Tuesday, May 16, 2017

REVIEW: 'Chicago Fire' - A Dangerous Fire Puts Several Characters in a Dire Situation in 'My Miracle'

NBC's Chicago Fire - Episode 5.22 "My Miracle"

A dangerous warehouse fire puts truck and squad at risk. Tensions are high for Gabby and Casey when her father overstays his welcome at their home. Casey continues to fight for his first responders bill. Mouch makes a serious decision regarding his future. Herrmann goes to tremendous lengths to make a young boy smile.

The structure of "My Miracle" is just so predictable and formulaic. It's the season finale. So, it's time to have characters at a crossroads in their lives trying to figure out what to do next or be in big fights with their loved one. And then, all of that careful consideration goes away as soon as an epic fire has the chance to completely destroy all of their lives. It was clear throughout this episode that it was building to that type of ending. A cliffhanger that leaves several characters' lives in the balance. Of course, there's a reasonable explanation for how they'll ultimately get out of their dire situations. But it would be bad to assume that they'll all make it out of this burning building alive. Despite knowing that this was going to happen because of the plotting and structure, it was still easy to get sucked into the emotion of that final sequence. It's really effective. This show does core character emotion much better than any of the other shows in the franchise. This is a type of ending the show has done before - the Season 2 finale, for example. But it's still an effective and intense way to close out a really strong season for the show.

Before discussing that big ending, it would help to analysis the character dynamics building up to it. Casey as an Alderman was a story that had potential at first but became so generic and bland as it went along. It never really had urgency. Whenever Casey was a part of that world, it just felt forced and unnecessary. It grew difficult to remember why he did it in the first place. It was the show experimenting with Casey stories. It didn't want to simply repeat the on-again/off-again dynamic he had with Gabby. That has gone away completely because they are married. That has allowed the show to be more stable and earnest with couples. It's a tone that works so well and makes me retroactively angry that it took so long for Casey and Gabby to just get married. But nothing could really liven up this politics storyline. The show had to commit to it because Casey won the election. But everything he did there was secondary to the story and never really affected anything else on the show. So now, he's getting out of that work altogether. He does so with the confidence that his replacement will be much better at the job. That was true in the very first episode where Holly Robinson Peete appeared. It just took too long to actually confirm that. But still, it's fun to see Casey fighting for something he's passionate about. He understands that the system needs to do better in regards to helping families of firefighters. It's a noble cause that has a satisfying resolution here with Casey making a grand spectacle at a town hall.

Of course, all of the politics stuff actually makes sense and has been an ongoing story for awhile. Elsewhere, it's so difficult to care about the stress Gabby's father is having on Gabby and Casey's marriage because it's such a random and abrupt storyline. It was earlier this season when it was announced Gabby's parents were getting divorced. But that moment too was very brief and sudden. A big deal was made about their party. And then, it was over after two seconds of screen time. Gabby's father only reappeared in the narrative last week as a man who has gotten increasingly miserable after leaving his wife. Gabby wants to help him. And yet, she's largely just encouraging his actions and not making sure he's actually on his way to getting back on his feet. She's providing a life of comfort that allows him to get as drunk as he wants every night. That's not smart or healthy. But it feels even more forced that this is causing friction between Casey and Gabby. It doesn't work because the audience has no greater understanding of Gabby's relationship with her father. It just hasn't been seen onscreen. So, Casey is frustrated. He has good reason to be as well because Gabby's father is horrible. But it also feels like the show creating problems in their marriage right before the big disaster happens in the end.

