"How long have you been a firefighter?"
"Since the day I was born."
There was an episode of House—the Season 6 finale—where House had to crawl under a collapsed crane to help a woman named Hanna. Her leg was crushed under rubble and, after hesitating for much of the episode, the team determined that the only way to get her out was to amputate her leg. But during the hesitation, House and Hanna talked about life while waiting for the equipment that could pull her out without severing any limbs, and each person's situation shined light on the other's character.
Chicago Fire isn't House, no matter how hard we want for it to be some sort of alternate universe where Chase decided to be a firefighter instead of desensitized, slutty diagnostician. Chicago Fire isn't trying to be House, and I'm totally okay with that. The biggest issue I have with the show right now is the lack of connection I have with the main characters and their melodramatic storylines.
Casey and Hallie's relationship ups and downs are non-issues. Heather being upset with Kelly for her husband being a firefighter when he died is absurd. Gabriela pining for Casey is getting tolerable, but Kelly's attempted rescue that ended up feeling like a sappy gimmick was kind of pathetic. You need a connection to make that kind of storyline work and from the few minutes he spent with the old man, I didn't get it.
Now, I'm not saying Kelly should've spent all of "Mon Amour" gabbing with the poor fella in the hole—but if the scenario was going to be the centerpiece of Kelly identifying love throughout the episode, it couldn't have hurt to maybe let the two commune a little more outside of the straightforward rescue mission. Maybe he saw a little bit of himself, maybe the guy was going through what Kelly was going through. No. He was the opposite—which also could've also worked in telling the story, but it didn't happen.
The episode was otherwise filled with different demonstrations of Kelly's crushing loneliness. He saw other people either in love or reacting to love: Shay and her girlfriend, Heather's nonsensical grief, Nicky representing a vacuum of tenderness in favor of raw doing-it. And then, of course, there was the time he spent alone, in a bathroom stall, trying to make the pain go away.
It was a heavy-handed metaphor (a device which Chicago Fire has yet to master—did you catch Gabriela's spoon thing?), passing on the last moments of a man's life to his widow, and the lack of a real, honest connection between Kelly and the man in the hole made the whole thing feel cheap. Compound that with how over-the-top the video was (Kelly looks like the son they never had?) and none of it felt earned. It was forced.
The only real affinity I have for any of the characters on this show is for the less pretty ones who haven't been ruined with petty drama. Otis, Mills, Mouch, and Herrmann deliver comedic relief that, comparatively, feels like they're chasing the mechanicals from A Midsummer Night's Dream. I liked the goat gag (where Otis was totally wrong—the goat ruled) and how everyone got involved. Otis striking out with Shay's girlfriend before he even took a shot. The uniform. The general banter. Interactions between the lesser gang were the reprieve from the rest of the episode's attempt at being compelling.
Watching Chicago Fire is like watching a baby horse stand up: It's wobbly and awkward. But the show seems to be taking its sweet time to run, and for now it's still a mess. What it needs is to help us connect with its characters a little better. The show may never be a case-of-the-week procedural, but it needs to decide who it wants to be: Law & Order with hunkier dudes and more action, or a character piece that happens to be about people who professionally walk into fires. And sometimes put make-up on their drunken, handsy patients.
– So they introduced a couple new female characters to help balance out the sausage party, even though they're not firefighters and might not be around episode to episode. Heather made another appearance, as did Hallie, to maybe establish they're going to be around for a bit. Nikki actually works at the station but apparently just to be Kelly's sexually-liberated work fantasy. Thus far, none of them, beyond Shay and Gabriela, have indicated any amount of nuance. Unless you count being slutacious as nuance.
– I don't mind the show occasionally using some lesser-known firefighter techniques in the plot, but charging the hose so they could slide down it like a pole seemed like they were showing off. They had ladders in place when Kelly climbed out at the end. Where were those before?
– I think I liked it better when I thought Kelly was injecting HGH instead of painkillers. What am I going to do with all these man-boob jokes?
– Casey's revelation of letting their (come on) trivial differences slide is—it's fine. Whatever. I'm glad they didn't try to drag out such a moot issue for a few episodes. But the reason he decided to confront the situation, because life is random and cruel, sounds better on paper than what the episode actually sold us. We got no indication that Casey really felt deeply about the passenger in the car. It wasn't helped by Vargas saying, "At least she didn't say redhead." Flubbed throughline.
– If you had a phone, wouldn't you want to talk to your wife one last time instead of making her a video about how you're going to die first ("I couldn't live without you so you living without me means I loved you more! Kisses!") and how a stranger you met for ten minutes reminds you of the son you never had? The video was sweet (if crass at times), but a phone call feels like the right thing to do. But what do I know? I was born in the '80s. Sometimes I still use my phone as a phone.
– What happened to the "Gabriela is about to get sued" story?
– How would you rather communicate your last thoughts to your spouse: phone call or video?
– Shay mentioned she should flash a guy she knows because she thinks he's awesome. How awesome does one have to be to be "flashed by a hot lesbian" awesome?
– Over/Under on the number of episodes until Kelly and Nikki get down: - 2