The Code Black Season 2 Premiere: “Second Year” Renews & Resets

The Code Black season 2 premiere
CBS took a roll of the dice and renewed Code Black for a second season, but with some caveats.  The big one was letting go of two favorite characters.  Fans who tuned into for the Code Black season 2 premiere weren’t sure what to expect.  That doesn’t mean they didn’t have some expectations.  The question is, were those expectations met?  Let’s review!

The Elephant in the Hospital

Much of Code Black “Second Year” is about establishing the show’s new parameters – and introducing the new characters.  This episode does a good job with both. The problem is that it makes no attempt to explain why two main characters, Dr. Christa Lorenson (Bonnie Somerville) and Dr. Neal Hudson (Raza Jaffrey) are no longer there.  For a show that prides itself on getting the details of things, this was a glaring story error.

The new concept itself is a good one. Every year new interns start the hospital program so each season will be bringing in new characters.  Last season there were many characters that came in and out of rotation – and it worked!  What made it work was that the reason for changes were built into the storyline.  When Dr. Taylor (Kevin Dunn) – the head of E.R. – was replaced by Gina Perello (Christina Vidal) it was because he broke a major rule and was suspended.  Even the disappearance of Cole Guthrie (Cress Williams) was explained via his dad, Dr. Rollie Guthrie (William Allen Young).

So when head nurse Jesse “Mama” Sallander (Luis Guzmán) is walking down the hall with the new interns and introduces them to the “second year” interns, Christa’s absence is sorely felt.  Neal’s absence is noticeable as well, but not as severely as Christa’s.  That’s because of the way the show does the reset.

The fact that the three “classmates” she came in with don’t even mention the fact that Christa isn’t there anymore seems ridiculous.  They – and the audience – have just been particularly reminded of when they first started.  Whether she got married, transferred to another hospital – whatever reason they wanted to give – it needed to be acknowledged that something was different. Not doing so leaves a gaping hole in the narrative the show is attempting to rebuild.

The New Interns

As for the new interns, I’d give them another episode or two before deciding anything.  However, I did notice that there was no attempt to individualize them until they meet up with our second-year crew.   It’s then that we learn that in her younger years Dr. Charlotte Piel (Nafessa Williams) was an actress in a major movie franchise called, “The Artemis Stone.”  Second year interns,  Dr. Angus Leighton (Harry Ford) and Dr. Malaya Pineda (Melanie Chandra) are huge fans of the franchise.  Dr. Mario Savetti (Benjamin Hollingsworth) says he’s never seen her movies and doesn’t really know her.

There’s also a red-headed female intern, Dr. Noa  Kean (Emily Tyra) whom we immediately get resents Charlotte’s fame and very presence.  The third intern, Dr. Elliot Dixon (Noah Gray-Cabey) just fades into the background – until he later makes the mistake of asking Jesse about a doctor’s lounge.  Jesse takes him to the patient showers where he has to scrub down what appears to be a drunk/homeless man.

Charlotte is the intern that we get the most information about.  For one, we see that her fame can make patients not take her seriously. They should. Like Christa was, Charlotte is smart and intuitive.  She picks up on what the problem is –  even when the scenario is far-fetched.

 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tob_IobTwAo?rel=0]

 

Mario in the supervising role feels a little odd. There were no second-year interns doing that with the original first year people.  Maybe it’s part of the budget-cutting measures that’s made Dr. Will Campbell (Boris Kodjoe) the new head of the newly combined departments of the E.R. and the O.R?  (Except Leanne acted like it’s always been this way….)

Later on Charlotte’s diagnosis is proven to be right, even though the cause is a little off.  It was sex using a sex toy with an air-pump. (The things you learn about on Code Black…!) It takes Charlotte, Noa, Mario and Angus working together to save the patient.  When Leanne asks them who made the diagnosis she’s savvy enough to give the credit to Noa and Mario.  She does this to forge an friendship/alliance with Noa.  (Leanne doesn’t buy Charlotte’s lie  though. Privately she calls Mario out on it.)

Despite all of Charlotte’s past and current success, all the signs point to the idea that being famous has kept her sheltered – and that she’s a virgin. That, combined with needing to prove that she’s not “just an actress” likely will be a big part of her story.

The New Guy – Colonel Ethan Willis

It’s the introduction of Colonel Ethan Willis (Rob Lowe) that is the real sign of how the show has shifted.   He’s in the first scene with Dr. Mike Leighton (Tommy Dewey).  By the end of the episode it’s clear that his character will be replacing the role that Dewy’s character served in terms of interacting with Mike’s younger brother Angus.   While at first Angus blames Ethan for what’s happened to Mike, by the end Angus absolves the man.