If all of that wasn't enough, the show is also leaving the future of another character in limbo as well. Mouch is seriously considering retiring from the fire department. He's getting too old and making mistakes - both in the field and as a union rep. The world is changing around him and he just isn't keep up with all of it. It's a natural progression of life. Yes, it's a story that is sudden and forced as well. These issues only came up last week when he was unable to help Cruz with a charge filed against him. Cruz is right to be pissed at Mouch. And yet, Cruz seems to get all of the resentment from the other firefighters. It's a weird dynamic. Mouch messed up because he had grown too lazy with the job. And now, Cruz is paying for those mistakes. It's affecting the life of his brother who can't afford to go to college now. That's a big deal. It doesn't quite get the care it deserves. That's because it's more important to spend time on Mouch as he's making this big decision. He seemingly makes up his mind only for him to then suffer a heart attack while in the middle of a burning building. He knew his time was up. But now, it's even more dangerous. It's a little too overwrought in order to add to the cliffhanger. But the tension and uncertainty is well executed as well.

This season has featured a number of big fires. Fires that force the entire city to come together in order to put out. But this one is all about Firehouse 51. It's already looking bad when they arrive on the scene. But they need to go in because people are still trapped inside. It's ominous from the first moment and doesn't let up until the final credits roll. Mouch lets Herrmann know that this is going to be his final shift while Gabby and Casey don't get to talk before the call comes in. The stage is set for things to go horribly wrong. And that, they do. Casey, Mouch and Herrmann find themselves trapped in the building. Mouch has a heart attack and Herrmann is trying to keep him alive while Casey is trapped elsewhere. Severide and Kannall are in the building as well. But the tension and emotional uncertainty doesn't seem to be around them. They have the potential to get everyone out of this. They just need to clear a way out. In the meantime, it's much more important that Cruz forgives Mouch for what happened while Casey and Gabby are finally able to talk. Cruz wants to run in and save Mouch but can't do it. The fire has grown too quickly. There is nothing for the firefighters on the outside to do. All they can do is hope they'll find a way out. Otherwise, they'll be saying goodbye to even more of their family. It's so emotionally devastating when Casey has that conversation with Gabby. He's a fighter. He always finds a way out. But he can't escape this situation. He seems to have given up by talking his helmet off. That adds to the effectiveness of the emotion of this sequence. The direction does a strong job in showing the fire closing in on all of them as well. And yet, it's doubtful that the show will actually kill all of these characters off. One seems likely. If I were placing bets, I would say Mouch because of the added stress of a heart attack. Plus, if he survives, he'd be off the show anyway due to his retirement. It should just be fascinating to see how quickly Severide is able to get to Herrmann and Casey.

Some more thoughts:
  • "My Miracle" was written by Michael Brandt & Derek Haas and directed by Michael Brandt.
  • The story with the baseball players who helped lead the Chicago Cubs to a World Series victory largely just confirmed the show's authenticity. When the Cubs finally won the World Series, it had to be addressed somewhere in this franchise - in more than just casual conversation as well. I'm not really into sports but this moment did seem inevitable.
  • And yet, the Cubs story is very uplifting as well. It's a nice story of Herrmann doing something incredible to make a young boy injured in an accident very happy. It happens just a little too easily though. Is Cindy's baking really that good that it would allow Herrmann to arrange all of this after the boy is discharged from the hospital?
  • Plus, things seemed a little touch-and-go with the kid for awhile. His arm break was very serious and required surgery. Then, he had an allergic reaction to the medication. It almost seemed like it was going to be a "Make a Wish" situation. But it wasn't. The kid is going to make a full recovery.
  • The show has featured plenty of weird and random calls for the paramedics that really have nothing to do with the rest of the episode. And yet, Gabby and Brett walking in on a man wiping himself was just too strange and disconnected from everything else happening.
  • It's important that Platt shows up to be a part of Mouch's conversation regarding retirement. He's a married man. His wife should be a part of the discussion. For most of the time, she isn't. She just shows up to be the supportive wife in the end. But I'm already worrying about what will happen to her if Mouch should die in this fire.
  • This was a huge season of change for Severide. However, his story peaked a few episodes ago when Anna died. The ramifications of that moment haven't really been explored yet. He's largely just showed up for work and done the job. It should be fascinating to see what happens with him next. I'm hoping it's not a romantic reunion with Stella. After Anna, he should be done with romance for awhile.