Wednesday, October 4, 2017

REVIEW: 'Chicago P.D.' - Burgess Struggles to Help a Fellow Officer in a Compromising Position in 'The Thing About Heroes'

NBC's Chicago P.D. - Episode 5.02 "The Thing About Heroes"

After a van explodes during a Chicago street festival, a Muslim patrol officer Frank Toma goes missing and evidence quickly piles up pointing to his involvement. Burgess - who helped train Toma - is desperate to prove his innocence, even if that means going against her superiors. 

On one hand, the main plot of "The Thing About Heroes" is a very lame and formulaic story. It's the tale of a bombing at a public event that eventually is connected to a terrorist group that wishes for the death of America. It's stereotypical and broad not in an insightful or meaningful way either. And yet, the execution does work significantly better because Burgess is the point-of-entry character for this story. Chicago P.D. got so much better as soon as it stopped trying to tell ensemble driven stories in each episode and instead just spotlighted one character with each specific case. Of course, that makes many of the individual episodes in a given season very hit-or-miss. Some characters can handle being the lead of this show. They have the emotional connection to the audience where everything is grounded no matter how extreme the situation gets. They have all been put through the ringer and been forever changed by this job. Their personal lives have been attacked and compromised because of this profession. Nearly every officer has had a story told about a family member who became a victim of a crime. Again, it's not all that original and does get repetitive after awhile. It makes it seem like this is the life of a cop. It will always have deadly consequences on the people who choose to love them. And yet, things are always pretty strong and entertaining when Burgess is the central character. She's probably the character most easily to relate to at the moment. It's easy because the show has been very clear in her motivations and how effective she is at this job. She's risked it all and come away stronger because of it.

The connection Burgess has to this case is very tangential and needs to be established before the story really gets going. Apparently, she helped train officer Frank Toma for a month. She rode along with him to ensure he knew how to police correctly throughout this city. She's happy to see him when she, Atwater and Ruzek are on patrol duty during a big street festival. It's a connection that she has that the guys don't. It's important to be reminded that none of them are actually detectives yet. Just because they are now working out of Intelligence doesn't mean they have that promotion. The only one who truly deserves it as well is Burgess. If Upton was able to get promoted with just a few years on the job, then Burgess deserves it as well. Perhaps that will be an important storyline this season. The show is purposefully pointing this out to the audience. It's not distracting either. It's not like the early seasons of the show where there was the main plot but also the uniform cops doing something a little more trivial while still being good cops in the city. Burgess was always the focal point of those stories. Atwater and Ruzek moved up to Intelligence ahead of her. But now, she has her own place in the unit. It's nice to just see her as a part of this unit once more. She had to take some time off. But now, she's back and better than ever before. That's very rewarding.

So, there is a fundamental lack of depth to this relationship Burgess has with Toma simply because he has never been seen before. The show didn't actually depict Burgess' training of him. It's just important for the backstory of this case. It's established in the opening moments, then the show moves to the bombing. The officers are able to see it right away so that the impact is minimal. But there are still a few casualties. It escalates the tension in this story right away. The FBI comes into town and needs to be looped in with everything that is going on. That's represented in one character who is largely just in the room during all of the various updates of the case. He doesn't really add a whole lot to the actual story. A crucial detail that cracks open this case doesn't come from him. It's just the show doing the sensible thing and being aware that the FBI would want to be in the loop about what was going on. In most cases, they probably would have taken over. But Voight is very protective of his city and was able to convince him that Intelligence should lead the charge. Of course, the official investigation is largely focused on trying to find Toma. Yes, some time is spent on Halstead and Upton going to Chicago Med to interview the one suspect who got hit by a car in the grand escape. But that doesn't produce much meaningful story. Instead, more time is devoted to Burgess and Antonio trying to find Toma. That's basically the show tipping its hand that the speculation is about to run rampant about him possibly being the inside man for this job.

