Chicago P.D. 10×06 “Sympathetic Reflex” is the kind of episode Chicago P.D. has no business trying to tackle in general, much less tackle with Kevin Atwater as the “bad cop” in this narrative. Not that there was any right way for the show to go into this kind of story. Not with Hank Voight on the poster. And not with the “sometimes the bad cops get results” thing the show has been selling for ten seasons. Other police shows, ones that at least pretend to take the moral high ground, might have been able to pull this episode off. It would have still been iffy because all of this is copaganda. But they could have given it the old college try.
That’s already bad enough, already disrespectful enough. You can’t pretend, ten seasons in, that you’re a different show than the one you’ve always been. You can’t pretend the characters you’re asking us to root for haven’t all made questionable choices at best, horrible, illegal choices at Voight. And you can’t play at black and white when you’ve been existing in shades of grey — and reveling in it — for so long.
But even in a universe of bad choices, making Kevin Atwater the one holding the gun has to be the most tone-deaf thing a police procedural has done in the last few years of cop shows trying to grapple with police brutality and the disproportionate effect it has had on Black people. Their idea was, presumably, to craft a narrative about the team having Kevin’s back and establish Kevin as the moral counterpart to Voight now that Jay is gone. The reality is that making Kevin the one holding the gun is Chicago P.D. basically both-siding an issue that has only ever had one clear side.
Not only that, it’s giving oxygen to the people who try to paint the police brutality issue as something that has nothing to do with racism. It’s about “bad cops,” they will say, and this episode plays into that narrative. Except it isn’t. It’s not about “bad cops,” it’s about a system that is inherently racist and oppressive. And the truth the show only so casually mentions while focusing on the fictional other side is that Black people — Black men, in particular — are overwhelmingly the victims of it.
For this story to have any chance at emotional resonance, much less coherency, Chicago P.D. couldn’t be the show to tell it. It could even be argued this isn’t a story that needs to be told. We’ve all existed for a long time in a world where police are the good, upstanding guys. That’s been the default. Now that illusion has been broken, and we all see the police for what they are, not what they should be. There’s no going back from that. There shouldn’t be.
Even outside of the real-world implications, though, narratively, this episode makes little sense. Did we really need this hour to reestablish who Kevin Atwater is? Debatable, considering this is who he has always been. But even if the show felt the need to remind us, did they really need to put him in this messy situation to do so?
Ironically, it seemed like Chicago P.D. was turning a corner this season, not a good one, but a corner nonetheless. With Jay Halstead’s departure, it seemed like the show might be willing to embrace being the morally grey police drama that, in truth, is closer to reality than the shows that try to present police as the good guys all the time. But no, it seems Chicago P.D. just wants to have its cake and eat it, too. Hank Voight on the poster, the one calling the shots, the one willing to do whatever it takes — legal or not — and then the one Black character on the other side, the morally upstanding guy who wants to do the right thing.
Stop me if this narrative seems familiar.
Chicago P.D. has made mistake after mistake this season. It’s become a disjointed show that has very little clue of what its overall narrative is, and since it cannot muster anything coherent, it’s trying to survive based on a few good characters and interesting dynamics. But even good characters can only remain so for so long if you continue to try to make them fit into storylines that make no sense for what has been established of them.
Once upon a time, Chicago P.D. had an idea of what it wanted to be. And even if I didn’t always like or agree with the idea, at least it was clear there was a direction. Now, the show seems to be throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks, and the sad part is that we’re all just getting tired of the attempts. At this point, it almost feels like it’s time to put everyone out of their misery.
Things I think I think:
- Look, you can think Hailey canceled because she was tailing Sean. I will think she canceled because she was talking to her husband.
- Trudy’s whole speech to Kevin was basically “no matter what you do, you’re gonna do it wrong, but good luck!”
- “Take your empathy with you” hit me.
- Yeah, suuure, Hailey would work on this with Voight and not bring anyone else in. It tracks. I mean, what reason does Hailey have to mistrust …oh, wait …
- The most realistic thing about the hour was that they let Kevin keep working.
- Adam stepping in between Kevin and the dad was a good moment.
- Every time I think this show can’t sink any lower, they get a shovel and start digging.
Agree? Disagree? What did you think of Chicago P.D. 10×06 “Sympathetic Reflex”? Share with us in the comments below!