Wednesday, September 27, 2017

REVIEW: 'Chicago P.D.' - Halstead's Future on the Job is Unclear After a Civilian Gets Hurt in 'Reform'

NBC's Chicago P.D. - Episode 5.01 "Reform"

The district is in a state of change - Lindsay has moved to New York and the CPD is under scrutiny about the corrupt nature of its institution. Under the watchful eye of the city, the team attempts to bust a gun deal that quickly turns dicey when innocent civilians and children get involved. Tension erupts when Chief Lugo brings in Denny Woods to review the shootout, and Halstead becomes a key player in the outcome of the case.

The fourth season of Chicago P.D. turned out to be a year of significant character comings and goings. Antonio left to be a main character on Chicago Justice. Mouse left the unit in order to return to the army. Burgess had another new partner who came and went quickly. Then, she was finally promoted to Intelligence only to have to leave to care for her sister. Ruzek went missing after Burgess was promoted. He returned eventually to kick out the detective who replaced him. Then, Upton came in to fill the void left by Burgess. All of this culminated in the season finale departures of female lead Sophia Bush and series co-creator and showrunner Matt Olmstead. Detective Lindsay got a big, pointed ending that left very little room for ambiguity though her official departure from the cast wasn't announced until later in the summer. Meanwhile, Olmstead left for an overall deal at ABC Studios and was replaced by Rick Eid, who is a newcomer to the Chicago franchise but not the Dick Wolf machine (having served as showrunner for one year on Law & Order: SVU). So, it was a big season of change for the drama. And now, the show has the potential to head in a new creative direction. One that respects what came before but also has the opportunity to grow into something more compelling and interesting to watch.

And yet, things aren't exactly all that subtle or handled well in "Reform." The show is basically just screaming that corruption is rampant with every government official and the only reason to put up with the main characters is because they are the only ones telling the "truth." It's a new mission statement that could be intriguing. Some serialization in the storylines this season is an intriguing idea that could produce some entertaining moments. But the writing in this episode just doesn't signal great things. It's basically just saying that it's tough to be a police officer in 2017 because of all the political correctness - especially in Chicago, a city seemingly defined by its crime. That's basically all the depth there is to this opening episode. It tries to tackle an important subject of a white police officer and killing a child with a stray bullet. But it's also fundamentally saying that all outrage because of that is just a show in order to sway public opinion to one issue and not because it could be seen as morally reprehensible to have all that corruption go unchecked. So, the priorities seem to be off in the writing. It's weird and leads to a not very effective premiere for the season.

The officer at the center of the shooting is Jay. He's in a precarious mindset right now because Lindsay has just completely vanished on him. He was getting ready to propose but she chose to take a job with the FBI in New York. That seemed to be the natural trajectory of their relationship as well. In the early seasons, they appeared to be the great romantic story of the series. Figuring out when or if they would get together in that way was driving their personal moments. And yet, the show never knew what to do with them as a couple once they got together. The creative team has always held the misguided opinion that happy couples are boring to watch. So instead of trying to figure out how a relationship would work, they just created obstacles to create tension and drive them apart. That's ultimately what happened between them. There was some silly plot device that happened that made them put distance in their relationship where Lindsay was focusing on herself and what she wanted. That made it okay for her to take this new job offer without feeling any guilt for what it would do to Jay. Of course, they were never the best romantic options for each other either. Lindsay always had more of a spark with Severide from Chicago Fire - even though the shows constantly forgot that the two of them once dated. And Jay always has more chemistry with Natalie from Chicago Med - even though his brother is allegedly suppose to be the one actually pining after her.

All of this makes it so everything feels like it's falling apart for Jay. He's lost the woman he wanted to marry. And now, he may lose his job because of an illegal daycare in the neighborhood getting caught in the crossfire of a gun deal. But the guilt he feels about one of his bullets killing a young girl almost comes across as an afterthought. He's the one who notifies the family of the accident. He's there to return the necklace at the end of the hour. It shows that the emotion of the situation still hits him. But the story itself is much more interested on whether this will cost him his job. It's criticizing the media for saying that he should be fired for this incident. It's criticizing the optics of the situation. Jay is a good cop who did the right thing in the situation. But instead, a circus is forming that is calling for his badge and gun. It feels a little too ridiculous. The show never takes it all that seriously. But it should. This is serious subject matter. It's right for men in blue to be critical of people judging them when they don't understand the split second decisions they have to make in the field. Jay is ultimately able to keep his job because Intelligence finds the man who got shot by the bullet in the stomach. It's just an overly complicated story that doesn't ultimately land on a clear message. It should have an impact on the character but it doesn't. It should have an impact on the community but it doesn't. It just feels like a way to introduce new characters whose own personal corruptions are being ignored so that they can try to persecute Jay in the media.

