Tuesday, March 21, 2017

REVIEW: 'Chicago Fire' - A Hostage Situation Escalates at Firehouse 51 in 'Telling Her Goodbye'

NBC's Chicago Fire - Episode 5.16 "Telling Her Goodbye"

When a turf war escalates, members of truck and squad find themselves caught in the middle as unsuspecting hostages when a group of armed gang members take cover and assume control over Firehouse 51. The situation turns even more dire when one of the infiltrators is wounded and in need of serious help.

Chicago Fire is on a bit of a roll right now with big action events that define the story for an entire hour. It's a premise the series has always done well. This week it's a big hostage situation at the firehouse because of warring gangs. The previous episode was the big, disastrous fire that would define the epic three-show crossover event. The episode before that was the members of truck and squad being spread around town and having to come together to fight one massive fire. It's been awhile since this crew has just had a regular shift. That's a noticeable change from the normal operating procedure for this show. There's no reason to believe the season won't get back to that eventually. But right now, it's been very successful focusing on these big events and how they define the lives and choices for the characters. It has forced all of them to see what is important in their lives. The stunts have made them commit to their loved ones outside of the firehouse as well as the makeshift family they form while on the job.

Putting all of that aside though, "Telling Her Goodbye" is just a solidly executed episode. It's a familiar formula but the execution is really excellent. It feels about right that most of the characters are hostages on the inside, Severide is the rogue man trying to break the situation and Gabby and Brett are outside trying to assist the police negotiators. Those are the necessary beats of this story. But it's really entertaining to see how the show differs from the norm to tell a unique story about these characters. This hour is largely about this event and nothing else. It really doesn't focus on any of the ongoing relationships outside of the firehouse - except for Stella telling Severide she's happy Anna is in town. That's perfectly fine too. It adds to the overall tension of the hour that it never breaks away to some other random storyline that is going on that has nothing to do with what's happening at the firehouse. Staying present in that action is really engaging. It's doubtful throughout the episode that any of the main characters are going to die. Casey does take a bullet to the shoulder while Stella and Severide get beat up. But mostly, they all survive this tense encounter and so do all of the gang members who took them hostage in the first place.

The gang members at the center of this story could come across as annoying and frustrating. They don't necessarily fit into this show's opinion of optimism and hopefulness that comes from public service. This show has always been about the brave men and women who got the calling to serve in this profession. The desire to help people as firefighters and paramedics is uplifting even when they are constantly running into the worst humanity has to offer. The show's outlook on life has always been that way. Sure, it means the members of Firehouse 51 are right most of the time. They are rarely wrong and their worldview isn't called into question a lot. And here, it's the gang members' ignorance that fuels the tension of the story. They don't trust the medical procedures that need to be done in order to save one of their friends. They just see it as people in powerful positions once again trying to beat them down. The leader especially is all about distrust of the police and firefighters because they'll only hunt and hurt people like him. Knowing what happens over on Chicago P.D., the audience really can't blame this guy for having that opinion of people in uniform. But this show is very different than that. Firehouse 51 is always trying to find a peaceful solution out of any complicated situation while saving as many lives as possible.

How the firehouse gets out of this mess is pretty engaging as well. The reason why the gangs are warring right now is because of the tragic death of an innocent young girl. She was killed by a stray bullet. And now, the gangs are retaliating. The brother of the victim also happens to be inside the firehouse. He's the one who shows compassion and lowers his gun to help Stella treat the guy with a bullet wound. He's the one who actually listens to the people who know what they're doing. The rest believe it's all a trap. He's the emotional connection in all of this. He's the one whose actions will determine how the firehouse gets out of this situation. He's the one who has to make the choice of how far he's willing to take all of this. The leader can drag things out for as long as he wants simply by pointing a gun at Boden's head. But the kid is the one who can turn the tides in this situation. A plea from his mother seemingly isn't enough. Brett is able to recognize her value and hopes she can make a difference. That doesn't deescalate things. He's still going along with everything right until the end when he's the one who takes the gun out of the leader's hand while he's trying to get away in the firetruck. Yes, he takes a bullet in the neck and things look hopeless. But Gabby and Brett are able to treat him right away and save his life. That's a victory.

It's also just so entertaining to see so many characters get rousing heroic moments. Severide is taking a shower when all of this goes down. He's only in a towel when Stella is dragged by gunpoint into the locker room for medical supplies. He's the one who alerts the authorities to the hostage situation. And then, when Casey makes a run for it to warn Gabby and Brett not to return home, Severide is the one to make sure he doesn't get hurt more than taking a bullet to the shoulder. But it was to be expected that Casey, Severide and Boden would take charge and have the big heroic moments of this hour. It's also great to see Stella, Otis and Herrmann get theirs as well. Stella's the one who takes charge with the medical stuff. Otis is the one to step up after Stella gets knocked unconscious. But above all of that, Herrmann fakes a heart attack in order to be released and inform the police of what the situation is like on the inside. That's just a great moment. Yes, it was manipulative of the audience. But it was a great reveal too. It seemed unlikely that Herrmann would actually die from a heart attack. It would have been a huge story on top of all of this. Plus, the recovery time would have been more than this show typically gives to its characters. And yet, it's still great when it's revealed that he's faking and his intel provides the police with the confidence they need to engage with the gang members.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Telling Her Goodbye" was written by Michael A. O'Shea and directed by Reza Tabrizi.
  • There is even the bit of misdirection regarding Herrmann's possible heart attack before the hostage situation starts. He complains about not feeling well after eating Ethiopian food. That's what gives the show the basis for his fake heart attack later on.
  • Did the rest of the firehouse know that Herrmann was faking? Mouch's concerns seemed to be genuine. It got so bad that he had to be freed to the police outside. And yet, there's no moment afterwards where everyone is surprised and relieved to be reunited with Herrmann so soon.
  • When Stella was pushed back into the locker room because one of the gang members thought she was trying to kill his friend, there was the fear that he would do more to her than simply knock her out. Fortunately, nothing more happens.
  • It was surprisingly easy for Severide to sneak around the firehouse without detection from the gang members. All it took was the leader to look the other way for Severide to open a door and sneak away to help others break out of this situation.
  • Gabby freaks out for a little bit about Casey getting shot. She doesn't know it was just a minor injury to the arm. She saw him drop to the ground immediately. Luckily, that uncertainty isn't dragged out for too long. However, it's weird that no one ultimately looks at the injury for Casey. He's just so confident that it's a minor wound.