Wednesday, October 25, 2017

REVIEW: 'Chicago P.D.' - Voight is Disgusted by a New Case as Atwater Fears for His Family in 'Home'

NBC's Chicago P.D. - Episode 5.05 "Home"

When Intelligence busts a meth lab run by gang leader Marshall Carter, they uncover a re-homing scam in which children adopted from foreign countries are abandoned, then sold online. Atwater struggles with the difficult decision about whether to move his siblings to a safer environment outside of Chicago. 

It's so meaningful that Chicago P.D. really seems to be interested in following through on the ramifications of its storytelling this season. That's not a criticism of the previous four seasons. Those years had plenty of stories that carried across multiple episodes. But this season, there is the palpable sense that the actions these characters take on the job do stick with them. Burgess is still affected by the rookie officer who killed himself in front of her. And Atwater is still very paranoid about what could happen to his siblings if the neighborhood learns that his brother was a snitch. These are compelling plot threads that the show should be interested in pursuing. They have the potential to change these characters' abilities to do their jobs. Right now, it still seems like so much of the plot dynamics are familiar to what has happened in the past. That's what makes change so good and enticing. Change has occurred behind-the-scenes on the show. It still feels like the new creative team is finding their own way to tell stories in this universe. But "Home" is easily the best episode of the new season so far. It's still not great. But it's an improvement. It focuses on the right characters and the right reactions to the various stories. The case-of-the-week can still be very heavy-handed with the themes of disgust towards the worst of humanity. But it has some solid moments as well.

But again, "Home" is a success for the show because of the continuing focus on Atwater's home life. Of course, it's worth mentioning that it is eerily similar to a story that previously happened on Chicago Fire in its early seasons. This franchise does operate under the belief that the audience watches all of the shows. That's not necessarily true. It may lead to a more enriching experience if the viewer knows what's happening on Fire, P.D. and Med at any point in time. But all three are able to stand on their own feet by telling stories in their own unique ways. The crossovers are these big important events. They are ratings magnets for NBC. But the shows should also be aware of what's going on elsewhere in the world to ensure that they aren't repeating things. Atwater's story does feel familiar in regards to what happened to Cruz and his brother in the first two seasons of Fire. It was the story of a character low on the call sheet being forced to persuade his brother into testifying against a gang and then realizing that the sibling needed to leave the city for their own protection. That's the way this story ultimately resolves with Atwater in this episode. But just because it's familiar doesn't mean it's any less effective.

Moreover, the audience didn't really have an understanding of Cruz's brother in this story before he had to leave just like the audience doesn't really have any investment in Atwater's siblings. It's been important in the past that he is his brother and sister's legal guardian. He is looking out for them. They are his family. And just like everyone else in Intelligence, his family has been exploited in order to create an engaging and tense plot. And now, Atwater's family is at risk. Atwater is working this case trying to take down a sexual predator preying on innocent children. But his family needs his attention. His sister is almost hurt by people who know that Jordan snitched on their gang leader. She is perfectly fine. That's good because the show really hasn't earned the trust of the audience this season to tell a story about the rape of Atwater's sister. She's fortunate that that doesn't happen to her. She's shaken up which does force a compelling confrontation between Atwater and Jordan. Jordan feels the need to hurt the boys who did this to his sister. It's the same kind of emotions that Atwater is feeling right now as well. Jordan just doesn't know how to properly channel them. Instead, he just sneaks away with Atwater's gun to kill them. That's a dark turn that doesn't turn even more tragic. Atwater is able to get there in time to stop him. But the threat of this ending in a fatal way is absolutely terrifying to Atwater. And so, he sends his siblings to their aunt in Texas. That's convenient while also being so personal destructive to Atwater. His life has been defined by his siblings. And now, he's all alone in that house with only a few friends on the force.

Atwater is also the character who discovers the big mystery of the hour as well. Intelligence is simply tasked with taking down a local meth dealer. In carrying out their raid, Atwater and Voight hear knocking coming from a shed. They open it to discover a young Vietnamese boy alongside two dead children. The shed doesn't belong to the meth dealer. And so, this story becomes all about re-homing. It's the practice of adoptive parents selling their new children to other parents who want them. That sounds absolutely horrible. It's a fascinating issue that the show really only takes the time to cover the broad strokes of. It is instead more compelled to show the various twists that will compromise this specific investigation. That includes the mother of one child getting rid of her adoptive son without telling her husband. That husband then tracks down the people who took him and wishes to kill them. As a result, he gets arrested for attempted murder. That's a significant story in the early going of this case. But it mostly just fizzles out as well. This guy really isn't all that important in the grand scope of this story. He just has the appearance of being so because he's distraught over what has happened to his son. This disconnect in the family is an important part of the plot. But it also just feels like something that occurs in order to put this story into motion while creating a couple of tense and surprising twists later on. It's not all that effective or necessary in the end.

Neither is Atwater and Burgess going undercover to catch the couple handing the children off to the sex trade. It's the sensible approach for police in a case like this. It just quickly pops up only to be tossed aside quickly thereafter. This couple believes they are doing the right thing in order to save children. They have no idea they've been targeted by a predator who is manipulating their pro-life opinions. The leads they can give the police are very tenuous. They don't seem to produce many meaningful breaks in this case. That instead comes from a piece of trash. That points Intelligence to a website on the dark web where the children are being sold. Of course, it's easy for the show to say the "dark web" without really providing any kind of nuance for how such an entity actually operates. It's just an easy way to increase the stakes as the story reaches its climatic moments. Instead, it's mostly just satisfying to see that takedown. Voight isn't a character of focus for the majority of this episode. And yet, he's a prominent character for the concluding beats of the story. He's ready to kill this predator for what he's doing to these kids. He has to be stopped from pulling the trigger. Ultimately, he's able to be effectively threatening simply by painting a bleak picture of the future in prison. It's brutal and the show does cheapen the effect a little bit by having Voight whisper in the guy's ear without the audience hearing what he's saying. But it allows there to be a bittersweet ending where the police can rescue some of the kids while Voight and Atwater share a beer together. It's a victory but it still comes at a cost which is a nice morally compromising view for the show to take right now. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "Home" was written by Sharon Lee Watson and directed by Eriq La Salle.
  • Voight continues to fear that Antonio is working with Denny Woods and a prosecutor to take him down and replace him in Intelligence. Again, it's a very familiar plot for this show. Voight has had these fears about Antonio in the past. As such, Antonio feels justified in saying that he has never once acted in such a way to betray a fellow cop. He's proud of that while being very angry with Voight.
  • Atwater doesn't have to carry the burden of his family life all by himself either. It's so meaningful that Burgess is there alongside him to help him through this difficult situation. She can talk honestly with his sister as well in the aftermath of her attack. That friendship means something and Atwater will need to rely on it moving forward.
  • In the beginning of this episode, the action shows Atwater pulling his personal gun out of its safe with Jordan being able to see him do it. That quickly established that that gun would be important in this story somehow. It wasn't surprising when that happened. But it was still personally significant when Atwater knew that his brother couldn't ultimately pull the trigger.
  • Because I've mentioned the Chicago Fire parallels with Atwater's story, I should note that recently Cruz's brother has been able to return to Chicago. That was allowed to happen because the show casually referenced that the threat against him had gone away because of the turnover in the gang. And so, that hope still exists for Atwater's family.
  • This season needs more Trudy. She's a fantastic character who has been underserved so far this year. She's more than just the desk sergeant. But that's all these new episodes have done with her. Of course, it's significant that she's the one whose kindness gets the Vietnamese boy to open up about what has happened to him. That's still important.