Wednesday, April 25, 2018

REVIEW: 'Code Black' - Willis Changes His Speciality and Things Immediately Get Personal in 'Third Year'

CBS' Code Black - Episode 3.01 "Third Year"

A drug bust-turned-shootout tests the bravery of the doctors of Angels Memorial as they race to save a girl caught in the crossfire. Willis shifts his focus to field medicine, choosing to work primarily on an ambulance with his new partner, paramedic Rox. Leanne begins her journey to adopt Ariel.

It has been well over a year since Code Black was last on the air. In fact, that season finale felt like it was designed to be the final episode of the show. This is a drama that has existed on the bubble ever since it first debuted. The ratings were always strong enough to justify bringing it back but not exciting enough to actually build any new momentum. The show was what it was and CBS had to accept that. As such, it should come as no surprise that it is now operating as midseason filler. The third season was designed to fill a hole on CBS' schedule whenever it needed it. Of course, that meant the new episodes didn't debut until the end of April - when most regular shows are set to end their respective runs. It means that new episodes of Code Black will be airing way into the summer months. It could be a success during that time when the bar is much lower for the broadcast networks. CBS has typically put its more experimental and sci-fi fare on during the summer. Those shows typically haven't lasted beyond a few seasons. So perhaps, CBS just needs to start acting like itself during those months as well. That means putting on procedurals led by sturdy veteran actors. The show once again has undergone some cast overhaul between the seasons. No explanation is given as to why Melanie Chandra is no longer around as Dr. Pineda. The show at least had the courtesy to kill off Heather in the epic two-part finale last year. Meanwhile, new residents have come in and are getting the lay of the land. As such, it produces yet another familiar premiere that basically follows the same pattern as the previous two did. To some, that could be encouraging because they watch Code Black as comfort food TV. But it also makes it a little more difficult to devote the resources of a writing a full review about the hour.

Because of the amount of time away from this world, it also feels like this premiere is designed to remind the audience about what these characters are like. As such, it feels like their broad characteristics are being introduced once more. Leanne is the daddy of the ER, with Jesse as the momma introducing the newcomers to this world. Guthrie is the reliable veteran attending of the place while Campbell is the stern head of surgery who is very demanding. Angus and Mario are now third year residents while Elliot and Kean are back as second years. Angus is a very competent doctor who lacks focus and assertiveness. Mario is the dick who believes he is always right. Kean is eager to prove her worth while trying to navigate her new personal relationship with Mario. And Elliot is the young doctor still making very foolish mistakes. These are the archetypes that have explained the characters in extensive detail before. They are still proudly on display here. Again, it's as if nothing has changed. In fact, it seems like the show picks up exactly where the second season finale left off. That episode did conclude with Jesse welcoming the new residents to the ER after all. Mario and Kean's relationship is still new and they are sorting through their feelings while not telling anyone about it. It's strange to pick up immediately from where the previous episode ended after not seeing the show for over a year. But it's only a minor inconvenience to get into the hook of the respective stories.

Plus, some time has clearly passed in other stories as well. Leanne ended the second year determined to adopt Ariel. That was a decision she made that showed real growth with her character. She was always struggling to move on from the deaths of her husband and children. She was stuck in place for the first two seasons not quite knowing how to move forward. Ariel's case personally affected her way back in the series premiere. And then, Ariel came back into her life right when Leanne needed it the most in the second season finale. Of course, they almost died because of spending that time together. The second season saw the show become a more disaster-of-the-week showcase for the various traumas that these doctors see while working in the most chaotic ER in the country. That's a quality that continues here as well with the case that Willis brings into the emergency room. But it's also trying to tell a more personal story this year as well with Leanne going through the adoption process with Ariel. It's a relationship still fraught with tension and animosity because Ariel is still a teenager. Leanne laments that she doesn't know what to do with teenagers. She worries that she's just using Ariel as a replacement for the children she lost. But she's also just having a lot of fun putting Ariel to work as a candy striper after she gets suspended from school. That shows that the two of them really aren't so different after all. Jesse notes that Leanne probably would have been suspended from school at that age too. Again, it's just so comforting to see this friendship between Leanne and Jesse flourish. That's the heart of this show.

