“When Did We Begin to Change” is unashamedly dominated by the pandemic, which is a level of reality that will surely split audiences who’re looking to escape from the real world.
This recap of Chicago Med season 6, episode 1, “When Did We Begin to Change”, contains spoilers.
There are many reasons why people watch television, and one of them is escapism. In our trying times, can we really begrudge those who want to disappear into the comforting world of unreality for an hour? Those folks need not apply to “When Did We Begin to Change”, the sixth season premiere of Chicago Med. A medical drama can’t in good conscience ignore a global pandemic, whether it splits audience opinion or not, and despite some quibbles about authenticity, this premiere was an effective evocation of our real-life health crisis.
As with most such premieres, most of the runtime was devoted to catching up with everyone in this new normal, which Will admits he thought they’d be over by now. This isn’t set in the earliest days of the crisis, though, so PPE is in plentiful supply and the ED has an effective system in place. But the virus’s effects are felt everywhere; Charles is recovering from the virus, and Goodwin is conducting board meetings from home since her diabetes puts her at too much risk.
That risk is very high for someone like April, who is working straight weeks in the Covid ICU in lieu of abandoning her patients, something which attracts Ethan’s attention, despite their breakup. And the usual stresses and strains of the hospital environment persist on top of everything else in Chicago Med season 6, episode 1, with personal traumas, faulty decision-making, and the usual emotional rigors of working with the ill and injured take their toll. Crockett and Natalie have a bit of a bust-up, for instance, when the latter decides not to page him to consult on her young leukaemia patient, fearing it might be “too close to home”. It is, as it happens, but that isn’t a good enough excuse for Crockett, who has no desire to be pussyfooted around, despite the difficulties he obviously still has in dealing with the situation.
Will and Hannah’s difficulties in “When Did We Begin to Change” have nothing to do with Covid either, but with the harsh realities of addiction. They’re together at the beginning of the episode and going their separate ways by the end, but the decision isn’t arrived at quickly or easily. Will takes Hannah into the ED having discovered her with a syringe. But despite initial attempts to keep up appearances, the relapse was something that Will was expecting, and came on the back of a huge fight in a hellish relationship. Charles doesn’t judge or say “I told you so” when it becomes clear that Hannah has replaced drugs with the excitement of a new romance and then returned to drugs when the romance fizzled out, but Will feels it anyway. When she vows to return to rehab and invites Will to go to Los Angeles with her, that’s where the pressure becomes too much. Hannah can’t base her sobriety on Will, and Will can’t live in constant anticipation of another relapse. It’s not exactly an upbeat plot, but then again it’s not exactly an upbeat show.
As it happens, the world itself isn’t particularly upbeat right now either, and in reflecting that Chicago Med is going to turn off a sizeable portion of its audience. But there’s a responsibility to the truth that a drama set in the real world, even a simulacrum of it, undoubtedly has. “When Did We Begin to Change” makes good on that responsibility.
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