For as long as I can remember I’ve been dreading the death on Chicago Med. It was teased a few months back, and since then I’ve been racking my brain with every possible scenario as I tried to figure out which cast member would meet an untimely end.
Hell, I even broke down all of the reasons why and why not certain characters wouldn’t be the victim.
But in “Monday Mourning,” we got a near instantaneous answer to the question I’ve been dreading for so long: Who dies?
Now, I’m not trying to make Dr. Wheeler’s death sound meaningless, but given the circumstances I was convinced that this death was going to involve a core player on this show. I never thought it would be someone as insignificant as he was to the show.
And then I realized that much like the employees at Chicago Med that I had the same reaction they did. I never saw that someone was crying out for help.
For months we’ve been watching Dr. Wheeler make mistake after mistake, including drinking on the job and nearly losing it in the chaos of the ED. For months we watched as Dr. Wheeler was crying out for help without actually saying the words. And much like the core cast of characters of this show, I did nothing about it.
I never stopped to think, “Oh, this guy might be the victim.” I never stopped to actually concern myself with his mental state or the fate that would befall him. I kind of just looked past it because, in my eyes, there were more important things to watch on screen.
Which is what made this so damn emotional and impactful in its delivery.
Life is a chaos-driven world, and we each have our priorities. We each have things that take precedence over others, and we don’t often pay attention to those around us. Which is harmless until a person needs you to pay attention.
As much as we’d like to hope that those in trouble would come to us and say, “I’m in trouble. Can you help me?” That’s most often not the case. For those that are feeling weighed down by emotions and troubles it’s more like they’re just trying to survive.
It’s not easy to ask for help. Admit it, you’ve had a moment or moments in your life where you’ve kept your feelings bottled up because you felt like you had to or because you were afraid to vulnerable. I have no problem admitting that I do that more often than I should.
Truth is, the more you keep emotions bottled up or try to pretend like they don’t exist, the more brutal it’ll be when they’re finally unleashed. Which is exactly what we saw with Dr. Wheeler’s suicide.
It’s funny how Chicago Med recognizes the simultaneous effects that a storyline will have on the characters and the audience. Sure, this wasn’t Shay dying in season 2 of Chicago Fire. Or Nadia dying in season 2 of Chicago P.D. Those were both two deaths that we never saw coming that also reminded us that life isn’t fair and that even good people can meet an ugly end.
But in a way I like how Chicago Med chose to handle this death. It wasn’t a big name death like we’ve grown accustomed to. It managed to serve multiple purposes. It showed us how we can be so naïve when it comes to being aware of those around us – those we work close with. It showed us that, yes in fact, suicide and deaths are highest with those in the medical profession. And most importantly, it showed us that we can learn from our mistakes.
Wheeler’s death affected every one of our core cast members in some way. Some were more obvious than others – like Reese, Halstead, and Choi – but others were also impacted in smaller ways that dealt with coming to terms with situations.
This was the episode of Chicago Med that didn’t thrive on the “big death” that other shows always attempt to do. This episode thrived on the very human reactions from characters that are good people at their core. It was a reminder that we might not be aware of what some people are going through in life. It was a reminder that we need to pay attention to cries of help that are disguised. It was a reminder that we need to be kind and generous to people for we never know what they’re experiencing.
Once again, Chicago Med managed to deliver a powerful episode that will have a profound effect on these characters – and us, as an audience – for episodes to come.
Let’s break down how these characters were affected by Wheeler’s death:
Reese & Rhodes
No doubt the person who was arguably the most impacted by Dr. Wheeler’s death was Sarah Reese, who had been in a position to perhaps help him. The only problem was that she didn’t recognize that the two times that Wheeler came to her was him begging for help.
Reese spent a good portion of the hour questioning her ability to be a good psychologist if she wasn’t able to pick up on Wheeler’s cries for help. If her initial response when he came to her wasn’t to leap to action – much like her patient did when saving a young boy – what kind of person did that make her?
I loved how Chicago Med used Reese and Rhodes’ dynamic to help show her the light in regards to learning from your mistakes. More than that, Rhodes was the other person that Wheeler had come to after that blizzard where he nearly lost it. So it made this dynamic one that made sense and also one that ultimately helped both of them.
You’ve got to admire Rhodes’ smarts when it comes to using what he’s learned to help others. Rhodes took an opportunity to show Reese that it’s not about focusing on how you messed up by making a mistake so much as it’s about learning the next time around.
Rhodes showed Reese a defect that he caught on their patient, and she wondered how he possibly could have the eye for that. Well, it took Rhodes not knowing the first time and watching his patient bleed out and die for him to never make the same mistake again.
Working in the medical profession is so difficult because, like Dr. Charles said, the odds are stacked against you. You’re dealing in a profession where you’re more likely to fail than succeed. But it also allows for moments of learning like this one. Moments where people, like Rhodes, can take what they learn and help a colleague, like Reese, out and make the profession just a little less taxing.
One of the more upfront dealings with Wheeler’s death was how Halstead was dealing with it. Wheeler was his Resident, and you could tell that he was dealing with this immense guilt while also questioning why this had happened in the first place.
For Will, he was attempting to make sense of what was such a terrible tragedy. He never caught on to Wheeler drowning in his emotions, and in a way he wasn’t aware of that shocking but true statistic that upwards of 400 doctors take their own life every year. So Will was trying to come to grips with this shocking revelation, which was also made apparent by Dr. Abrams confessing that he once had contemplated suicide.
Choi had perhaps one of the more interesting reactions to Wheeler’s death as he was convinced that everyone else was distracted and posed a liability when it was actually Choi that was clearly being affected. Choi’s concern was that everyone would be distracted by Wheeler’s death and put patients at risk. Oh the irony.
