When you base a show on the lives of firefighters, you’d think there’d be built-in stakes. But the trick is not to become too reliant on that idea, because believe it or not, those built-in stakes don’t always provide enough drama (particularly when you tailor them to your needs).
On Chicago Fire, there’s the mentality that every call could be someone’s last … well, at least someone you sort of know. Let’s face it: Although this show has killed people we love — R.I.P. Shay — it’s not often that it actually takes that leap. It comes close, as it did with Herrmann this season or Dawson in tonight’s episode, but it rarely goes all the way. And at this point, if it doesn’t make a bold move, I’m not sure how much longer it can hold people’s attention.
I’m not saying I need this show to kill someone we love in order for it to deliver a satisfying finale. However, what the season 4 finale was lacking was a general sense of urgency. The pacing was slow, and the drama felt weightless, almost carefree. Was anyone actually worried Dawson was going to die at that structure fire? Not really. Did anyone think the season would end with her losing Louie? Again, unlikely. The most tense moment of the hour ended up being everyone trying to wake a sleeping Mouch, if only because it felt for a second like Mouch wasn’t getting up because he was dead. (Spoiler: He wasn’t. He’s just a really deep sleeper.)
Recently, this show decided to make the statement that no one is safe by killing Jimmy’s brother, Danny, a character we’d met a few times but by no means were invested in. And in tonight’s finale, they decided for the big cliffhanger to involve Stella’s ex, Grant, a character we’ve met a few times but are by no means invested in. Sure, Grant’s instability — not to mention the knife he’s holding — is a threat to both Severide and Stella, two people we care about greatly, but it’s hard for me to believe any real physical harm will come to either of them. It’s also hard for me to invest in a finale that has so much to do with a character I have no real reason to root for.
And that’s what I mean when I say this episode felt like it lacked stakes. If you look at Jimmy as another example, his story in this hour was essentially: “Jimmy contemplates going against Chief Boden … but then doesn’t … but then maybe does.” By dragging out his emotional journey, it allows viewers time to lose interest. And what are the stakes? Jimmy and Boden’s relationship? Eh, were they ever that close? And if Jimmy did go against Boden, do we actually think Jimmy v. Boden would end up hurting Boden? Probably not.
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In just about every story line, I needed this finale to take things one step further — or at least speed up the action. The only story that fully checked out was Dawson getting both Louie and Casey in her own happily ever after. It might not sound dramatic, but it’s something this show’s been building toward, and it did carry an emotional weight. As for the rest of the hour, it could’ve picked things up just a bit. As firefighters know: You move too slow and you things can turn ugly.
We wrote a react for this episode, which means we just checked in for the finale, but if this is a show you’d like to read about each week next season, please let us know! You can email firstname.lastname@example.org with your feedback and suggestions.