Tuesday, January 2, 2018

REVIEW: 'Chicago Med' - Will and Natalie Struggle to Solve a Medical Mystery in 'Mountains and Molehills'

NBC's Chicago Med - Episode 3.05 "Mountains and Molehills"

When a young woman with HIV symptoms and no insurance refuses to take the test, Goodwin and Dr. Choi attempt to treat her without taking a toll on the hospital's resources. Dr. Manning and Dr. Halstead try to diagnose a young girl with increasing paralysis. Noah deals with his first death as a resident and takes it upon himself to inform the family. Dr. Reese continues to avoid work as her fear over the hospital's security increases.

This is the first opportunity I've had to offer a full review to an episode of Chicago Med's third season. Overall, this has proven to be a strong start to the season. This show is basically fulfilling my procedural needs nowadays - alongside Chicago Fire. That is what these shows are good for at the moment. They are reliable and confident with their own formula. Yes, there are still some very annoying details or contrivances attached with these shows. I've really been struggling with the creative side of things over on Chicago P.D. and may actually be done with that corner of the franchise now. But it's just comforting to see this show continue to tell heartwarming stories with life-and-death stakes still in the narrative. Sure, there are some characters who are more sympathetic and easier to root for. The show wants the audience to be in love with all of its characters and that has always been difficult for me to do with some of them. Dr. Bekker is still nothing more than Dr. Rhodes' annoying professional rival who will more than likely become a new love interest once Robin is gone. Noah still doesn't seem like a completely competent doctor because he's always requiring help from April or flirting with Sarah without noticing their own problems. And Will and Natalie still haven't completely won me over as a couple even though I appreciate that the show has stopped wasting any more time teasing their romantic potential. But everything else is really working in some strong and compelling ways.

Will and Natalie are once again paired for a medical storyline this week. That has always been common with the two of them. That's been especially true since they've started dating. The show has become very aware of the pressures this job could have on their relationship. They are working closely together but not letting that strain affect the spark between them. Right now, the two of them are still just in the glowing happiness of a new relationship. Sure, they struggle to have sex in a car at the top of the episode. But they do find a way to be intimate together by the end of the hour. That's the emotional journey they are on here. It's perfectly fine and pleasant. It's just a simple dynamic. They've been through plenty of drama over the course of the series so far. They deserve life going right for a little while. It's not destined to last whatsoever. It seems inevitable that the season will introduce some new obstacle at some point to call into question the longevity of them as a couple. But that's not important right now. What is important is this patient with mysterious paralysis. That is a compelling mystery even though it's a little too obvious that something tragic is about to happen to Will as well. That could have served as a moment where Natalie realized just how much she truly loves him. But it's mostly self-contained to an episodic story. Will's life is put in jeopardy for a little while. But there won't be any ongoing consequences whatsoever. It's an easy way of having repercussions that could affect this relationship while still highlighting the importance it already has in their lives. And the medical mystery is still quite intriguing with it all being blamed on a tick from Australia.

However, the more compelling medical story of the episode has to go to the AIDS patient who refuses to take the test. That is an effective story because it is largely about Sharon needing to do what's right from an administrative point-of-view. This show has really struggled with giving S. Epatha Merkerson quality material to work with. Sharon has just been the administrator who reprimands the doctors when they make mistakes that threaten the hospital. This season has been giving her more of a storyline. It's still in the introductory stages. But it's fascinating to see how the pressure to balance a budget to keep the emergency room open will affect the way she conducts business. Dr. Stohl is the more shrewd physician. He's the one who doesn't really sympathize with patients. He's just focused on the bottom line. He could easily replace Sharon if the hospital wanted a change at the top that could make the business more profitable. But it's necessary to show Sharon's compassion. She wants to give this patient time to make this life-changing decision. She doesn't want to break any rules along the way. She knows how personally destructive this disease and the stigma attached to it can be. She wants to be compassionate while firm. And in the end, she does find that perfect balance. She is able to do good while saving a life. That's aspirational in a way that really works tremendously well.