At least there’s a sense that Ethan does feel some responsibility for Mike’s fall out of the helicopter.  The issue isn’t that Ethan dragged Mike along.  It’s that Ethan was very experienced and he was reckless about Mike’s safety.  Why wasn’t Mike strapped in? Ethan let that helicopter take off in high winds before the patient and the doctor were secure.

From some of the other scenes in the premiere we get that Ethan is a decent guy and an excellent doctor.  However, he’s also brash and impetuous.  The exchange he has with the new head of the ER and OR –   sets up the essence of Ethan’s character while giving him a mysterious past.

Campbell: We get guys from your unit once a year. They either send you as a punishment for doing something wrong, or as a reward for doing something good. Which one are you?

Willis:        Both.

Last season Dr. Leanne Rorish (Marcia Gay Harden) had a tragic past to work through.  I guess this season it’s going to be Colonel Ethan Willis.

The Cases

One of the things Code Black prides itself on is creating a sense of realism in the medical situations.  The other is that the emotional components deal with matters of the heart that are real world emergency scenarios that tug on your heartstrings. The cases in the Code Black season 2 premiere do the former very well,  That sense of urgency is felt in the emergency situations and they don’t shrink back from the gory moments.

As for the stories around the emergencies, they go from great, to good, to…okay. The earlier mentioned case involving the two new female interns was good.   Mario’s dismissive sexism, which is what helps set the story up – is something that comes up often in medicine.

Mario: She’s exhausted, anxious, vague total-body pain.  This is depression.  I’ve seen it a bunch of time. Call psych.

I really enjoyed seeing his smug and sexist approach to the situation being turned on its head!

The out-of-the-park hit: The sisters and the shark attack

The shark attack story is a strong story that covers several things. The obvious thing is serving as a way to get character of Mike Leighton removed without having to kill him.  It sets up angst for Angus that can be played all season.

What I really appreciated is the story of the two sisters.  That idea was brilliant!  There is such realness in the younger sister Kaya (Emma Engle) crushing on her older sister’s boyfriend.  It’s a painful and innocent adolescent rite of passage – interrupted by this incredible tragedy.

Both young actresses are excellent in their roles throughout the episode. Together they make this sibling relationship painfully real. Jaydin is a good older sister. On the beach she’s with the wounded Kayla – not her boyfriend who was also viciously attacked. When Jaydin first arrives at the hospital the first words out of her mouth are asking about her little sister. She’s torn up about her boyfriend Tucker as well, but she consistently asks about Kaya first.

It’s Kaya who, at 13, is delusional and unreasonable.  Her saying that it’s all Jaydin’s fault, and that Tucker didn’t even want Jaydin around, is over the top in the way only a 13-year-old can do. It still pushes Jaydin’s buttons thought.

“Maybe you can treat her for being a brat while she’s here.

Both Leanne and Ethan are there during the exchange.  After Jaydin learns from a news report that her boyfriend has died, it’s Leanne that’s able to comfort her.

 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fg0TbVIXXMk?rel=0&w=640&h=360]

 

Jaydin’s understanding and love for her sister – even in this time of intense grief – is really what makes this scene extraordinary. It’s that line, “this is going to break her heart” that first gets me. Then, for those familiar with season one, this scene is made even more poignant because we know Leanne’s history of losing her entire family in a car crash. “Who’s going to be strong for me?” is an emotion she has a ton of experience with.

Of course, not telling Kaya isn’t simple. In this short scene Kaya’s knowing her sister well undermines Jaydin’s desire to keep the fact of Tucker’s death from Kaya. (Kudos to Emma Engle for being especially brilliant in these emotionally raw moments.)

 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KGs07eCRPGI?rel=0]

 

Soon after this Ethan comes in to talk with Kaya. He’s able to get through to her. Kaya still believes Jaydin sees her feelings as invalid. As viewers we know that’s not true at all, but how could one make a 13-year-old understand this?

Kaya:   She thinks it’s only her though. She’ll never get what I’m feeling.
Ethan: She’s your sister. She’s the only one who’ll get what you’re feeling.

The answer is a great line, and the entire scene between Kaya and Ethan shows us that whatever has occurred in Ethan’s past hasn’t hardened his heart or compassion. Ethan takes Kaya to a sobbing Jaydin laying facedown on a coach. He watches as Kayla goes and comforts Jaydin, and they then comfort each other.

