Wednesday, October 3, 2018

REVIEW: 'Chicago Fire, Med & P.D.' - A Massive High Rise Fire Hits Close to Home in the Latest Crossover Event

NBC's Chicago Fire - Episode 7.02 "Going to War"
NBC's Chicago Med - Episode 4.02 "When to Let Go"
NBC's Chicago P.D. - Episode 6.02 "Endings"

Heading into the new broadcast season, NBC executives made a huge bet on Dick Wolf and the Chicago programming. They placed all three shows on the same night in the hopes that it would lead to consistency for all of them. Sure, it meant displacing Law & Order: SVU to a new night for its landmark 20th season. But it also seems like a programming gambit that paid off - at least when it came to last week's premieres. And now, the creative teams are hoping to continue that momentum by staging a big crossover event between the three seasons during the second week of the season. It's a potentially smart move because these events always lead to increased ratings throughout all of the shows. It could also be an enticing offer to tune in live and stay on NBC for the entire night of primetime. This is the earliest in the season that the shows have staged a crossover event as well. They used their respective premieres to addresses all of the stories that needed to be resolved from the spring's finales. And so, Chicago Fire had to deal with Gabby's departure, Chicago Med had to answer the engagement question and Chicago P.D. had to deal with a changing Intelligence Unit. Of course, all of them went back to their normal operating procedures in order to stage this epic crossover. An event like this only really works if the audience has some basic understanding of what happens on every show. The franchise has increasingly demanded that the audience be watching all three series. However, I had to bail on Chicago P.D. after four seasons because it was becoming too focused on horrible people making compromised decisions without suffering any consequences whatsoever. And so, that absolutely fuels my opinion that the Fire and Med hours of this crossover are absolutely stunning while the resolution in the P.D. hour is completely lackluster. It also highlights how the various shows are different from one another. Fire and Med operate as ensemble pieces where multiple stories are happening in each hour. That's different than P.D. which offers character-centric episodes as each hour deals primarily with one major story. As such, it feels like the wealth is spread throughout the first two hours while the final one just dwells too much on the shocking death of a family member. But that's not an original twist. A P.D. family member has already been killed off in a big Chicago crossover event. Olinsky's daughter was burned in an apartment fire. And so, it feels like a repetitive twist to have Jay's father die in this high rise fire.

The story gets started with Fire which moves to 8 o'clock for this week alone because it's simply better to have them responding to the emergency and then shift the focus to the squads that deal with the aftermath. These big disaster episodes continue to be stories that Fire handles amazingly well too. Sure, there are still some beats focusing on characters and their ongoing interests. Brett is learning more about her new partner and why she appears to be infamous around the city. Casey has to deliver a message to Brett from Gabby. Boden is dealing with the constant presence of the assistant fire commissioner. But the majority of the running time is spent on this major disaster. It's such an immense and impressive set piece as well. Sure, it can be confusing to keep track of who is where and when. And yet, that confusion is also necessary in order for the story to be effective. Squad and truck are doing their best to pull as many people out as possible. The elevators can't be trusted because they are malfunctioning. It means the agony of having to climb and descend the stairs is a significant part of the story as well. That makes it a hassle to tag out of fighting the fire or going up to replace whomever is manning the search. It means that there are deadly consequences for Kidd and Otis during this event. But it's also just as meaningful and terrifying to watch as Severide has to make a critical save in a very nerve-wrecking way. That stunt is so impressive. He finds himself trapped in a room with a young boy on the floor where the fire seemingly started and is still raging on. He has to bail out the window. He rappels down a floor and breaks in through the window. It's a situation that could go wrong in any number of ways. But that's what makes it so thrilling to watch. It may present as a simple thing. But it's so technically proficient as well. It's Severide continuing to do the right thing even though the people inside the building fear that he is being burned alive. Only the people outside looking up are aware of this kind of escape he is mounting.

