Tuesday, October 11, 2016

REVIEW: 'Chicago Fire' - Gabby is Unsure at Work While Stella is Worried About Grant in 'The Hose or the Animal'

NBC's Chicago Fire - Episode 5.01 "The Hose or the Animal"

Severide and Stella are on the lookout for a very unstable Grant, who left Chicago Med without notice. Now that Gabby is responsible for Louie, she questions her dangerous career path as a firefighter. Casey's relationship with his political consultant cools. Problems continue for Jimmy, who still blames Boden for the death of his brother, and the situation reaches a boiling point. Mouch and Brett start off on a new venture together.

There were a lot of complicated emotions happening at the end of Chicago Fire's fourth season. There was the happiness that came from Casey and Gabby deciding to become a family and foster Louie. That was such a special and rewarding moment. Sure, it was unnecessarily complicated by Casey's alderman responsibilities and that political consultant who wanted more from him. But it was still a happy moment to end on for the season. Conversely, the tension was quite high for Severide and Stella. Her ex, Grant, broke out of Chicago Med and was stalking both of them in Stella's apartment. It was a huge cliffhanger at the end of the season that needed to be resolved here. And then, there was the extreme chaos that came from the call that killed Jimmy's brother. The emotions are still so raw about that day. And now, Jimmy is determined to get Boden fired because he holds him personally responsible for what ultimately happened. So, there was a lot of plot happening at the end of last season. Some of it was good while others left a lot of dangling threads for this season. This is an okay premiere for the show. It basically reinforces what was working last season and what wasn't. But it doesn't seem like the show has any willingness to pull out of the stories that are bad so quickly - which could be very problematic for the future.

The Severide-Stella romance is just not working at all. On the one hand, it's so formulaic and boring because Severide has had so many love interests over the years. It's the go-to story for the character. Whenever he looks at a woman for more than two seconds, he'll be sleeping with her shortly thereafter. It has gotten predictable and really lame without informing anything new about the character. Meanwhile, Stella is a new addition who is defined almost solely by the two men in her life. Miranda Rae Mayo has been promoted to series regular this season. So, the creative team clearly sees something in her. But they aren't really providing her with any great material. She is either stuck worrying about Grant and whether he's okay or she's having sex with Severide. She doesn't exist outside of those two dynamics which has gotten really frustrating really quickly. The premiere doesn't even provide a swift conclusion to the cliffhanger from the finale. It was a big deal that Grant was in the apartment when Severide and Stella came home to have sex. The premiere just operates with cheap thrills and suggestive horror moments to keep this story alive for a full hour when it barely deserved more than a few minutes.

So, Grant doesn't strike in the middle of the night. He was in the apartment but he did nothing. The show tricks the audience into believing something happened to Severide. But nope, he's just fake being dead in order to trick Stella. Because that's something that any sane person would do! And then, the story just takes one odd turn after the next. Stella learns that Grant is out of the hospital. She knows he was in the apartment with her and Severide. And then, the story just gets lost in a complicated mess of Severide needing to be her hero. He needs to be by her side at all times in order to protect her. She is a very capable woman. She's a female firefighter. She's made sure the rest of the truck doesn't discredit what she brings to the table. She's perfectly capable of handling this situation by herself. But instead, the show presents a reality where Severide needs to protect the damsel in distress. Grant does show up with a knife intending to do some harm. It happens late at night when Stella is isolated behind Molly's while taking the trash out. Severide comes to her rescue. He just does so by more than likely killing Grant. It's an intense and violent way to close the premiere. It shows that these two will have more than a handful of problems to work out in the next stretch of episodes. The buildup just doesn't deserve any of the ramifications though. It's all silly plotting without a whole lot of meaningful substance.

Meanwhile, Gabby and Casey's relationship actually means something. The show has jerked the audience around with this pairing so much over the years. They have been on-again/off-again so many times. It's about time the show just commits to them as a couple and finds a new way to tell stories with them. They can't just keep running into the same problems over and over again. Louie represents a fresh perspective for them and the show. They are officially parents now. That changes both of them over night. And yet, it's a much more significant change for Gabby. It's once again a story about a new mother worrying about her dangerous job one day leaving her child as an orphan - which would be once again for Louie. It's never a story told from the male perspective. Yes, Gabby gets advice from Herrmann about how to handle these new emotions. But it's still primarily a story about her being at a crossroads with her job. She has worked so hard to be on truck. She's a great firefighter. But does that need to change because she now has a child? Does she have to give up her dream because it's what's best for Louie?

It's certainly a complicated situation for both Gabby and the show. Gabby does move back to ambulance because of the whole situation between Jimmy and Boden. It's an easy solution that allows this transition to happen. It's played as her filling in for the day because Boden, for some reason, didn't get a replacement for Jimmy in between shifts. It's weird. And thus, one can see the mechanics swirling around allowing this move to happen. It's not played as Gabby giving up her dream in order to always be there for Louie. It's instead seen as Gabby doing what's best for the firehouse. The place needs stability right now with the conflict brewing between Jimmy and Boden. It returns Gabby to the job she was doing at the start of the series. It never comes across as a disservice for the character. She and Brett work very well together. This could be a strong move for many storytelling purposes. It's just a little problematic getting to that point. There was no way for the show to avoid that. So, the final solution isn't as bad as it could have been.

And finally, an official investigation has started looking into the call that killed Jimmy's brother. It's completely unexpected for the majority of the house. They all trust Boden with their lives. They need to if they are running into danger on every shift. The show has always had him as the calm voice of reason for the firehouse. Things may be bad for him but he has always proven to be right in every single situation. That could be more complicated this time around because the threat to his career comes from another main character. The show has a tendency to always make the firehouse right no matter what. They could be wrong in their handling of a situation but the show always wants the audience to agree and like the main characters. Here, everyone basically gangs up on Jimmy. They don't understand how he could possibly file this charge. It does seem like an uphill battle for him to win. Yes, he is a series regular. But Boden has been around longer and seems unlikely to be taken down now. If this story is dragged out for the entire first half of the season, it could be really annoying. If it's just a truncated arc over a few episodes, it could be very effective. So long as there are actual consequences that really mean something moving forward. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Hose or the Animal" was written by Michael Brandt & Derek Haas and directed by Joe Chappelle.
  • The levity of the premiere comes from truck learning that someone in the firehouse has been writing erotic fiction about their lives. It's Mouch and not Connie like everyone expected. Brett is the only one who knows the truth and wants to partner with him on an actual book. That's a promising story. 
  • What will Platt think about her husband writing a romance novel with a young blonde, though? Of course, given what just happened to her on P.D. that may not be a big concern right now.
  • Brett also finds herself in a potential new love story as well. Antonio shows up during one of ambo's calls and really helps in the field. It's a forced dynamic but it could work if the show just relaxes a little bit. 
  • Severide gives the apartment back to Gabby and Casey. So now, they won't be staying in that cramped room above Herrmann's garage. And Severide doesn't wanna live there either despite Herrmann's pitch of children being used as alarm clocks. 
  • Severide kills Grant in self defense. The case can be made for that. If he gets a friendly face from P.D., the consequences probably won't be too bad. If he doesn't, they could be pretty severe. 
  • Severide and the squad befriend an Internet celebrity who's cling to fame is throwing epic parties. That's a pretty lame moment in the premiere that feels like it'll become important sometime soon for some completely random story.