Wednesday, October 18, 2017

REVIEW: 'Chicago P.D.' - A Case Gets Personal for Atwater as Ruzek Crosses a Line in 'Snitch'

NBC's Chicago P.D. - Episode 5.04 "Snitch"

While investigating a drug-related homicide, Intelligence is stonewalled by the "no-snitch" culture of the neighborhood. Atwater discovers a personal connection to the case. The police's own code of silence is put to the test when Upton is asked about Ruzek's rough altercation with a suspect.

"Snitch" splits its focus pretty evenly between Ruzek and Atwater. The story centers on one of them being a sympathetic character and the other being completely unlikable. It concludes with one set to deal with lingering consequences for his actions and the other seemingly getting away completely free. It's a unique blend for the story that needs to be calibrated just right. The blend just seems off in this episode though. On one hand, it seems like the show is continuing to set up a main story of tackling police corruption this season. These early episodes are showing how none of the actions of the people in Intelligence are to be admired. They have all taken compromising actions because it's the kind of leadership that Voight invokes. They complain about the way policing is changing in the social media era. That creates the core source of conflict this season because they are being asked to be held accountable for their actions. They believe they should have the freedom to do whatever it takes in order to make their case. Voight is perfectly fine with whatever his officers need to do in the field. He has the influence to still cover up crimes when they occur. That's getting increasingly more difficult. The show should explore that. The real-world is changing when it comes to policing. But right now, it still feels like the show is repeating past patterns. There continues to be the hope that all of this has a purpose where the characters will deal with some severe consequences. But through four episodes, it seems like all kinds of repercussions will occur in the characters' personal lives instead of on the job. Outside things have changed in the department but the way that Voight and everyone else in Intelligence operates is basically the same. They aren't being forced to change but the slant in the writing has no longer made their actions okay to be applauded. But that sets up the problem of how the audience is suppose to feel about all of this because that feeling is very overwhelming to the overall narrative.

And so, Atwater's story is the much more effective one of this hour. He doesn't have the immediate connection to this case. It's just a simple story of Ruzek trying to take down a local drug dealer when his cover gets blown. But it takes the fascinating angle of a police officer investigating a crime that happens in his neighborhood. Atwater has always been seen as a member of the team. He gets along with everyone at Intelligence. Across all of these seasons though, I would still say he's one of the more underdeveloped characters. Yes, time has been spent on his friendship with Burgess as well as him looking after his younger brother and sister. But he hasn't been an active part of this ensemble like so many of the other characters. Usually, he's just the guy who comes in with a new piece of evidence and can assist in an arrest. As such, he hasn't been one of my favorite characters. But I've never actively disliked him either. He just didn't ultimately do much for me to form a full opinion on him. He's had some episodic spotlights before. But those struggled from not really wanting to push the limits of what could be happening to this character. This hour pushes him into a bold and uncertain future. That's very compelling and shows that this character can be one of the more sympathetic amongst this ensemble. This year especially the show needs to give the audience at least a few characters who we can root for.

Atwater gets tangled up in this story because it's his neighborhood that has been stricken by this violence. He understands this community better than anyone else in the unit. He takes a leading role because of that. He has the empathy for the people who refuse to cooperate with the police. People like Ruzek and Halstead are criticizing why people don't just instinctively trust them. It makes both of them seem incredibly naive and oblivious. They've dealt with race relations as well. They know how difficult it is to form neighborhood connections. But right now, it's all about developing criminal informants in the hopes that it'll lead to arrests. It's not actively forming connections with the community to ensure that there is that line of communication once something terrible does occur. There is a difference in those two methods. Ruzek and Halstead want assistance without having to do any work whatsoever. Atwater knows it's not as simple as that. And yes, the show does hit this plot point over the head throughout this episode. Atwater can connect with this case because it's people that he knows. He understands the impulse to keep quiet instead of being forthcoming with information. But he's also a cop and he's trying to pull information out of these people while still knowing just how precarious that can be. That's a compelling story. It's muddied significantly because it has to share the focus with whatever is going on with Ruzek though.