But more than that, Choi was one of those that bottled his emotions deep inside, which ultimately caused him to erupt at Dr. Halstead. Choi was so convinced that he was in his right mind and Halstead was not that he almost ended up putting their patient in danger.
And it makes sense because of the characters on this show, I feel like Choi worked most closely with Wheeler. No one was particularly close to him, but we saw a moment of grief in which Choi allowed himself to open up and actually apologized to Wheeler for not being able to help him.
Choi’s reaction was proof that if you attempt to subdue your emotions and not let them out that you’re going to get a deadly reaction when they eventually are brought to the surface.
One of the things I love most about Natalie is how she wears her heart on her sleeve. She’s incredibly strong and empowering, but she also doesn’t let things like emotions weaken her. In fact, they empower her. But she’s also shown that it’s healthy to let your emotions out. Cry when you need to cry.
Coupled with her current case – where a little boy fought for his life – and Wheeler’s death, Natalie was dealt a couple of emotional blows that left her to question is she was a monster. Granted, it didn’t help that the mother of that boy flat out called her a monster for not ignoring orders by her boss to take the boy back to his room.
But as Nat began to think about Wheeler – how she had worked alongside him for 8 months and she never noticed that he needed help – she let herself give into that vulnerability and questioned if she was a monster. Obviously she’s not. But sometimes emotional situations bring to light some emotions that you’ve bottled up, as was the case here.
As far as being immediately affected by Wheeler’s death, April was someone who it took me a bit longer to recognize how she was affected. Granted, it also had to do with the case she was overseeing, but I believe that April realized that life is short and it isn’t fair to hold on when you’re already gone.
It’s no secret that since April’s miscarriage that things between her and Tate have been rocky. In a way, that baby was what was keeping them together. Now that there was no baby, there was no reason to stay together.
April and Tate are two different people who want very different things in life. Tate is someone who wants a wife that will let him take care of her. But April, as we know, is someone who is driven by her motivation to help people and her job is a huge part of that. Her job is what makes her April.
April eventually got up the courage to have that difficult talk with Tate. It was proof that love is not enough to make a relationship work. There’s no denying that they both loved each other, but that wasn’t ever going to be enough. And thankfully April was able to address that situation before they got to a point when things were lifeless and painful.
So in a way, Wheeler’s death was a wake up call of sorts. Live every day to its fullest. Be who you want to be. Don’t keep yourself or secrets hidden. Be honest. And that’s exactly what April did.
One of the more touching revelations that came from Wheeler’s death was from Goodwin as she revealed just how important these people in this hospital are to her. Goodwin is the leader, which means she has to remain strong for everyone in that hospital even when she feels like breaking. It’s part of the job.
But I loved getting to see her open to Dr. Charles about just how much this entire situation breaks her heart. It was her goal from the start to create an atmosphere where something like this would never happen. That was built around creating a strong community and family among the workers.
Goodwin made it damn clear that she loves and cares about these people so much. So. Damn. Much. We’ve seen that in what she’s been willing to sacrifice in the past – the lengths that she’s been willing to go to protect her staff – that there’s no doubt in my mind that she loves everyone that works at Med. But getting to see her be vulnerable in that moment was something that was quite touching and only reinforced my beliefs that she’s the best.
But the thing is, while she did lose one, Goodwin has still created a loving atmosphere that doubles as a family. There’s a genuine love there between these people that she should be proud of. It just sucks that one escaped through the cracks.
Interestingly enough, Dr. Charles is someone who can feel as much as the next person. But it’s his job to shoulder his own concerns on top of other people’s concerns. It’s part of the job.
So as we were concerned about how Wheeler’s death was ultimately affecting everyone else on the show – and because Charles is quite stoic in his reactions – it wasn’t until Reese confronted Charles at the end of the episode that we actually saw just how affected he was. Reese brought up a good point: It’s Charles’ job to listen to others as they voice they thoughts, concerns, and grief. He’s there to take it so they don’t have to. But does anyone stop to wonder how Charles is doing?
I thought it was a beautiful moment when Reese gave Charles that chance to be the patient and express his emotions to Reese. Sure, we didn’t get a lot of that conversation. But just watching Reese give him the opportunity and watch him open up to her was a nice reminder that even those that appear to be the strongest have their moments of weakness.
- Kudos to Chicago Med for the parallel between the characters’ and audience’s reactions to Wheeler’s death. Much like the characters we had no idea that Wheeler was experiencing all of this darkness that led him to take his own life. It also didn’t glorify death like it can sometimes come across. It was a lesson learned in a harsh world.
- I loved how each of the characters was affected by this tragedy in some way. Of course some were affected more than others. But everyone was able to take something away from this tragedy. In a way, it was beautiful given the horrible circumstances.
- I loved the varying reactions to Wheeler’s death. Some dealt with it head-on, like Reese and Halstead, and others dealt with it in a different way. Choi was bottling his emotions up. Manning was suffering silently. Charles was taking everyone’s pain but hiding his own. It was moving.
- Good for April that she made the difficult but right choice. Sure, I loved April and Tate, but as we saw with April things just haven’t been right between the two in some time. They were different people who wanted different things. It wasn’t fair to either of them.
- Thanks for the Jay Halstead cameo. I can’t get enough of these believable cameos from One Chicago cast members. Jay is used to dealing with thee emotionally tough situations – even though it doesn’t make them any easier – and I liked getting to see him comfort Natalie. Although I only wish that Jay was able to interact with his brother during this difficult time.
Chicago Med airs Thursdays at 9/8c on NBC.