Thursday, October 6, 2016

REVIEW: 'Chicago Med' - Will Learns More About Maggie's Family While Natalie Enjoys Happiness in 'Natural History'

NBC's Chicago Med - Episode 2.03 "Natural History"

Dr. Manning and Jeff Clarke are forced to figure out a mystery illness when an Indonesian man who doesn't speak English arrives at the hospital in dire straights. Maggie takes Dr. Halstead to her family reunion where he meets her sibling Denise and uncovers deep-rooted family secrets. Dr. Rhodes takes on a complicated heart surgery without consulting Dr. Latham. Dr. Reese and Dr. Charles encounter a woman experiencing an unusual pregnancy.

All of the shows in the Chicago franchise have a retro feel to them. That's certainly still an appealing quality. NBC has had so much successful with this franchise from Dick Wolf over the last few years. It works for a broad audience that just wants to be entertained for an hour each week. And yet, retro can also be a bad thing as well. These shows have often highlighted some horrible stereotypes that should no longer be a part of the medium. It would be a fair criticism of these shows that there really isn't any kind of LGBT presence. Not every show out there needs to have a main character who fits into that box. But this franchise prides itself on showcasing the everyday details of life in Chicago in 2016. Across three shows (with a fourth set to join next year), there has only been one LGBT character - Chicago Fire's Shay. Even in that case, she was killed off after only two seasons. So, you can just add this franchise to the "Bury Your Gays" list. These are hardly the only criticisms and stereotypes these shows perpetrate. Why, for instance, does every single one of them have a stern black authority figure? Eamonn Walker, S. Epatha Merkerson, Barbara Eve Harris and Carl Weathers are great actors but they all fit into the same character mold with not a whole lot of variety. These are all fair criticisms to make.

And yet, "Natural History" does try to change that a little. No, none of the main characters on Chicago Med decide to come out. But it does give Maggie a trans sister, Denise. It's a pretty engaging story throughout this hour as well. Yes, it has the potential to go broad and preachy very quickly. That's what happens when these retro shows try to touch on a topical issue. They aren't always covered in the most subtle way. Here, you could get the sense that a big reveal was about to happen. There was a lot of foreshadowing to it. But it's still an effective story. Plus, it's going to have lasting implications for the season as well. The show doesn't give Maggie a trans sister just so it can have a trans character for an episode. No, Denise is going to be sticking around for awhile this season. Of course, she runs the risk of having her gender define everything in her story. After the big reveal happens, it's certainly the only thing that Will and the show cares about. But with more time spent with her, it could open up a new perspective for the show and add an interesting new layer to Maggie. Maggie has always been a great character. And now, it should be interesting to watch her with her own unique storyline that is separate from everyone else. That could be really good for the overall season.

Of course, not everything about Maggie's story works here. Why in the world would she take Will to her big family reunion? There isn't a reason given as to why he's there in the first place. He's there simply so a doctor is at the park when Denise goes blind and crashes her car. There isn't any kind of pressure from the family for Maggie to show up with a hot man on her arm. He certainly wouldn't be the reasonable choice for that either. The show is really trying to push forward the belief that the doctors are still friends with each other. That's easy to believe in the hospital but less so in the outside world. It's fine when the doctors are just randomly hanging out at Molly's to express some final thoughts about what happened during their days. But it's just odd to see Will and Maggie socializing like this. They aren't really that close at all. Denise could bring them closer together. She's staying in Chicago so that she has family to help her through her cancer treatments. And yet, Will's perspective on all of this is really off-putting. Yes, he wouldn't know how to act around a trans person. He wouldn't know the right things to say or ask. But him mentioning that his family would have disowned a person like that was just really unnecessary and makes it really hard to connect with him through all of this. That remains a constant problem for him that is just getting harder and harder to overlook.

The Natalie and Jeff story has it problems as well that could be troubling but ultimately aren't that bad. They are forced to treat an Indonesian man who doesn't speak English. He arrives in the emergency department all alone. It's weird how the doctors immediately start to freak out about him having some kind of contagious disease. They see him as a foreigner who may be patient zero for some deadly outbreak. That's just a little too xenophobic. His symptoms could have been any number of things. Of course, this isn't a defining characteristic of this story. Instead, it's largely about this man being able to read between the lines with Natalie and Jeff better than they were able to diagnosis him with his disease. Plus, the twist is he wasn't the cause of this viral outbreak. He has the measles because a bunch of stupid anti-vaccination people took their kids to the amusement park. There's still a condescending tone running throughout this story. But it's still so sweet just to see Natalie happy for once. Yes, it's weird that she's dating her dead husband's best friend. She's reminded of that here. But he makes her happy and it's really just a simple but effective romance this season. It's not too complicated which makes it really easy to accept.

Elsewhere, the show has always seen Connor as a rising star in the hospital. He was treated as a doctor with special skills and fantastic techniques from the moment the series began. He's a talented surgeon. He has earned the respect of his colleagues. But now, he's trapped in a new dynamic with a new type of teacher. Dr. Latham wasn't as big or over-the-top here as he was depicted in the season premiere. Instead, he's just seen as a devout Jewish man. That's perfectly fine. Connor accepts that and respects his medical opinion on this case. Connor gets caught up in his own hype as well. He believes he can do the impossible. He believes he can finish this heart surgery before the patient's health is further compromised. It could bring attention back to the program after it was lost following Downey's death. But Connor isn't that great of a surgeon yet. It takes a massive amount of self-reflective to realize that. Connor couldn't finish this procedure in time. He had to let Latham step in and do it. He's a very promising surgeon. But he's not the best thing medicine has seen in a long time. He's still learning just like everyone else. It's great that the show remembers that. Sometimes it can get too caught up in his hype as well.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Natural History" was written by Stephen Hootstein & Danny Weiss and directed by Michael Waxman.
  • A brother-sister dynamic between Will and Maggie could be interesting. But that final scene between the two is just so forced. It establishes that Maggie still misses this kind of life with her brother. She is still adjusting to having Denise around.
  • Plus, Maggie encourages Will to go act on his attraction with the cute pathologist. Again, she only pops up to serve as a new object for Will's romantic fascination. They've just had some light and fun banter so far. But it's not clear if there's anything actually there with this story.
  • The case with the hysterical pregnancy was a solid teaching moment for Sarah. And yet, it's once again a story about her getting in her own head and perhaps researching too much in the hopes of finding an easy cure. Psych has been challenging for her. It's forcing her to rethink her handling of these cases.
  • As if the audience didn't already know this world sees Connor as a rising star in medicine, it makes it apparent when he's actually in a magazine declared as such. It's something Sharon did but not something Connor likes at all - especially after this case.
  • The doctors and nurses are seeing a change in Natalie as well. They see how happy she is all of a sudden. Of course, only some are able to put the pieces together about her and Jeff. Strangely though, her being his teacher isn't really a problem for anyone.
  • A new resident joins the cardiothoracic program. She wanted to work alongside Dr. Downey. And now, she's transferring all of that optimism onto Connor because he got to work with him. It's just an introductory plot beat here. Is she being set up as a new love interest for him?
  • So, both Chicago Med and Code Black had the exact same story this week with the exact same actress at the center of it in Alexandra Grey. I'm sure she's capable of more than being the trans woman who gets sick because of her prostate.