facing a crazed gunman. They had a moment of genuine connection last week. But that didn't stop Chili's destructive behavior. Brett is doing all she can to look out for her partner. She doesn't want her to get fired because of her poor decision making. But Brett also learns some surprising information about Chili's last assignment in the city. Apparently, she was forced to transform to 51 because her behavior got her kicked out of her last firehouse. She was horrible to work with. And yet, no one thought to mention this to either Brett or Boden. The people in charge expected 51 to have a good influence on Chili because of its tight-knit family dynamic. It's weird how this chief mentions that as a good thing when the first part of the season was creating tension out of it being seen as a bad thing. That just further proves how bad that whole story arc was. But here, it largely just serves to prop up the tension between Chili and everyone else. And yet, how is she the paramedic in charge when she has all of these noted problems? Nevertheless, it creates tension on the job which fuels her horrible behavior. Something that can only be fixed by one very devastating call.

Homeland Security was expecting some kind of attack somewhere in the city during the day. They were overwhelmed with false threats. The attack could have come from anywhere at anytime. The news looks at the big target areas of the city - the sports stadiums and the Willis tower. Those locations are mentioned in this hour and used as distractions. But the actual target turns out to be rather small and low key. This group of shooters just target this building with a couple dozen people in it. It's not a grand display of violence but it's still meaningful. They lure the firefighters and paramedics into the building as a way to entrap them too. It's still a tad awkward though. But the reasoning and explanation for this whole set piece really isn't the point either. The crew is trapped inside this building with a couple shooters with no way of getting out - and no way of the squad getting in due to the shooter on the roof.

It's in a crisis like this that bonds the crew together. They are facing this harrowing display of violence by some truly despicable human beings. The shooters just casually walk around this building listening to music and buying food from the vending machine while also calming walking into rooms and firing at the innocent people. It's horrifying. The crew is able to hold up for awhile in a secure room. But a fire breaks out and forces them to exit. It's a tense piece of production design. Smoke fills this portion of the building. They come into contact with one of the shooters. That's a chilling image. They can see him but he can't see this group through the smoke. The team is able to rescue all of these civilians. And yet, Brett and Chili are still inside. They aren't secure. They try to help one woman and immediately are faced with a gun in their faces. It does seem like the shooter spends too much time not pulling the trigger. The hour showcases just how quickly he does that with the rest of the people in the building. But that happens solely to keep the tension high while also leaving a way out with the SWAT team entering the building and killing him just in time. It's an experience that forces the firehouse to come together in support of not only themselves but the people who were harmed by these events. Even though this was a brutal shift, they all still believe that hope will win out in the end. That's on proud display at Molly's afterwards. Hope is what will get the citizens of Chicago through this horrible experience.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Sky is Falling" was written by Michael Brandt & Michael A. O'Shea and directed by Joe Chappelle.
  • Agent Ward is injured during this confrontation with the shooter. Severide shows up in the hospital but it's still awkward because her superiors are there and talking about her relocation plan. It's not surprising that she's leaving. But it's still pretty meaningless when she runs after Severide. The sex must be really good.
  • Also, Ward must really be a good shot to have killed the shooter on the roof before his bullet hit her in the shoulder. 
  • Gaby loves Herrmann but it's great that she speaks in Spanish just to exclude him in her big conversation about being much better at boxing than anyone else at the house. He foolishly has the belief that girls can't be good which she immediately proves him wrong.
  • Jimmy is starting to feel like just a bland character who pops up to naively say something so that another character can say something profound and meaningful - like when Casey declares that the "whole city needs their protection."
  • What kind of steps will Chili take next to actually address her crazy actions? She knows that they are there. She can't keep blaming the people around her. But what's the next step for her? How does she come back from this?
  • It's kinda a dick move on Mouch's part to expect his friends to help pay for his wedding unknowingly. It's a good thing Cruz called Burgess and she told them the whole story.