Thursday, September 28, 2017

REVIEW: 'Chicago Fire' - Boden's Quick Thinking Could Possibly Save Several Lives in 'It Wasn't Enough'

NBC's Chicago Fire - Episode 6.01 "It Wasn't Enough"

With most of the squad still trapped inside the burning warehouse fire, Boden makes a risky last-minute decision in an effort to save his men. Gabby continues to deal with her father, who has new plans for himself. Brett's childhood friend, Hope, visits the city and strikes the attention of someone within the firehouse. Kidd goes head-to-head with her landlord. A fire at a high school hits close to home for Boden.

I've enjoyed Chicago Fire for a number of years now. It's not a genre-defining or format-breaking series. In fact, it has a very traditional and nostalgic approach to storytelling structure. And yet, I would still classify it as an above average procedural because of the character work on display in each episode. Its spinoffs are largely just okay procedurals at their best and incredibly awkward and problematic at their worst. Fire has always been the best show in the franchise. It built to a very familiar cliffhanger ending with its fifth season finale. The season ended with a number of character trapped inside a burning building. The emotion was swelling as it looked impossible for them to get out. They were in an increasingly dire situation. They were saying goodbye to their loved ones. Some were actively dying. It left all of their fates up in the air over the hiatus. It set up the expectation that someone was going to be leaving the cast at the start of this season. The show plays with life-or-death stakes on a regular basis. Without it, there isn't a dramatically satisfying show here. This is a trick the show has played before with the second season finale where Shay ultimately died. A cliffhanger like this only works if the consequences are severe and immediate. It feels weird for me to complain that everyone emerges unharmed and healthier than ever before considering how much I like the character work here. It just goes against the expectations the show set up for itself. So, it makes this a very lame and unnecessary cliffhanger. It makes the finale retroactively bad and forced which is just a really weird creative decision to make.

The creative team was even teasing the audience with death over the hiatus. Derek Haas is now the show's only showrunner after serving in the capacity in the five previous seasons with series co-creator Michael Brandt. So, it's not a radically different team running the show. It's just a slight adjustment. One that shouldn't be noticeable. And yet, this resolution plays as the creative team not wanting to lose anyone from the cast. They are happy with the characters they have and don't want to replace any of them. But Haas still did multiple interviews where he said that characters would be departing this season. If it wasn't because of this cliffhanger, then what is it going to be? It just seems so weird. It makes "It Wasn't Enough" feel like the show devolving into something it used to be instead of a procedural that has evolved and grown over the years. Again, it's just such a weird creative decision that makes it seem like all of the character work that has been happening lately was all just one big misunderstanding. This plays as a clean slate to reinvent characters but not in the same way they were being reinvented near the end of the fifth season.

The show has been teasing character departures on screen for awhile now as well. In Season 5, so many characters either thought about leaving the job or were almost forced out of their positions. A call that Boden made in the field could have led to him being let go as captain. Boden running afoul of a superior officer scattered the core characters to firehouses all across the city. Severide thought about transferring to a firehouse in Springfield in order to be with Anna for good. Herrmann and Otis have had medical problems that could have affected their ability to do the job. Cruz was forced to have a 60-day suspension for his actions off-the-job and because Mouch was too out of touch with the new politics of the job. Mouch was ready to retire because he no longer felt he could effectively do his job as a union rep. All of these stories are big decisions for the characters to make. The stakes need to feel real. There needs to be the perception that they may actually leave the firehouse to live their lives somewhere else. But they always reach the same conclusion of everyone standing united with their makeshift family and being stronger because of it. It's a threat that continued with this cliffhanger. And now, everyone of importance has survived that dire situation.

The only character who didn't return from the previous season was Kannell. He was in the fire alongside Severide. But he doesn't die. There's a throwaway line that says a spot opened up for him on first shift. He's going to remain a part of this firehouse. He just won't be seen interacting with the main characters again anytime soon. His absence is noted. And yet, he was never a major character anyway. He had an important story in two or three episodes but he wasn't a vital part of the show. Meanwhile, it seems absolutely crazy that Mouch survived this cliffhanger. He and Herrmann were trapped in a room because of the fire. But more importantly, he had a heart attack in there. It was the conventional story of a guy doing one last job before he retires but it ultimately turning deadly. That is such a familiar trope. But it only really works if the show fully pulls the trigger on it. Sure, Mouch's death would have been devastating. In particular, it would have been so destructive for P.D.'s Trudy. But the show just reveals Mouch to be alive and with a new healthier outlook on life. He doesn't even have any recovery time. That's the weirdest part of this episode. The logistics are just odd. The show has never properly explored the consequences of serious injuries. The characters are already returning to work long before they possibly could have healed. Gabby had a miscarriage. There was a big emotional episode about it. Then, she was back to work in the next episode. Herrmann got stabbed. There was a big emotional episode about it. Then, he was back to work in the next episode. That pattern continues here with Mouch. He had a heart attack in a fire when he was planning on retiring. There was a big swell of emotion signaling his death. But now, he's survived and already back on the job. It happens here because there's a time jump of a couple of months. That still doesn't seem like enough of a recovery time though.

