Code Black Season 1 Episode 2 Review: “We Plug Holes”

Code Black

Code Black Season 1 Episode 2 proves that the high octane show with heart that we saw in the pilot was not a fluke.  It also affirms that this is a show that has a ton of heart in it.  Yes, I saw that there are some romantic possibilities floating around, but I hope that doesn’t ever come to dominate the show.  The power of Code Black is in seeing the effects of dealing with life and death on such an intense basis shapes these people – not who they end up sleeping with.  Save that for Grey’s Anatomy.

This message is made clear by the how the show is going to be starting every week.  The stark simple statement of what the term “code black” means, and how Angels Memorial is unique in the amount of trauma it sees wasn’t just put in for the pilot.  It’s the show’s opening sequence.  What a unique, in-your-face choice.  Most shows open with clips of the stars and the action.  Choosing to start with these statements of fact sets the focus on the situation: life and death is being faced under incredibly difficult circumstances by the staff at Angels Memorial 300 days a year. (It also expects that the people watching can read and grasp the ramifications of this. It seems simple, but requiring a bit of thinking before engaging in the visuals is a great way to bring the brain into the viewing process.)

The Setup:

This week opens with our residents in a downtime moment.  Head nurse Jesse Sallander (Luis Guzmán) aka “mama” has them cleaning the E.R. – which involves mopping up a lot of blood.  The first to complain is Dr. Mario Savetti (Benjamin Hollingsworth) – who promptly gets schooled on things:

Jesse: “…because you’re a resident, and your mama said so.”

Jesse then has Dr. Malaya Pineda (Melanie Chandra) give his philosophy about working in the E.R., which is that to be part of the team you have to be willing and able to do whatever is needed: “no job is too big, no job is too small.”  In particular, Jesse informs Mario that to being an E.R. “requires humility.”  He even invokes the movie The Karate Kid  and the whole “wax on, wax off” routine.  Mario uses the reference to snipe about how old Dr. Christa Lorenson (Bonnie Somerville) is.  (He, so needs to get over this!) However, then Jesse gets serious:

Once mama and daddy aka Dr. Leanne Rorish (Marcia Gay Harden) leave the residents talk among themselves.  We are reminded that the reason Malaya is so knowledgable about the hospital is that she went to medical school and interned at Angels Memorial.  More importantly we learn the specifics of what tragedy happened to Leanne: her entire family, husband and kids, were killed in horrific car accident. Dr. Angus Leighton (Harry Ford)  is the only one who doesn’t already know this.  Still, Christa is immediately protective of the information and scolds everyone about gossip.  Mayala agrees.

The residents are split up between Leanne and Dr. Neal Hudson (Raza Jaffrey).  Christa and Mario go with Neal, Malaya and Angus with Leanne. (Is this going to be the regular resident split? They did the same pairs last week.)

The Cases:

This week there are six cases – again! The first two cases come in immediately, victims in a head-on car crash that have significant injuries.  The dialogue is fast and the action seems even more so.  Both are quickly transferred from their ambulances to E.R. beds

  • Jake Willis (Regan Burns) is awake when brought in and has major neck and chest injuries.  He connects with Leanne in a panic about dying.

Jake: “Please! My family. They can’t get on without me! My wife Becca – she takes care of my daughter – she doesn’t, she’ doesn’t…” he loses consciousness.

Being we’ve just learned exactly what happened to Leanne’s family, the moment is a sharp one. What is it like, hearing someone pleading for their family’s sake.  A million thoughts hit me just watching that, did her husband beg to live, did Leanne have a daughter?  I know this is all fiction, but I’m already feeling the pain Leanne must on some level experience with every case like this.  How does she keep it together?

  • Laura Halloran (Dana Davis) is in and out of consciousness with multiple neck injuries. She’s Neal’s patient.  The line that jumps out to mark the severity of her situation?

Neal: “Dr. Halloran, I want you to hold that neck like it’s disconnected – it might be.”

There’s a moment where Neal asks Christa for a particular medical instrument and she can’t immediately recall what it is or where.  She had an incident like this in the last episode.  There’s something building around Christa’s memory and response time.  It’s not going to blow up in this episode, but at some point I expect it’s going to be part of a bigger story.

The next four cases are introduced later:

  • Bryan: a famous hockey player with the Los Angeles Rays is brought in because he passed out at the gym.  He becomes Mario’s reluctant patient.
  • A visually impaired boy is brought in by his father after the boy falls in a rock-climbing accident.
  • A construction worker with a backache….
  • Ruth:  An elderly woman with dementia her nurse brings her in because Ruth swallowed a bunch of coins – three dollars and eighty cents worth!  Why?  She wanted to go out on a field trip! Dr. Rollie Guthrie (William Allen Young) deals with Ruth sweetly (his nickname should be “Grandpa.”) .  However, he knows that the nurse brought Ruth to the hospital because she doesn’t want to deal with what it takes to get the coins out: a laxative and…time.  By law, a patient can’t be discharged with a foreign object inside of them.

Nurse: “We have so many patients and not enough staff.  I can’t be taking her to the toilet every five minutes”

Malaya: “And you think we can?!”

This is the most light-hearted story in the episode, as at various times the residents have to deal with a bedpan and counting coins.  It’s humorous – but it also points out that the E.R. isn’t always about life or death.  Sometimes it’s just about…life.

The Hockey player:

Bryan does not want to be at the hospital and denies anything is wrong.  Mario figures out that Bryan had a seizure.  Bryan is furious and demands his team doctor be brought it.  Dr. Matthew Carlock (David Miller) condescendingly demands that Bryan be released and the seizure diagnosis be taken off  the record.  Mario realizes there’s a cover up going on: a seizure diagnosis would mean Bryan could no longer play hockey, which causes Bryan to shove Mario.  Mario has to be held back by Mama.  Daddy steps in and kicks Mario out of the room.  

