Wednesday, May 18, 2016

REVIEW: 'Chicago Fire' - Gaby Fights to Foster Louie While Casey Goes Out of Town in 'Superhero'

NBC's Chicago Fire - Episode 4.23 "Superhero"

Boden and Jimmy are at odds in dealing with the aftermath of recent events. Kidd deals with her unstable and volatile ex. Dawson puts her best foot forward in her pursuit of fostering Louie. Casey embraces his new role as Alderman while his political consultant urges him to consider grander aspirations. The house responds to a dangerous structure fire that puts one of their own in a desperate situation.

This has been another complicated and weird season of Chicago Fire. The first half of the year was very problematic. The second was able to pull itself together a bit more but it still had its fair number of issues. And yet, the last few episodes of the season have been really engaging as the series has focused on Gaby wanting to foster a young boy, Otis having health problems, Casey adjusting to life as an alderman, etc. This finale is able to deliver in so many wonderful ways while still providing a number of thrills both in the moment and for the future. It still has a number of very problematic beats. The sparks of this finale aren't as meaningful or surprising or earned as previous ones have been. But that doesn't take away from the moments that truly work either.

Jimmy has spent the majority of this season as a sexual object. Yes, he has had difficulties on the job and with his family. He was pushed off of truck and onto the ambulance in order to make way for Stella. But so much of his character arc this season revolved around him being in a relationship with other characters. When that came to Chili, it was a relationship that had no purpose whatsoever because the show was actively writing her character out. And then, Brett just randomly blurted out that she had feelings for him as well. But that story thread never went anywhere. However, Jimmy has had a pretty significant story over the past two episodes. His brother, Danny, died during a building collapse. It was an emotional and shocking moment that happened in last week's episode. And now, Jimmy is struggling with his grief and wants to blame Boden for what happened.

It is honestly a good story for Jimmy right now. It's not relying on anything from the past with the show's storytelling ticks or narrative familiarities. Jimmy's relationship with Chili always drew parallels to Casey and Dawson. But it never had anything particularly insightful to say about that arrangement. This whole season has been building up to Jimmy having a moment of importance that could affect the entire firehouse. Death has been a part of this show before. A season can't really end now without some character being put in harm's way. The show has come to embrace cast departures as a part of its world which helps provide ample stakes to a number of stories. And yet, it also feels incredibly rushed for Jimmy to be dealing with this right now. It feels like a story that is just getting started. And yet, it's happening in the final episode of the fourth season. It's a compelling plot thread. The show frequently loves having its main characters be right no matter what. But it should be interesting to see what happens between Jimmy and Boden because both feel like they were right with how they handled the situation. It's a tease for what's to come. It's just a tad awkward to lay most of the groundwork in a season finale.

Elsewhere, Severide's relationship with Stella has been steadily growing in importance over the last few episodes. It's not a surprising development at all. If Severide looks at a woman, odds are he's going to sleep with her shortly afterwards. That's exactly what happened here - and has happened a dozen other times over the course of the series. It's a good thing that Severide can be a player and doesn't have the urge to settle down with anyone. It's just problematic that the show keeps suggesting that these relationships are more important than they actually are. Stella has her own difficulties that she has to worry about that are completely separate from Severide. Her ex-husband, Grant, is a total mess who is still desperately in love with her. And yet, her story has gotten so damn repetitive. Every time she tries to pursue something with Severide, Grant pops up in her life yet again and she can't seem to pull away from him because he's so self-destructive. It has gotten really annoying and lackluster as of late. So, that takes away so much of the stakes of the cliffhanger in this finale. Stella literally saves Grant from overdosing. He repays her by breaking out of the hospital, silently waiting in her apartment for her and Severide to start having sex and then promptly stab them. It's a horrifying final image for the season. But it's really hard to care about what will happen. There's an almost complete certainty that Severide will be fine, the Grant threat will be neutralized but it will change this relationship and the two will eventually drift apart. It's a familiar story that doesn't really offer up anything particularly exciting.

But "Superhero" is filled with so much happiness as well. It's not a finale that solely focuses on the doom and gloom of these characters' lives. It explores the full spectrum of emotions they are feeling in this moment. Gaby is so desperate to foster Louie. She will do whatever it takes in order to prove to the system that she will be a good parent. This is something she really wants right now. To her, its the universe giving her a sign that this is something that is meant to be. She's willing to do it no matter what it ultimately means for her relationship with Casey. He's off dealing with his own struggles. She's fighting to stay alive and provide a stable home for this young boy. That's an infectious quality of this finale. Sure, the episode is a little manipulative by putting Gaby's life in danger during the big action set piece. She is at risk of dying because she hasn't found the right time to write her letter to a loved one yet. It's not surprising at all that she pulls through that precarious situation. And yet, it is so moving and emotional when she returns to the firehouse and sees Louie waiting for her. She is successful in becoming his foster parent. It's a major victory for her. Seeing the two of them together as a family is so emotional and rewarding.

However, Gaby's struggles to be a foster parent to Louie have also created weird tension in her relationship with Casey. She's the one who pushed for him to run for alderman. She is so proud of all the good work that he can do for the city from that position. And yet, tension crept up because she wanted to be a mom and he was too busy to take on that responsibility right now. That's an important discussion to have as a couple. But it was executed in weird ways. It was presented as Casey being aloof about the issue. That wasn't particularly flattering considering the show still wants the audience to invest in their relationship. Casey is also given a way out by pursuing a romance with his new political advisor, Susan. That felt like an inevitable twist that finally happened here. It's important that he still chooses to be with Gaby. He declines Susan's offer which likely also symbolizes him turning down her suggestion to run for State Senate. He's happy where he is at the firehouse, as an alderman and with Gaby. But that doesn't mean that their relationship will be any better moving forward. It seems the show enjoys bringing them together only to introduce a weird issue to pull them apart. It's hard to make sense of it. But it's still significant that they end the season both wanting to be together despite the uncertainty of the future.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Superhero" was directed by Michael Brandt with teleplay by Michael Brandt & Derek Haas and story by Ian McCulloch & Michael A. O'Shea.
  • The show probably leaned too much into the comedy of the horribleness of the apartment that Herrmann was giving to Dawson to raise Louie in. It's a mess. The entire firehouse family has to come over to make it presentable. The inspection still goes poorly. And yet, she still gets Louie because she delivered a rousing and passionate speech.
  • Otis' health concerns were such a big deal over the last few episodes. But here, he returns to the firehouse as a member of truck and it's played essentially as an afterthought. Something that needed to be addressed but couldn't take up too much time.
  • It's nice to see the firehouse get a call during the night when everyone is asleep. This is a job that operates in 24 hour shifts after all. The call still happened during the early dawn. But it was still a nice change of pace - though it happened purely for a joke about Mouch.
  • Jimmy is able to set his personal feelings towards Boden aside in order to help his brother's family make sense of this challenging time. And yet, he doesn't show up to the memorial to support them because he's still mad about the situation. That was too weird.
  • It's understandable that Dr. Charles would be friendly with every government employee in the city. But it's still startling to see just how comfortable he is in delivering advice to Stella while Grant is under his care. Plus, he doesn't seem concerned at all when he realizes that Grant is missing.