It's then unsurprising when that's the twist that actually occurs in this story. Burgess and Antonio find jihadist websites on Toma's computer. They are able to connect him to the extremist mosque where most of these players attended services. No one is able to get into contact with him. When they interview his loved ones, they don't understand what's happened and worry that he's saying goodbye when he does reach out. It's building to the moment where it seems like he's consumed with guilt over his role in all of this and ready to kill himself. Burgess arrives in order to reason with him. But it's all futile. He pulls the trigger while also giving her evidence that will possible explain everything. It's not surprising at all that there is another twist that can explain away all of Toma's actions. If the show didn't take this turn in the story, it would have been a very lame and unimaginative episode that really only did the bare minimum in terms of telling an entertaining story. With the twist, it's clear that the creative team knew that it needed more in order to create that kind of compelling episode. So, it's revealed he was working an undercover mission. He was doing it himself with no official authorization. That's why he was beating himself up in the end. He was so close to exposing these guys but wasn't able to stop their attack. They still carried it out. Of course, his evidence is then able to be used to apprehend these suspects. The police stop a second attack because of Toma. It's just tragic that he's not alive to see that happen and get the credit for all of the good police work.

The final ten minutes or so are then all about establishing new grudges within the department. Burgess blames Toma's partner for what happened to him. This officer, Rose, has a family connection in the department. As such, that makes him seem untouchable. That allows him to have the confidence to walk around with a ton of prejudice. He never wanted to be partnered with an officer who was both Muslim and gay. To him, that was a detriment to do this job. He figured Toma would always end up dead because he just didn't belong. He made sure to let his feelings be known as well. Burgess wants to call him out for that and get him sanctioned for his deplorable behavior. It's a little sickening that Voight forces her to wait because Rose is too protected to do anything right now. It's a weird moment because it's a man telling a woman that she just needs to accept the world for what it is and not report abuse when she sees it. That's not the message the show wants to be sending as evidenced in the very next scene with Voight having words with Denny Woods again about his role in this case. But from Burgess' perspective, it's her male superior crushing her desire to take down a corrupt officer for no good reason. It doesn't feel like a teaching moment where she can see the power of knowing when and how to strike in this professional environment. That's the lesson the audience is suppose to take because Voight outlines his thought process in the very next scene. But again, that's not information Burgess is privy to. So, her feelings should continue to fester and be annoyed by what Voight does in limiting her right now on the job despite all of the solid work she does in this case.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Thing About Heroes" was written by John Dove and directed by Rohn Schmidt.
  • Because this is a spotlight episode for Burgess, the show also needs to reveal more about the new guy she is dating. He still isn't seen onscreen. But Burgess tells Ruzek his name and that he is a prosecutor. They met at the courthouse a few months ago and formed a connection. Hopefully, this is all that needs to be said right now - unless Ruzek continues to push for more to see if it's actually something real.
  • Antonio seems to be the only other officer in Intelligence who is willing to protect and stand by Burgess as she spirals out about this case too. He is there to ensure she takes a walk before saying something to Voight that she'll regret. He raises concerns after she takes the envelope of information. But he still has her back in the field when they search the apartment.
  • Voight and Olinsky are still of the mentality that an act of terrorism means the police need to act quickly and throw the rulebook out the window. They want to embrace intimidation to get information out of the suspect. Meanwhile, Upton knows that's not the right thing to do. She can get the information they need out of him - which she ultimately does as well.
  • So, Denny got the orders to release Tumo's name to the public to ensure that a second attack wouldn't happen. That doesn't make it seem like he's all that independent in his new position for the department. Plus, he doesn't see the point in releasing a second statement that says that Tumo is actually a hero who deserves a funeral service with all the support of the department.
  • In Chicago Med updates this week, Upton and Halstead are annoyed when they want to interview the suspect about his role in the bombing right away but are blocked by April who says he needs to be treated first and foremost. It's a moment that still works without compromising the continuity on that show in this franchise.