Daddy quickly puts the team doctor in his place, but knows the hospital can’t keep a patient in the hospital against his will…unless of course they start having a seizure right then and there.  Chris does, and Leanne springs into action.  Before you can blink Bryan is on a gurney with an oxygen mask over his face!

Mama goes and finds Mario out by the E.R. ambulance arrival area.  Mario is mad and dejected.  It’s time for a Mama pep talk.   He talks to Mario about the film, “A Officer and a Gentleman” (I can see this is a show you’d better be up on your 1980’s filmography!) and that like the Richard Gere character Mario has to learn some things:

Jesse: Humility…patience, kindness, charity – you know, the big ones.”

Jesse knows the rough neighborhood Mario is from and how tough you have to be to get out that place.  He shows that he has much respect for the fact that Mario made it out.  It’s the first time we see any emotion beyond snarkiness from Mario.  Once Jesse leaves he actually tears up a little.  There’s hope for him yet.

Mario goes back and studies Bryan’s charts.  He realizes that things are so bad in Bryan’s brain that another concussion could kill him.  We get to see Mario show real compassion for Bryan.  For Mario, Bryan was a sports hero, someone he looked up to and was inspired by.  In a nice touch Mario uses Bryan’s own words from an interview to encourage him in knowing he will be able to move on from hockey to do whatever it is he wants to do with his life.  Already, Mama’s words are having an effect!

The Boy

This case serves as a bridge to one of the larger cases, but it’s intense to watch.  The kid’s on blood-thinners because he had blot clots on his eyes at age 4.  Christa wonders what kind of dad takes their blind child rock-climbing – at night no less.  Leanne admonishes her that they aren’t there to judge.  The case is happening as the E.R. is about to hit code black. (The way this stuff is shot truly lets you feel the crowding and tension of the situation.) With the blood bank out of O negative blood, Leanne has to find a way to cope, the kid has internal bleeding somewhere – the blood-thinner makes this worse.

What’s great about these scenes is watching Leanne handle the pressure of all that’s going on: she’s being a doctor, a teacher, and a miracle-worker – all at the same time.  In this case she comes up with the idea of a tamponade to stop the bleeding.  It allows them to stabilize him and send him on his way to surgery.

The Construction Worker:

What happens with the construction worker is that he’s given to Angus and Malaya to work with.  Angus suspects that the back pain is actually being caused by a severe heart issue, but goes with Malaya’s diagnosis of back spasms due to a job-related injury.  Angus turns out to be right and the patient nearly dies.

Whoa! What an intense scene!  It’s also an important one because last week we heard Angus say he wasn’t sure he was cut out to be a doctor.  He’s come off as being very passive about things.  Here we see that he does actually have the passion for this!

 Anyway, Leanne ends up doing the surgery that saves the man’s life.  Afterwards Malaya tries to take the blame for what happened by telling Leanne that Angus had the instinct to recognize what was happening.  Leanne then gives Angus a lecture about a good E.R. doctor has to trust and follow their instincts – it’s the difference between life and death.

What I want to know is why Malaya is always trying to protect Angus?  She’s been like this since the pilot and I don’t see why she’s drawn this way.  It’s above and beyond the idea of having a crush.  In fact, I don’t even get that from her.  I do enjoy their scenes, but I’m hoping some kind of explanation will be given for Malaya’s instinct to jump in front of a bus for Angus all the time.  Given how smart and capable she is it just seems weird.

Laura Halloran

This was my favorite case of the episode.  It turns out that the accident injuries aren’t the only thing wrong with Laura.  Neal picks up that there’s an organ or something that isn’t getting enough blood. The signs of it are in her bloodstream.  He ignores the order of hospital head Dr. Taylor (Kevin Dunn) to “ship her upstairs”  in so that he can figure out what’s going on – something Krista definitely admires. (Yes, there are some sparks between Krista and Neal – it’s definitely more interesting than Mario’s mommy issues with her!)

It turns out that Laura’s ovary somehow got twisted and in a few hours will be a dead organ.  Now, most women have two ovaries, but in this case, Laura’s only got one.  Adding to the urgency is the the fact that Laura is a widow.  Her husband died of cancer, but before he started chemo they froze his sperm for in vitro-fertilization later.  Now the one thing in the world Laura wants is to have a child.  The ovary needs to be untwisted to save it, which requires surgery.  The problem: there’s a surgery room but no surgeon.

The situation brings up a lot.  Earlier we learned that neal did a surgery residency – and he was good. (The unspoken question: why did he change to become an E.R. doctor?  More to be revealed down the line!) Christa wants him to do the surgery.  He says no.  Christa goes to Leanne about it.  Leanne also says no and talks to Leanne about not getting emotionally involved.  This doesn’t go over well with Christa.   She reminds Leanna that they both know the importance of family.  Leanna reminds her that they are teacher-student not friends.

Of course, Neal ends up doing the surgery, and it all works out.  What’s really great is the talk Christa has with Leanna after the fact.

The Wrap Up

I’ve made comments about this show not being about who’s sleeping with who.  While I’m sure that will eventually come up, what I love about Code Black is learning about who these people are in the face of the trauma they face every day.  It’s also nice that it’s not all about people dying (although there’s no doubt it will happen eventually).  It’s honest and gory about the messiest of medical work – and of life – but it still leaves you with a sense of hope.  There’s so few things on television that does that these days.  Code Black is well written, well acted, and leaves me feeling good about things at the end of it.  I certainly will be back for more of it!

Want more news and reviews about Code Black?  You can follow me on Twitter.

[Photo credit: Cliff Lipson/CBS]

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