Thursday, October 13, 2016

REVIEW: 'Chicago Med' - Will and Natalie Deal with an Infectious Outbreak in 'Brother's Keeper'

NBC's Chicago Med - Episode 2.04 "Brother's Keeper"

Several patients are discovered to have the same rare infection, prompting Dr. Charles' daughter Robyn, an epidemiologist, to be brought in to find the common link. Dr. Choi and Dr. Rhodes work on an elderly man who is discovered to be very ill, but a conflict in how to best treat him develops between his son and his young girlfriend. Dr. Reese tries to help a young drug addict. Maggie tends to a patient who is dear to her heart.

Chicago Med has cooled on the Natalie-Will romance considerably this season. They both have new love interests and things are noticeably better for both of them as characters. Natalie is happy with Jeff and Will is happy with Nina. Neither of these relationships are a secret either. The whole hospital knows about these couplings. And yet, the show still struggles whenever Natalie and Will are actually interacting with each other. The show has put in the work to stop their potential romance being the sole thing that defines them as characters. However, it's constantly there in the subtext - and moves to the actual text a whole lot - whenever they are onscreen together. It's as if the show simply doesn't know how to tell stories that incorporate both of these characters together without some aspect of it being about their sexual tension. It's weird and off putting. But more importantly, it sets their current relationships up for failure. If this is clearly something the show still wants to do, things with Jeff and Nina are going to end horribly. Right now, they are simply obstacles keeping Natalie and Will from getting together. That's it and that's such a waste too considering Natalie and Will still just don't work as a couple no matter how hard the show tries to convince the audience that they do.

More importantly, the medical case that actually brings Will and Natalie together really isn't that great. They both realize that they have patients suffering from the same serious infection. They may be looking at an outbreak. It's an excuse to introduce Dr. Charles' daughter who happens to be an epidemiologist. Because of that familial connection, she'll continue to be important this season. The show has already introduced two daughters for Charles though they are wildly different in age. This new one is defined solely by not liking her father for divorcing her mother. That's about it. That's all this episode strives to do with her introduction. That's all that's done because it's seemingly more important that Natalie freaks out that she is the reason why these patients have this infection. The show does absolutely nothing to establish Natalie being the one at the center of this outbreak. There's no actual evidence. And yet, the show wants us to get caught up in the emotion of it all. She is freaking out and Will is there for her. It's enough for the new Dr. Charles to comment on them being a really good couple. That's annoying. It gets in the way of the actual medical case as well.

It's not surprising at all that Natalie isn't responsible for this outbreak. The hour starts an official investigation that doesn't bring any clarity on the situation until the very end. It's very realistically paced. The doctors don't have a magical way of connecting all of the threads in an efficient manner. It's a long and arduous process while Natalie and Will have to treat their patients. And yet, the actual resolution wants to be so easy. All it takes is one phone call from the FDA for this mystery to be solved. So, all of the hard work by these doctors was essentially meaningless. They weren't the ones to solve the puzzle. All they get to do is be shocked that the FDA knew about this potential infection from a piece of medical equipment but did nothing because it was cost efficient. It could provide the show with an interesting story about the realities of the health care system. And yet, the show has never strived to look at things on a macro level like that. This isn't a series that can take on the crushing realities of the modern-day health care system. Instead, it sucks that this is the reality and these doctors and administrators have to live with it. They get to complain and be upset for a few minutes. And then, everything is just magically better by next week's episode.

"Brother's Keeper" really is an episode that has weird plotting in all of its stories. The things that derive the story for the actual episode are weird while they just end at abrupt and odd points. Once again, Sarah has a tough case to crack as a psych resident. Her patient had a severe bowel obstruction and doesn't want to be touched. It's a story that builds and builds until it's revealed he's a victim of sex trafficking. That was quite an unexpected twist that really was quite effective and shocking. But it's just an expositional piece of dialogue at the end. It's tacked on to provide the answer with full clarity on the situation. But again, the doctors aren't able to do anything to help because it's out of their hands. Sarah and Charles aren't able to get to their patient before he's whisked away by his captors. It's such a weird place to end the story. Sarah figured everything out but wasn't able to help this man. Now, he's going back to a criminal life he wanted to escape from. She's powerless to stop it. Charles keeps her from making a potentially dangerous mistake. But at what cost? Going back to the crime ring is the end of this story for the patient. It would be great if that had lingering consequences on Sarah moving forward. She was helpless to do anything because the world is so messed up. But again, it's difficult to believe that the show will actually follow through on such a thing.

Meanwhile, Maggie is once again in a story about dealing with a patient close to her. Last week's story with her sister was very effective. It provided more details about her personal life while opening up further exploration for the season to come. But the story this week is just so alienating and lame. It's a way to highlight the different facilities at the hospital. She takes Jeff to the Farm to help paint the nails of a comatose patient who will never wake up again. Maggie is close to this patient because she believes she spoke to her as her mother while she was dying. So, it's one final connection she has to her. And yet, it's a sloppily introduced story with a rushed ending. The importance of this patient is established. And then, she is being forced off life support because a new sister is discovered out of state. So, it's a story about Maggie saying goodbye to her mother. But it's not emotional at all because the story was just introduced twenty minutes ago! So, it's not heartbreaking to watch her say goodbye. It's just a lazy story that aims to manipulate the audience for no good reason whatsoever.

That is proving to be a very serious problem for Chicago Med. It's also on display with Dr. Choi's story. He is basically acting like Will from last season. It wasn't a great story then and it's not a great story now. He needs to save his patient from dying. There's a surgery that can save and prolong his life. He doesn't want to listen to the son who has the legal option to decline the surgery. Choi hears what he wants to hear. He pulls this elderly man into surgery even though he never said "save me." It's Choi with a savior's complex. He's choosing not to respect the legality of this situation. And then, the show just wants to play it for laughs. It's ultimately a story about this old man enjoying his younger girlfriend for as long as possible despite her only being in it for the money. It's weird and doesn't work at all in defining Choi in a new way. It says that things are more complicated in a hospital setting than a battlefield. But that's already something the audience knows about this character. It doesn't need to be restated now - especially in this absurdly broad way.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Brother's Keeper" was written by Jeff Drayer & Joseph Sousa and directed by Stephen Cragg.
  • The show really needs to move past defining Dr. Latham as an odd man. That can't be the only thing that puts conflict in his dynamic with Connor. It's simply cliche and lazy writing. Yes, it can be humorous. Him commenting on The Force Awakens while in surgery is amusing. But how in the world is that enough for Connor to question his future in the program?
  • But again, the audience shouldn't take things too seriously about any of this because the doctors have a jam session on the balcony once all of their hard work is done. But even that scene is dripping with so much needlessly complicated tension.
  • Jeff was able to find the sister to Maggie's comatose patient because he called in a favor from a friend in the government. If only finding relatives was that easy for these patients!
  • Seeing that white ooze squirting out of that little girl's neck was one of the grossest moments the show has ever done so far.
  • April knows that Choi lied about the patient wanting to be saved. And yet, she doesn't say anything. Why? Because she's just not important enough in this story.
  • Charles has always been seen as a charming, wise and lighthearted guy. And yet, he is now supposedly a bad father. That could be an interesting new detail about him. It could add some nice and appreciated depth to his character.
  • At least, Jeff is defined as a character outside of his relationship to Natalie. Nina still just exists as Will's girlfriend and nothing more. Why can't she interact with any of the other characters like Jeff does here?