Chicago Med did it again!
I wasn't sure what to expect after learning from Nick Gehlfuss (Will) that the series was going to tackle the COVID crisis.
But Chicago Med Season 6 Episode 1 was as entertaining as ever, combining COVID and non-COVID stories to give viewers a hearty dose of both medical and personal drama.
COVID stories are risky because viewers often tune in to escape the stress and anxiety all around them. Plus, some of them are a bit too realistic, to the point that it's depressing and scary. (Yes, I am looking at you, The Good Doctor!)
But Chicago Med did a good job of balancing the new world their doctors find themselves in with the types of stories viewers have come to expect. That was the right call.
COVID was just part of the mix, not the whole focus of the hour, and that allowed Chicago Med to bring on the drama without overwhelming viewers.
Some of the most effective moments came from small details, such as Will not being allowed in without a COVID test even though he'd recently taken one and Goodwin not being allowed to work on-site because her diabetes put her at higher risk.
Med also addressed some of the underlying social issues related to COVID-19.
April mentioned that many Black patients were dying at higher rates than White ones on top of having suffered discrimination and poverty, and Marcel and Nat's patient also had to factor racism into his thinking about his daughter's care.
Mr. Lu: If you two don't agree, how can I make this decision?
Marcel: Mr. Lu, I know - WE know how hard this is.
Lu: I don't think you do. I lost my wife two years ago. The world is upside down. When we were in the parking lot, some lady yelled at us, 'You brought COVID here. It's YOUR fault.'
These issues weren't central to the story, but they are aspects of it that aren't always mentioned, and I appreciated Med bringing them to viewers' attention.
In April's case, too, they led me to wonder what was behind Lanic's decision to deny Mr. McNeil the life support system Choi had recommended.
Lanic said he wanted to save the one remaining machine for a patient who was more likely to benefit from it, but if McNeil was going to die anyway, it was possible that he'd be off the machine before the other patient needed it.
It seemed the issue was related to there being a shortage of equipment -- another real-world issue that was bound to crop up in medical dramas.
And both patients were Black, so it wasn't as if Lanic was making a racist calculation about who deserved the treatment more. Yet with his insistence on letting McNeil die, it was easy to wonder whether there was more to the story than he admitted.
In any case, this was a moving, effective COVID-19 tragedy that was sad without taking over the entire hour and depressing viewers altogether.
Mrs. McNeil: Can I be with him? I'll hold his hand.
April: It would put you at too much risk.
Mrs. McNeil: We've been married for 40 years and now he's going to die alone.
April's conversation with Mrs. McNeil, her promise to be there at the end, and McNeil holding on just long enough to hear his wife's goodbye were among the strongest moments of this storyline.
This story also existed alongside other, more traditional Chicago Med stories.
As usual, Marcel and the doctor he was working with couldn't see eye-to-eye about their patient's treatment.
At Med, non-surgeons often shoot down Marcel's suggestions, only to discover he was right, and this was no exception.
This wasn't a boring or predictable story, though. It used backstory effectively to deepen the relationship between Marcel and Nat and make Marcel more sympathetic.
I had forgotten about the death of Marcel's daughter until he mentioned it. I thought Nat just didn't want to overburden Marcel, who seemed to be the only surgeon on duty in the entire hospital.
But once they brought it up, Marcel's inner conflict elevated this story from typical medical vs. surgical drama to something more substantial.
It also made Marcel more sympathetic, which is no easy feat because he often comes across as sleazy and sex-obsessed (and I'm still not sure he didn't drug April during Chicago Med Season 5 Episode 7.).
Hopefully, the rest of Chicago Med Season 5 will involve Marcel dealing more with his daughter's death. I'm looking forward to that!
Meanwhile, Will also showed some personal growth during his storyline. I'm not talking so much about his decisions regarding Hannah -- though I'm glad he stopped allowing her to center her sobriety around him -- but his medical decisions.
When Will decides to report something, it's often an impulsive act that wreaks havoc with his patients' lives and leaves him full of regret, if not at risk of losing his license.
But this time, Will not only talked to Sharon about his decision before he made it, but followed her advice and double checked everything before he made a life-changing report.
I knew it was going to turn out that the patient had some sort of weird syndrome. I vaguely remember something like that happening on one of the other medical dramas, though I can't remember which one offhand.
Anyway, the patient was so adamant she didn't ever drink that I was sure there'd be a twist in this.
I wasn't expecting the twist with Dr. Charles and his daughter, though.
That scene was among the most effective because it demonstrated how easily COVID can spread without being preachy or depressing.
Anna did what many teenagers -- and adults too -- have done during this crisis. She was tired of being cooped up, went out for one evening with friends who she thought were safe because they had no symptoms, and brought COVID home with her.
Her guilt over this and expectation that Charles was super angry were right in line with the dynamic between these two, so the writers didn't have to do much to make this believable.
As for Will, I was glad that he realized that he'd been walking on eggshells around Hannah and that he turned down her suggestion they move together to Los Angeles.
Not everyone is cut out for a relationship with an addict, especially if that addict relapses and attempts to manipulate their partner. Will didn't judge Hannah, but he took the steps back he needed to take for his own mental health and to stop her from making him responsible for her sobriety.
What did you think, Chicago Med fanatics? Hit the big, blue SHOW COMMENTS button to share your thoughts about the Season 6 premiere and what you hope happens during the rest of Chicago Med Season 6
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Chicago Med continues to air on NBC on Wednesdays at 8 PM EST/PST.