One of these people criticizing Intelligence's handling of this case is Denny Woods, who was revealed to be a corrupt officer last season. Mykelti Williamson's guest spot last season felt like a one-time thing. It wasn't meant to be an ongoing story. Voight looked into a case from his past to see how blind he was to all that Denny was doing. He exposed him for the corrupt officer he was. It reached a nice conclusion by the end of that hour. And now, all of that is just wiped away. Denny is now an independent auditor hired by the police force to review cases like this. He's now the man in charge of investigating claims of corruption in the department. That's just a really ridiculous twist that feels forced. It plays as the new creative team liking what Williamson did last season and figuring out a reason to keep him around on a recurring basis. It doesn't serve much of a point here except in highlighting that the audience shouldn't really trust the systems to keep Intelligence in check because they have their own personal grudges against the unit. The same is also true of Wendell Pierce's alderman. He's a huge casting get for this show. It has the feeling of a recurring role as well. He is an alderman trying to protect the citizens of his ward while also interfering with this investigation because his community projects are funded by gang money. So, he's yet another corrupt official. He's doing the right thing with the money but also ensuring that the players involved stay on the streets to keep the financing going. Again, it could possibly become an intriguing story in the future. But right now, it feels very introductory without much purpose. The alderman and Voight are able to come to an understanding. It's able to bring a swift resolution to this case while clearing Jay's name in the media. But it's also ridiculous that the world at large would suddenly change just because the alderman tells them to. Jay's actions are suddenly forgotten and he's able to continue on with the job. That seems a little too aspirational while avoiding the ongoing consequences of his actions.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Reform" was written by Rick Eid and directed by Eriq La Salle.
  • The "Previously on..." segment here is basically the show's big goodbye to Lindsay. She doesn't make a return appearance here at all. This footage from last season just confirms her story and her exit from the show. Of course, it's then fascinating to see Voight in therapy because of it. He's lost another child. Sure, Lindsay isn't dead like Justin is. But his life has changed once more. This could be a very significant part of his story this year. Some change could do him some good.
  • Is Upton already being positioned as a new love interest for Jay? That just seems very forced and rushed. Does the show not think that young women can be a part of this show without ultimately being defined by dating a co-worker? It's been a consistent trait for Burgess for four seasons even though she's much more fascinating a character as an effective police officer. But here, Upton is the one comforting Jay in a genuine way.
  • Burgess shoots Ruzek down when he asks her out again because she's already dating someone new. That's very good news. She deserves so much better than Ruzek. She left because he refused to grow up or evolve based on his past actions. And now, he believes things will be the same as they were even though she had the time away to figure some things out. She's come back to the job focused and ready to work.
  • This premiere also seems to recognize that Ruzek really is the worst. He embraces the show's anti-political correctness when it comes to policing more than any other character. He's quick to pull out his gun and force a black man into compliance. It's a sudden and jarring moment. Atwater is surprised. And yet, it's probably the show embracing the characteristics that have always been present with Ruzek. He's an untrained officer who got this promotion without really earning it.
  • How has it taken the city this long to install cameras in the interrogation room at Intelligence? They've gotten into so many problems over the years with complaints of excessive force. That's because so much of the stories have been so personal to the detectives. But now, the presence of these cameras should always be addressed because it will change the way the unit conducts business. 
  • The show had this big goodbye to Jon Seda last season because he was leaving to be a significant part of Chicago Justice. And then, that show failed. So now, he's returning to this one. It just feels weird. Last season explained how this career move would be good for him. It was given the time to actually become something real and important for the character. And now, he's brought back to Intelligence as quickly as possible with such a lackluster reason.