Sharon's story also ties in with what's going on with April and Choi. They are the doctor and nurse assigned to this case. So, they are feeling frustrated as well by the patient's refusal to take the test. But in the end, it's more important to see the two of them as a couple willing to be open with their co-workers. That's been the more prominent focus with the two of them this season. Turning them into a couple was a surprising move at the end of the second season. It seemingly came out of nowhere after April had been in a romance all season long. She just jumped into something new right away. And now, it's being played as completely happy. The only problem is her wanting to keep it a secret. That seemed unlikely to hold true for a long period of time. It's actually nice that it's only a secret for five episodes. It wasn't something that should be stretched out. Also, the show didn't really enjoy the secrecy of it all too much. Yes, that was a major component of these episodes. And yes, it continues to be a problem that so much of the character drama of this show is tied up with who is dating whom and whether or not it's going well. But these two are a perfectly fine couple. They have different and unique perspectives. But that makes them an even better couple because they challenge each other while also understanding the other's perspective. That's compelling and has made them insanely watchable over these five episodes as well. Again, they will inevitably be faced with challenges this season. But I'm surprisingly already invested in their outcome.

And finally, everyone should be worried about Sarah. She has long been the most sympathetic character on the show. It always surprised me just how quickly I became connected to her above everyone else in this ensemble despite the formulaic story she had in the first season. And now, she has probably the darkest and most nervous story of the new season. She is finding herself increasingly paranoid about someone hurting her in the hospital. She continues to come into work and do the job. She still loves it. She wants to be in the emergency room helping people. This is still the place she wants to be. But she's terrified of it as well. Right now, Dr. Charles may be the only person to see it though. It's going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better too. Noah's story really isn't much across this hour. It's important because of Sarah's reaction to him getting punched and not pressing charges. To her, it's just another example of just how dangerous this job can be. The people she keeps getting close to are getting hurt right in front of her. Her coworkers are her family. This season has made that abundantly clear. But she's also pushing away from them. Instead, she's trying to feel safe by buying a gun. Of course, it doesn't actually go that far. She's not in the proper headspace to own a gun. She doesn't know what to do with it. As such, it's very encouraging that the system in place can recognize that this is a rash decision. That's smart and respectful. But it also sets up the expectation that that pepper spray is about to come out in a really inappropriate time that is bound to only increase these feelings of paranoia within Sarah. Hopefully, the season won't drag that out for too much longer. The buildup is all completely for Sarah's life to go completely awry now.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Mountains and Molehills" was written by Stephen Hootstein & Meridith Friedman and directed by Michael Waxman.
  • Even the other doctors and nurses question Noah's skills as a physician. That's odd and doesn't do a great job at building up the confidence that he should be in charge during a crisis. He does prove himself here. He does make a couple of mistakes when it comes to offering a false sense of hope. But he does ultimately carry himself well when it comes to popping his patient's hip back into place and delivering the unfortunate news that he has died to his family.
  • Robin's story has been incredibly erratic this season. That may completely be because Mekia Coz is splitting her time between this show and ABC's Once Upon a Time. There's just an overwhelming sense that Robin is on her way out the door because Cox was promoted to series regular on the ABC drama. But the story can't really determine whether or not Robin is still dealing with lingering side effects from her disease. One week she's fine. The next she isn't. It makes it more difficult to care about the outcome.
  • Dr. Charles' story has been a little erratic this season as well. Yes, it's very refreshing and important to see that he is human just like the rest of the doctors. He doesn't have all of the answers despite him always having that trustworthy aura to him. But the previous episode ended with him needing to take time off. And now, he returns to work early and everything is suddenly fine with him once more. He can be a rational voice for Sarah even though she doesn't want to hear it.
  • Sharon is all about patient confidentiality with this case. She is questioning Choi's judgment because he seems to be pushing to get consent from their patient's aunt by trying to reveal some private information. But then, the resolution to the story comes from Sharon just casually showing three patient files of people she treated for AIDS in the 1980s who died. That feels a little weird.
  • Nurse Doris has had more lines this season than the previous two. It's a clear case of someone recognizable to the audience stepping up and being a problem for April and Choi without it being a character of major importance. And yet, it just doesn't work at all because it has the feeling of a background extra suddenly being asked to act. It's just too broad and annoying a performance.