That's absolutely critical to the story as well. Kidd and Herrmann are the ones fighting the fire outside the apartment. They replace the team who was working there because they happened to be the only other firefighters in the area. Everyone else was either too low or too high. Casey was dealing with his own complicated situation trying to rescue two immobile people at the same time. He gets relief from Mouch and a newcomer named Ritter. But that same relief isn't coming for Kidd and Herrmann. Kidd makes the choice to let her oxygen tank run out. She can't just leave Severide in that burning apartment. And yet, she's the one who is in need of serious medical attention. She passes out because she doesn't warn Herrmann about her device going off. She is able to make it to Chicago Med. But her condition remains precarious throughout the second hour. This isn't the first time that a crossover event has put someone from Fire in harm's way either. It is always expected that they will heal and get back to work much sooner than anyone should realistically expect. But things are so intense for Severide as the fear is genuine that she could lose one of her lungs because the source of her bleeding can't be found. Firehouse 51 puts Connor in such an awkward position. He risks Kidd's life in order to save her lung. That means she can continue to be a firefighter. He just got incredibly lucky. He succeeded because it was a physical problem he could heal. Meanwhile, a new story is being set up for Otis probably dealing with PTSD from the job. He too needs to work as a firefighter. It's the way that he feels of service. He believes that the things seen on the job are just common and that it's career ending to talk about them. That's the stigma of therapy. Dr. Charles is so accommodating to Otis. He is willing to offer therapy and not put it in Otis' chart. He sees that this guy needs it badly. His trauma is only further increased after a mother and child go missing on his watch only to be found burned alive in the elevator. And yet, he refuses to actually accept that he needs help. He would much rather joke around with his friends. But him failing to address this trauma is bound to only compromise him further on the job which is scary to think about.

The health of Kidd and Otis are much more meaningful than Jay and Will's father simply because they are regular characters. Louis Herthum has only previously appeared in one episode of Med. Sure, he was a memorable character who had important conversations with his sons. But the shows haven't presented a reason for the audience to care about his death other than the generic grief that comes from losing a parent especially in a traumatic way. However, things are really quite moving throughout the Med portion of things because of the uncertainty of it all. Jay was on the scene of this crime searching for his father. He and his brother couldn't get in touch with him. But Casey performed a daring rescue to save him. When he first gets to the hospital, he appears fine. Connor even declares that his heart is functioning properly despite being less than a month after major surgery. And yet, it's still shocking and sudden when he dies. There is no reasonable explanation for it. One moment he is his same belligerent self. And then the next, he is being declared brain dead. Of course, this entire storyline is weird because it tries to revise the history of the characters and what the audience knows about them. The shows are essentially trying to say that Will is the black sheep of the family because he went off and got a medical degree. And yet, both Will and Jay have been such problematic characters who embody the personality traits on display with their father. They have always been extremely stubborn, arrogant, impulsive and impatient. It's been such an infuriating quality on both of their shows because the creative teams still somehow see value in them as romantic leads. They've long been questionable decisions. And now, Will is suppose to be seen as the sane one who knows that his father won't recover and that the hospital is being overly kind to the family to avoid another death statistic from his surgery. But that's not true at all. In fact, this story only leaves me more worried about how problematic the two of them will become because their father is gone. That is already on display in the P.D. hour with Jay while being much more cryptic with Will.

How Jay is coping with all of this is absolutely horrific though. Of course, the P.D. story has to contort things around to make this a story that would involve Intelligence in some way. There is no reason for this specific unit to investigate this crime. There is even an explanation in the Fire hour where the fire spreads so quickly because of corners being cut regarding the wiring update on the building. That's all the explanation necessary for why this disaster was so tragic. But P.D. needs to make it into a hit being put out against one of the leaders of the cartel and one of the FBI's most wanted criminals. The fire was actually just a coverup for multiple murders. However, that reveal mostly shortchanges the impact of one of Med's patients being a woman who was beaten and abused before the fire started and that's what contributed to her lethal injuries. Moreover, there is just no tension or surprise to the Intelligence's investigation. The previous two hours were already highlighting the suspicious guy who started the fire. The action called attention to him and made the audience aware that something more was going on. And so, it just doesn't make much sense to spend time with the P.D. characters as they are bringing in his family members to interview them about their own cartel connections. The details are just broad and extremely bland. Not even David Zayas can make things interesting. The more important storytelling choice is Jay's reaction. He is throwing himself into work to avoid his feelings while also failing to listen and obey Voight's orders. However, it appears as if the show is endorsing Jay's behavior even though it could get either himself or someone from his team killed. That shouldn't be condoned. The show seems to reflect that with Jay getting shot in the chest during the final takedown. But it also backtracks immediately by saying he was wearing a vest. So, his only injuries are heavy bruising. That's it. That's all the consequences he really has to deal with. That's appalling because he continued to insert himself into this situation and forced others to compromise their values as well. There is no reason for Severide to get involved with this final sequence. And yet, there he is blindly helping Jay for some reason. It's all ridiculous and keeps this crossover event from feeling like a complete success.

"Going to War": A
"When to Let Go": A
"Endings": B-