The biggest annoyance of this episode though probably comes from the fake out moment with Casey. He's always been presented as the lead of the show or at least the co-lead with Severide. He got his big goodbye moment with Gabby in the season finale as things looked grim for him. Boden plans on saving his men by turning on the water. It would boil all of them to death if they don't find cover. Casey isn't wearing his helmet because he's trying to save a civilian. He finds shelter by knocking a cabinet over. Meanwhile, Herrmann is maintain CPR on Mouch despite the steam injuring him as well. It seems like Herrmann sustains serious injuries to the areas of skin not covered by the gear. Meanwhile, Casey is unconscious when Boden finds him. The action then cuts to what looks like a memorial service for Casey. The direction makes it clear that this is an emotional time following Casey's death. But then, it's revealed he's perfectly fine. He's just getting a medal for his bravery. It's such an epic moment of trolling the audience though. It's so manipulative in a very off-putting way. It's destructive. Plus, why is Casey the only person to get a medal for his actions in the fire? Shouldn't Herrmann get one too for his efforts to save Mouch? Meanwhile, the consequences of all of this are so minor. Yes, Gabby has her big moment of telling Casey never to say goodbye to her like that again. She knows he can't keep that promise but asks him to do it anyway. It plays as a moment to address the emotion of what happened while trying to move past it as quickly as possible. It's just not all that effective.

And finally, Severide's actions feel like a regression as well. Severide has always been presented as the womanizer. Every single female character who interacts with him is bound to fall into his bed in a matter of scenes. It's so inevitable and expected. The show told a very different story last season. He seemed to come to the realization that he no longer wanted to be living this life. Instead, he fell in love with Anna and wanted to be with her. He was so devastated when her cancer returned and she died. It was such a simple, emotional and tragic love story. It's one of the best plots the show has ever done. It made it seem like the chapter was closed on Severide flirting with numerous women and having meaningless sex all the time. He found love and nothing could compare to that feeling. But now, he's back to being the womanizer. He's back to being the man who meets a woman and is destined to sleep with them. This new option is Brett's friend from her hometown, Hope. As the story happens, it feels like something the show has done a million times already. It felt like the narrative had moved past this. But apparently, it hasn't. Plus, it seems likely that the show is positioning Kidd as a potential love interest for him once more. They had their time but they work so much better as friends. Her moving in with him is bound to bring their love connection back to the forefront once more. Unless the show can find a new spin on that, it feels unnecessary.

Some more thoughts:
  • "It Wasn't Enough" was written by Derek Haas and directed by Reza Tabrizi.
  • The premiere ends with the firehouse being pulled into another epic fire that is bound to define the story for a little bit moving forward. There's a big fire at the school where Donna teaches. Boden jumps into action knowing how personal it is. And then, one teacher is in critical condition while Donna teases that the fire wasn't an accident. That could be an intriguing story.
  • Meanwhile, there's an accident that actually comes to the firehouse. A father carries his daughter to the front door. She's bleeding from the eyes. It's a shocking visual. But she's actually just choking on a hot dog. Things are tense for a few moments but Gabby and Brett are successfully able to save her and take her to the hospital.
  • Cruz yelling his apology to Mouch when it seemed like he was dying was a very effective moment in the finale. It was so simple but very devastating. And now, his overcompensating is blown up to be this very big and deliberate thing. It gets annoying. That's the point. The other characters are bugged by it as well. But Mouch hasn't done anything to change it moving forward.
  • The firefighters visit the set of Chicago Med but it's noticeable that none of those characters actually appear. Crossovers have become so casual in this universe. But things are complicated now because Chicago Med ended on a big cliffhanger but isn't returning until 2018. So, will any of those characters appear at all in the first half of this show's season?
  • There's also a very blatant reference to the fact that Chicago Justice was cancelled. At Molly's, the gang is talking about how firefighters, police officers, doctors and lawyers all come in here. And then, it's said that there aren't too many lawyers any more.