Tuesday, February 16, 2016

REVIEW: 'Chicago Fire' - Squad Responds to a Complicated Emergency at Another Firehouse in 'Bad For the Soul'

NBC's Chicago Fire - Episode 4.15 "Bad For the Soul"

Firehouse 51 responds to an odd call from a neighboring firehouse and the unusual circumstances prompt Severide and Cruz to take the investigation into their own hands. The truck welcomes new firefighter Stella Kidd, but her addition has repercussions inside the firehouse. Casey moves forward in his run for alderman, but begins to realize that some voters have their own personal agendas for wanting him elected.

Over the course of the series, it has become increasingly clear that Firehouse 51 is really the only good and functional firehouse in its universe. That is the perspective that the show always takes. This firehouse works because of the family aspect at the heart of it. It's a place that has quite the reputation but is also a great place because of the characters that work there. And yet, the show also introduces other firehouses and paramedics simply to create conflict for the main characters. But the regulars always have the moral high ground. That largely amounts to Firehouse 51 always being right and the other firehouse being too complicated to actually work all that well. That aspect has been seen many times on the show before - whether it's via higher ups wanting to change the way 51 does things or other firefighters in the city being seen as nothing more than one-note caricatures with closed-minded views of the world.

All of this is important because it drastically frames the main story of Squad responding to a call that brings them to another firehouse where a firefighter is in a critical condition. It's clear right away that something shifty is going on. These other firefighters are closely protecting their own. On one hand, that's understandable. One of their friends is in this perilous situation and they want to do whatever it takes to help him get out of this alive. But it's also weird because it feels like there's some big secret at play that could make this accident much more nefarious. That does turn out to be the case too. It was just way too pointed in that direction for it not to be revealed that the story doesn't track that well. Cruz points out just how impossible this accident would be according to the story the only witness is telling. First of all, it's surprising that only one person from this firehouse knows what has happened. And that then turns out to be the one person who has this personal beef with the injured man.

It's a very complicated story that ultimately just leads to a little tension between the firehouses before everything reaching a happy ending by the conclusion of the hour. The two chiefs have some words but Severide and Cruz are committed to filing this report in order to get to the truth of the situation. They have values and they are standing by them no matter what the consequences might be. And yet, it's presented as the two of them being the only ones who see this situation for what it is while the others are just upset by their actions. Of course, Severide is right to force the truth to come out. It's because he gets the full story from his friend that Dr. Rhodes is able to save this firefighter's life before a disastrous unknown condition kills him. It is the most compelling plot thread of this episode. But it's also deeply rooted in the belief that Firehouse 51 can never be wrong about anything. So that does take some of the enjoyment out of it.

Elsewhere, Casey has officially launched his campaign for alderman. And yet, this hour shows just how troubling this plot development can really be. The hour does what you would expect from the show as it tackles a story about politics. Casey is shocked to learn just how complicated this whole process really is. It's amusing to see the house rally around him as he embarks on this endeavor. That's largely reduced to Herrmann not fully understanding campaign laws. But it's still entertaining. However, when the story attempts to go for the bigger strokes, it suffers because it just wants to be a typical story about politics. That's not something that is done particularly well in this hour. Casey got into this race for idealistic reasons. He was approached to run by a citizen of the community hoping that he can provide meaningful change. But now, Casey gets a taste of how complicated this whole process can be. He is approached by several people who want to pledge support as long as he provides them with favors when he's in office. It's the exact type of storytelling beat one would expect from this type of story. It's so formulaic and just plain lazy. It's not doing anything to inform the audience of what this whole process means to Casey. It's just him being thrown and then angry by the ulterior motives these people have for wanting him to hold this office.

The campaign story showcases just how ill-prepared Casey is for this whole endeavor. A few episodes ago he said that he wasn't much for politics. There had to be a reason behind that. He couldn't have just said that to foreshadow that he would eventually run for a public office. And yet, that's exactly what happens. He should know how complicated and corrupt the system can be. Just because he's running for a local position doesn't mean people with special interests won't approach him looking for favors. In fact, it makes Casey look naive that he thought this whole campaign would be easy. It's not nor should it be. He's going up against a man who plays this game well and knows how to use the system to his advantage. Casey's message may connect with the citizens of this district. But that seems very irrelevant in this episode. But more troubling is the fact that the show is taking this story so seriously. Again, it's just an alderman position. It's an important job but it's not that big of a deal. The show would be wise to minimize this story as much as possible. Right now, I have no preference on whether or not he should win. But that could easily change the longer it's dragged out.

And lastly, the show is very manipulative with the latest personnel changes with truck. Jimmy is out in order to make room for new female firefighter, Stella Kidd. Her introduction is pretty smooth. The tease of tension between her and Gaby is pretty forced. But it's all good because they are actually close friends. That kind of misdirection is abundant in this story. None of it really has a ton of purpose either. Stella seems like a fine addition. However, it also seems as if she is just a replacement for Chili in the fabric of the show. Not literally of course. But the show needed another female character in the narrative and she checks that box. Her introduction also serves as a way to re-explore a possible romantic connection between Jimmy and Brett. When Jimmy first showed up, it seemed like either Brett or Chili could serve as a love interest. The show wasted time on Jimmy dating Chili only for that to amount to nothing. It completely forgot about Brett's interest in him until this episode. It's very startling to see her declare her interest in him. That hasn't been on display for awhile. So it feels completely forced. It's entirely to make things awkward between the two of them considering they will now be partners on the ambulance. That's just too complicated to work all that well.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Bad For the Soul" was written by Andrea Newman & Michael Gilvary and directed by Jann Turner.
  • Herrmann literally wants to offer incentives in order to get people to sign a petition to have Casey on the ballot. Mouch gets to point out just how illegal that is. It does make Herrmann a little dim though.
  • Boden is fine with Casey running for public office. He even jokes about him making a play for fire commissioner. He just doesn't want it to get in his way while on the job - which of course it later does.
  • The firehouse's big action sequence this week comes when they arrive at a burning house and do a daring rescue mission to save a cat. It's the perfect but cliche way to show just how heroic firefighters really can be. Though the photographer doesn't get the picture of Casey rescuing the feline. 
  • Brett is saddled with another, one-note paramedic character for the week. It's a type of story the show has done before. During transitional periods, the show just introduces new paramedic partners that are unbearable. This case was no exception.
  • However, it was amusing that Brett was the only one smart enough to figure out that the reckless driver in the ambulance's solo call wasn't blind at all. It was just an excuse to get out of this sticky situation.
  • You know Severide will sleep with a new female character if he just looks at her for two seconds. That's true yet again. He approaches Stella at Molly's and the two immediate start talking about a shared connection that not even Gaby knows about. That's a development that could be a tad unnecessary.