Thursday, October 19, 2017

REVIEW: 'Chicago Fire' - Gabby Finds Herself Trapped in a Perilous Situation in 'A Breaking Point'

NBC's Chicago Fire - Episode 6.04 "A Breaking Point"

While running a secret errand, Gabby finds herself trapped in a collapsed parking structure. With all paths of exit blocked, she is forced to improvise and works double-duty to keep a number of injured individuals alive while trying to maintain peace among those trapped. Pressure is mounting on Casey as he begins to take on additional duties. Kidd grows increasingly skeptical of Hope after learning about rumors circulating.

Chicago Fire has given Casey and Severide their big hero moments before. By that I mean they've had episodic showcases where the main plot focuses on one of them off-duty and trapped in a perilous situation using their firefighter skills in order to survive. They were terrific episodes as well. I really do appreciate when this show decides to just do a bottle episode. It allows the tension to be really intense. They are in these precarious situations trying to save lives. Sometimes this show can be at its most effective when it just simplifies things. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoy the ensemble nature of this show. Those ongoing personal stories are what makes this the best show in the franchise. It's an above-average procedural because it's telling character-based stories as well. As such, it's surprising that it has taken the show until its sixth season to give Gabby her big hero showcase. She has always been just as strong and heroic as her male counterparts at the firehouse. In fact, she may even be better than them. She's opinionated and fights back against the bureaucracy of the job. But she's also just extraordinary talented in the field. She fought to be a firefighter. She succeeded at that. And now, she's back to saving lives as a paramedic. That makes her better than so many of the other characters in this show. She has the knowledge for how to survive in this specific situation she finds herself in.

Of course, Gabby gets into this predicament only because some construction workers are incredibly stupid. It's clear the moment Gabby is looking at the building as it crumbles that a huge disaster is about to occur. It's literally falling apart already. But she still rushes in to save lives. She understands just how dangerous this situation can really be. The foreman just wants to label her as a crazy woman than listen to what she has to say about the situation. He comes across as a guy who couldn't possibly believe that a woman would know better than him about his job. That's the mentality that swiftly gets him punished. It's a horrifying moment. The building comes down and he gets caught in the destruction. Gabby escapes perfectly fine. Sure, she's banged up a little. But the man running behind her has an immediate head injury. The guy dies soon thereafter. It's a tragic moment because the show highlights the humanity of this man even though he wasn't willing to listen to Gabby. He has a family he cares about. Gabby tries her best but can't save him. She's without the tools to save him. She's ill-prepared to handle this situation without all of her supplies from the ambulance. But the hour does a nice job in showcasing how intense this situation really is by how unstable the structure can be. It creates a huge problem for her to fix. She's capable of understanding how the structure will react to the various actions. That makes her the most capable person on the scene helping those trapped survive.

Of course, Gabby gets some help in that endeavor as well. An army guy is down there too. He has never been abroad. But people still look to him for orders and guidance because he is wearing the familiar uniform. The show does enough to suggest that he wants to take control of this scene over from Gabby because he believes he knows best. He thinks it's much safer for everyone to start digging their way out instead of trying to reinforce the support beams. Everyone listens to him because he has that aura of authority to him. The show flirts with the idea of him being a toxic male figure who doesn't always listen to Gabby's opinion even though she's always ultimately going to be right in her assessment of the situation. The show isn't afraid to make some of the characters trapped down here incredibly unlikable either. One woman is angry that the banker denied her claim to refinance her mortgage and is a racist who believes that every African American expects the world to just hand things to them. She's a blunt personality. The show flirts with the idea that her ideas will be challenged because of this experience because she's forced to rely on the people she judges to help her survive in this situation. Gabby doesn't like her but still does everything in her power to ensure that everyone survives. And in the end, the army officer gets to be a hero as well. The show always has such respect for the men and women in uniform. So, it was never going to make him a confrontational figure in this story. It just takes awhile for him and Gabby to actually work together in a genuine way that keeps them all alive.