In the beginning, it seems like Ruzek is torn apart because his cover getting blown is the reason for his informant getting killed. He believes he's responsible for that. But that's not a story avenue the show is interested in pursuing. Instead, it quickly sweeps that under the rug to instead highlight just how ill-tempered Ruzek can be on this show. This season is actively making Ruzek the absolute worst in Intelligence. That has frequently been the case but the show hasn't seemed aware of that for a long time. The show has frequently positioned him as a romantic hero of his own story. Instead, he's really a rookie officer who got promoted quickly to this unit for no good reason and his behavior is all completely learned from Voight and Olinksy. That's not good policing at all. Atwater and Burgess are good police because they spent the time as beat cops. Meanwhile, Ruzek is the one who doesn't totally understand or respect the rules. He believes it's completely okay for him to punch the lead suspect as soon as he starts taunting the police. The fact that Upton is there to pull him away offers a suggestion that this action will have major consequences for him. But again, this is quickly swept under the rug. There's the threat of it being an action that could end his career. And then, everything is quickly dealt with offscreen. That's weird and happens for no reason whatsoever. Voight wasn't responsible for it either even though he was feeding a plausible story to Ruzek to make his case for the investigation. But it's ultimately Upton who gets the case thrown away. Her motivation for that action is shrouded in secrecy. That's something that should be explored moving forward. Why would she do this if she's a morally just police officer? It seemingly makes no sense. Perhaps it will after the show tells a story about her. But for right now, it just lives in an awkward limbo.

Plus, the show knows how to tell a story in an ambiguous way while still showcasing the complexity of the characters. Atwater's brother gets pulled into this case. He now has a personal connection to this story. Yes, it's the show repeating a past pattern of ramping up the stakes by putting a family member of a main character in danger. This show has told that story so many times. And yet, it's still quite compelling to watch here. Atwater believes he can protect his brother from whatever retaliation may come his way. And yet, he's definitely tempted to just shoot the killer to ensure that nothing will happen to Jordan. He's conflicted in that moment. That conflict is inherently dramatic and interesting. Sure, the scene really didn't need Voight to come in to whisper in his ear and stoke the fire even more. It would have been just as effective without him there. But the even more chilling sight is in seeing the aftermath. Jordan doesn't believe he has to be worried about anything. He trusts that his brother is protecting him. He believes everything can be normal once again. But from Atwater's perspective, everything is not alright. He believes that any possible moment could be the moment where someone attacks and takes his brother away from him. As such, he seems increasingly paranoid. It's a chilling final moment for him here. Hopefully, it will continue to have an impact on him as an officer and guardian moving forward. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "Snitch" was directed by Terry Miller with story by Rick Eid & Gavin Harris and teleplay by Rick Eid.
  • Monica Barbaro is the first cast member from Chicago Justice to make an appearance on one of the other shows in the franchise. That's not totally surprising. It will just be interesting to see if any more cast members will appear. There's a solid way for P.D. to integrate those characters. Police and lawyers work closely together. Plus, Antonio worked with them on that show. But it's not all that necessary either.
  • Speaking of Antonio, the show is setting up a new mystery with him that may include him making a play to take Voight down. Right now, it's just speculation. Voight fears that it's happening because he saw Antonio meeting with a rising star in the State's Attorney's office. It's just a meaningless tease for the moment though.
  • Of course, any story that has the narrative stakes of taking Voight down for corruption is basically a moot point right now. It's a story the show has tried doing before. But it doesn't quite know how to handle Voight as a lead character and as a central figure of this investigation. It has always seemed as if Voight deserves to escape whatever charges come his way which has always been awkward.
  • Burgess is a part of the Atwater family dynamic as well. That's nice to see. Not all of their connections at Intelligence are genuine and real. Most of them just work together and are comfortable getting a drink after work. But Burgess really does care about Atwater and his family. This story really isn't about her. But she could be someone Atwater could talk to should this become a huge thing for him.
  • Seriously though, Ruzek is just so annoyingly cocky. He just assumes that Upton will cover for him in this investigation. He believes it'll happen because that's the environment he has always known. He has that trust in her despite her being new to the unit. That makes no sense. In fact, it verges to the point of harassment because he really wants to explode on her.