Tuesday, May 17, 2016

REVIEW: 'Chicago Med' - Dr. Downey's Condition Worsens While Sarah Makes a Decision About Her Future in 'Timing'

NBC's Chicago Med - Episode 1.18 "Timing"

Connor tends to the care of Dr. Downey while Goodwin is forced to deal with personal issues. April bears the brunt of a punch while attending to a disorderly patient, but the incident could be a blessing in disguise. Will discovers Goodwin has a trick up her sleeve. Natalie finds her past catching up with her. Sarah remains conflicted about her career plans. Choi turns to an unlikely source for help at the urging of Dr. Charles.

All three Chicago shows on NBC have followed similar trajectories. All of them start as formulaic retreads of very formulaic premises. They struggle to grow over the course of their first seasons. And yet, they are successful enough in the ratings to become key fixtures of NBC's lineup. Chicago Med has done well enough that it's being moved to Thursday nights next year to help anchor the night alongside The Blacklist - though it won't be inheriting the same time slot as another Chicago set hospital show that ran for 15 seasons on the network. And things tend to look better during the second seasons of this franchise as well. P.D. was an erratic mess in its first year but found a way to tell character-based stories in its second. Meanwhile, Fire's second season helped solidify its perspective of the world. Here's hoping the same can be said for Med next year because this season wasn't that great.

After 18 episodes, the characters still feel very familiar, formulaic and boring. Some of them have had interesting personal journeys. Connor was the main reason to watch at the start of the series and that never really changed over the course of the season - though his family drama eventually become completely irrelevant. Sarah had a predictable story arc that felt inevitable from the moment she appeared onscreen. And yet, the complications of her wanting to pursue a career as a trauma physician instead of pathology were interesting and made the story more dynamic. Meanwhile, it was just so great to always have Dr. Charles around to offer wise words of wisdom to his fellow physicians. That's basically all he does. But it's an effective beat nevertheless. Sure, the one attempt to expand his character failed tremendously. But he's still an amusing presence that adds a nice and different energy to the proceedings.

However, some characters got worse over the course of this season. Will almost single handedly destroyed any kind of good will the show was trying to build. His pompous and self-righteous attitude was so oft-putting. And yet, the show kept doubling down on it. It was so painful to endure over the majority of this season. It's with absolutely no purpose whatsoever too. He has never once had to deal with the complications of his actions. He always has to be right. That's a huge problem with this entire franchise. The main characters can never be the bad guys or wrong about anything in this world. At the end of the day, they always have to have moral superiority to the other people they are interacting with. That should not be the case with Will. His actions compromised the health and safety of a number of patients. And yet, the show was still presenting him as this romantic lead who would be a viable option for Natalie. Natalie has been an interesting character when she's given stuff to do far away from Will. But too often, she was saddled with this romantic story with Will that got no traction whatsoever. It has been so horrendous and painful to watch. It's not romantic at all. The worst thing the show could do would be to continue dragging that out.

And yet, it seems like that's exactly what the show plans on doing next season. This finale features a lot of big moments of change for the characters. Some of those are celebratory moments. Choi gets a breakthrough with his PTSD treatment by interacting with his new pet parrot. This may have been the most fun and enjoyable Choi has ever been on the show. Most of the time he's just filled with angst where it's hard to tell what he's feeling at any given moment. Meanwhile, Will was given an attending position at Chicago Med despite multiple people on the hiring committee thinking he's a dangerous and reckless physician. That just makes no sense and Sharon's rationalization for it is pretty horrendous. She just wants to see how long it takes before his actions get him fired. That doesn't seem like something she would ever do. The show painted the character in a corner but still wanted him around next season to continue teasing a romance with Natalie. So, it doesn't feel like he'll be going anywhere anytime soon. Conversely, Sarah doesn't have a job at all after she turns down pathology. That provides an interesting and exciting character-based mystery for the future. Trauma is a job she wants. It shouldn't be something she gets right away. The journey back to the E.D. should be compelling and enjoyable to watch. Now, let's see if the show actively wants to explore that.

So much happens in this finale that the actual medical-based stories get lost a little bit. April gets punched by a patient. That leads to a spur of a moment proposal from her boyfriend as well as a tragic reveal that she has tuberculosis. It's not surprising at all considering most of the main characters have received some kind of medical treatment over the course of this season - Dr. Downey's dying, Charles has a mental illness, Sarah passed out, Natalie had "broken heart" syndrome, etc. But it's also not that moving because April has been such an inconsistent character throughout the whole season. Her relationship means nothing and her diagnosis is more shocking than emotional. Conversely, the situation with Dr. Downey is much more moving and tragic because the show spent a lot of time fleshing out his dynamic with Connor. Sure, the show simply doesn't have the time to get into the complexities of physician assisted suicide. But it's still moving to see Connor have to say goodbye to his mentor. It was the inevitable conclusion of the story. And the two of them were largely a plot point than a meaningful dynamic. And yet, it was still a story that meant something in the end as Connor traveled to Hawaii to spread Downey's ashes. The overstuffed storytelling may get in the way of any emotions truly landing. That's something the show needs to fix next season. But it was still a bittersweet and emotional moment to end on.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Timing" was written by Diane Frolov & Andrew Schneider and directed by Michael Waxman.
  • S. Epatha Merkerson definitely sells Sharon's complete shock and desperation when her husband, Bert, leaves her to go be happy. And yet, it's completely pointless too. That relationship existed purely as Sharon talking about it to Maggie. It never existed onscreen. So, it's hard to get worked up about this reveal. It just means there'll be one more single female at the hospital next season.
  • Jeff Hephner reprises his role from the second season of Chicago Fire for a brief moment at the end. He has changed careers and become a medical student who will be a more important fixture next season. But now, his presence solely props up a new love triangle between him, Natalie and Will.
  • The show really thinks the sparks of romance between Natalie and Will is the central force of the series. That's clear because of the episode being titled after Maggie telling Will he needs to focus on his timing in regards to dating Natalie.
  • Sarah's relationship with Joey was sweet in the beginning. It was also meaningful a few episodes ago when he said he didn't care where she worked. And yet, he was being very manipulative here by trying to force his view of the world onto her as she struggled with a sick baby.
  • Some character pairings have been developed really well. And yet, it's still puzzling when two characters who haven't interacted very much do and act like they are close friends. That uneasiness was felt when Charles was trying to comfort Connor and when Natalie and Choi were talking.