That's then tied into a grand sacrifice that needs to be made. This building is filling up with carbon monoxide. A car was running when the building started coming down. The driver is basically died. Gabby understands the severity of the situation and knows the trick to discover where the leak is coming from. But the army guy is ultimately the one whose brave actions save the day long enough for everyone to survive. It would have meant one thing if it was a suicide mission like Gabby was telling him it would be. But he ultimately survives all of this. He just needs to be rescued later on. He passes out from the gas but is going to make a full recovery. Of course, it's also rewarding that Gabby's actions are what ultimately allow everyone to survive. She understands that reinforcing the beam is what they need to do to give the rescue workers the time to dig them out. She can make sense of the actions being done above them. She can translate them to the people around her who are panicking. It's a little weird that it takes her awhile to get to the elevator in the hopes of using its emergency phone. That allows for the tense moment where the man who doesn't speak English reveals that his daughter is trapped in there. That's an ominous note. It takes awhile for the phone to be fixed as well. But it ultimately is. Gabby is able to make the call and get everyone to safety in time. Sure, it seems like they are just able to run out with the rescue workers not ultimately doing much. But the hole they create is still vital to their survival. They point her in the right direction and she knows exactly what to do. Plus, she gets to be the hero in saving her new army friend as well.

It's a rousing moment. Of course, the balance of these big hero episodes can be weird too. It needs to be established how this regular character could be trapped in this dangerous situation for awhile without anyone noticing. It's explained why Gabby isn't on shift yet. It's explained why Firehouse 51 isn't at the scene making the life-or-death decisions. It takes them such a long time to figure out what's going on with Gabby though. They aren't crucial in the rescue. They are just there for more manpower. But the show takes a little too much pleasure out of the fact that it's just a regular day for everyone back at 51. It's finding the comedy in Casey being a captain now and taking on more responsibilities in the firehouse. That's awkward and doesn't quite match the tone that is happening elsewhere in the narrative. Plus, the episode is all building to the moment where he officially gets his promotion. Gabby is literally putting a medal on him. That's such a weird moment and not exactly what this episode should be ending on. 51 is able to toss this ceremony aside and spring into action as soon as they realize what's going on with Gabby. That's rewarding. But them honoring Casey instead of Gabby's heroism feels wrong. He's the one getting the medal. Yes, the characters note that Gabby should be the one being celebrated in this moment. But commenting on that is different from actually doing it. Gabby's hard efforts that saved lives should be rewarded as well. This is overall a strong episode for her. But too much of it is also about Casey. This time he's the one on the receiving end of the call where Gabby doesn't know if she'll survive. The show doesn't get much drama out of that though. Overall, it's an effective story. But there are still a few details that keep it from being the show at its absolute best. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "A Breaking Point" was written by Michael A. O'Shea and directed by Matt Earl Beesley.
  • In addition to all of this, Brett confronts Hope about the scandalous news Connie gave her at the end of last week's episode. This doesn't feel like the appropriate time for that given everything else happening. And yet, it needed to be addressed because it was revealed a week ago. Hope has been off as a character this entire season so far. So now, her explanation better be good.
  • In the end, it feels like the mystery of Hope is just kicked further down the field. She is able to give Brett a convincing reason for why her former boss said she stole $10,000 from him. She says she had an affair with him that turned toxic. That's why she needed to escape her hometown. It's why there isn't an official investigation trying to find her. But is it too easy as well? It still feels like there is some mystery that needs to be cracked with her.
  • There's also just a random subplot about one of Herrmann's sons and his scout troop bringing a pet animal into the firehouse. It's absolutely ridiculous and is basically just piling on the comedy and stress of Casey's new position. It then has a final punchline of the cage door opening and the animal escaping to somewhere in the firehouse never to be found again. But it's still a story that just doesn't belong here.
  • The story makes a point in saying that Severide could get a promotion like Casey if he wanted to but he doesn't want that right now. They acknowledge that there is now a change in their ranks. They are no longer of equal footing in the department. But from Severide's perspective, it's never something he would want because of all the bureaucratic responsibilities that come with it.
  • The construction foreman is the only person who ultimately dies during this building collapse. Gabby is unable to save him because she can't intubate him. Of course, the narrative keeps it very intense in suggesting that many others could die. Two people are suffering from panic attacks while another was literally trapped in a car with blood on his hands. Plus, there's the whole carbon monoxide thing. But it still ends well for all of them.