Meanwhile, Willis has decided to shift his focus to field medicine after spending last season mostly in the emergency room. This honestly feels like a lot of sense because he was always running off to various emergencies last season. He was always the first doctor to volunteer to enter a dangerous situation. He was more than comfortable putting his life in danger in order to help others. Plus, he presented as a way for the show to incorporate cutting-edge medical technology in the stories. He has a partnership with the Army that allows him to introduce new skills and tools to the various doctors at the hospital. He believes the patients in the field need these tools more so than the ones already in the hospital. Of course, he has experienced more than enough code blacks at Angels to know just how chaotic the hospital and staff can be. He knows that it can be an overwhelming experience. But he's also just a guy who thrives while in peril. He is more than willing to run into danger. As such, he's bound to have a fraught relationship with his new partner. When they pull up to an active shootout between police and drug dealers, he isn't content to just sit on the sidelines. He is ready to run into the action to deliver medical attention to those who need it the most. There are people in critical condition on the street dying because they can't get to them in time. As such, he is more than comfortable using the ambulance as a way to block the bullets flying at the police officers. He is then quick to run into the building after things grow eerily quiet for both the drug dealers and the SWAT officers who have just gone inside. He has the right instincts. He is always billed as a hero who does a great service to the community. But it's also important to see Rox as someone who views Willis as having a death wish and not wanting to be around that type of personality. She's absolutely right to feel that way even though it's also inevitable for her to change her opinion and give him a second chance by the time the episode is over. These were extreme circumstances that showed him as a superhero. He'll still be heroic but the situation may not be quite as dire.

Plus, the show is giving Willis a more tragic backstory this season that is bound to produce new details shortly. He shares that he had a brother who died because of addiction problems. He teases that it wasn't the addiction that killed him though. That's ominous. It's a way for him to connect with one of the medical stories that stems from this shooting. A man and a young girl were in the house when the bullets started flying. The girl experienced significant injuries. She was only there because her uncle was desperate for a high. He couldn't stay sober long enough to just look after her for an afternoon. Her father is willing to give up on his brother completely after this. He almost lost his daughter because of him. Things get so heated that Willis even punches him at one point. It shows to Rox just how out of control Willis may actually be. It's clear that this case hits him in a personal way unlike anything that has previous happened. A lot of crazy things occurred last season. Willis put himself into many precarious positions. It was clear he was hiding from some kind of tragic past. But the show also chose to keep it cryptic while teasing romantic possibilities with either Leanne or Dr. Nolan. Now, neither of those threads are picked up on. Instead, the show is being a little bit more forthcoming with answers for what makes Willis tick. He blames himself for what happened to his brother. That's what makes him so personally connected to the outcome of this case. It's beautiful not only for this family to reunite in the end but also for Willis. He felt the need to fix their troubled dynamics so that history didn't repeat itself. It would just be more meaningful if the show wasn't still keeping details from the audience about why Willis is still holding all of this blame inside of him.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Third Year" was written by Michael Seitzman and directed by Rob Bowman.
  • Only two new first year residents are introduced this time around after the show previously did three in its first two years. That's probably for the best because only two from the other seasons have stuck around at the hospital. But neither of these newcomers make a solid first impression. One experiences a medical emergency while the other is too distracted trying to make a documentary about the hospital.
  • It's also clear that the show is being very meta with this new documentarian doctor. The show itself was based on a documentary about this chaotic hospital in Los Angeles that experiences a code black more than any other hospital. And yet, this new character is just so naive and has an aura of privilege to him. Some of that is attributed to the doctors all mentioning his influential father who supports the hospital. But it's all completely one note.
  • Will the new resident who almost dies during her first shift in the emergency room at Angels even want to return? Plenty of doctors on this show have faced almost certain death and have come back to do their jobs. But the touch and go aspect of this story is the only thing that gives her any dimension whatsoever. Before that point, she is just a resident who doesn't know her way around an emergency yet.
  • It also just feels like there are several doctors making careless mistakes when they should know better. Elliot allows a cop to go get an update on the girl who was shot instead of going up for a CT right away. Then, that same cop receives an injection of a drug he's allergic to. Meanwhile, Mario and Kean are too busy arguing with each other and trying to be respectful of their new dynamic instead of actually treating their critical patient.
  • Angus gets pulled into a number of precarious situations here where he doesn't really belong. Willis pulls him into the field once the shootout call comes in. They can hear the amount of bullets being fired. Then, Campbell pulls him into the operating room under the guise of being short handed since Heather's death. It then leads to a surprising job offer with him transitioning to a surgical residency. That's awkward but could be a fascinating story this year.