Mama Know Best

It starts out with a 65-year-old man brought in after a mugging.  Henry Underwood (Robert Romanus) will be the patient of  Dr. Guthrie and Angus.  However, the man’s son will basically be a “patient” of Mama Jesse. 

At this time centerstage gives Campbell another moment to show what a pompous jerk he is. He walks in to announce that because of Mike Leighton’s accident Dr. Rorish was in charge of the interns.  No kidding.  It’s upsetting to Mama and the residents to learn Campbell is the head of the E.R. and O.R..  As Leanne told Campbell when she found out – combining the departments “set back E.R. medicine 40 years.”

The real point of having this case is to tell the story of Henry’s relationship with his son. A couple dressed as a bride and groom come admitting and ask for Henry.  It’s Randall Underwood (Mike Erwin) and his bride-to-be Chelsea (Bianca Collins).

Randall: I don’t need to see him – I just need to know that he’s okay.”

Randall is furious with his father.  He doesn’t believe his dad was mugged.  The scenario he suspects is that Henry lost a bet on a game, couldn’t pay up, and thus got beat up.  It’s the kind of thing his father has done for Randall’s entire life.  This time, Henry has ruined his wedding day!

 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EjlGf5oMX50?rel=0&w=640&h=360]

 

For those who know Dr. Guthrie’s history, having him witness the son verbally attacking the father is an echo of Guthrie’s past.  It gives Young something to silently work off of in later scenes.  First though we get more of the Underwood’s story.   Henry’s gambling was so bad that when Randall was a child Henry bankrupted the family and they had to live in a homeless shelter.  From the above clip we know that wasn’t the only time Henry failed Randall.

It’s right after this that Mama Jesse comes in to stairwell to speak with Randal.  Jesse tells Randall that his own father was “a bum” that he didn’t talk to for twenty years.  Of course, now Jesse regrets it because it’s too let.  Randall doesn’t want to hear this – and lets Jesse know it.  That’s when Mama gives the guy the bag of his father’s belongings.  about how he   It includes his dad’s tuxedo, and a handwritten letter – the toast he planned to read at the wedding!

Jesse:  Not that I read it, because that wouldn’t be right.  but, if I did read it, I’d have to say that your father had lots of regrets. But the one thing he didn’t regret, was you.

Naturally, this changes everything – and naturally dad had to go back to the O.R..  Randall is now very worried.  He asks Dr. Guthrie if his dad will be okay.  Right before Henry gets taken away for surgery, Randall sits with him and reads the letter aloud to his father.  The lines that starts Randall’s waterworks is this:

You were my boy, and I loved being your dad.  It’s been a long time since you’ve needed me though, a long time since you said you wanted to be like me when you grew up.  And now you’re the one I want to be when I grow up.

Randall starts full on crying and says, “I still need you, you hear me? I’m your boy and I still need you….”

As much as I wanted to fall into this scene, I didn’t quite buy it. Randall’s anger over years of his father’s behavior just disappeared in one fell swoop? That’s not usually how things works.

This should have been the beginning of healing a relationship – not the final product. An apology for not believing the dad, some tears about his dad sticking around so they can move forward with better times would have meant more. Unlike the story with the sisters, these aren’t kids and their past history is longer and heavier. The scene pushed too hard for the big emotional sob fest and a happy ending tied up in a neat bow. Sometimes less is more.

The Wrap Up

After viewing the Code Black season 2 premiere I’m pleased with some aspects of it and concerned about others.  On the positive side there are several things.  The show still has great emergency room scenes.  They are continuing to look at hospital politics and how it affects the quality of care.  Mama Jesse and Daddy Rorish are intact.  Angus’s issues with general insecurity and with his father are continuing to be looked at. The cases still address issues of the heart.  These are all good things.

Colonel Ethan Willis has the makings of an interesting character, so I would say adding Lowe is also good. My only caveat is that I hope the addition doesn’t regulate Dr. Rorish to the role of sidekick and confidant. When Christa was around her character worked as a female emotional peer for Rorish – even as she was Christa’s supervisor.  It was a relationship that was refreshing to see on television.  Now Leanne doesn’t have that.  I don’t know if Ethan is supposed to become a romantic interest, but even if he does, that’s not the same thing.

Unfortunately, Malaya’s character does seem to still be in the sidekick zone with Angus.  This was a problem the character kept falling into last season.  Maybe they’re planning on changing her character from gay to bi.  That’s not my favorite idea but if done right, as a real coming-out realization, that could be interesting.  I doubt this is the case though.  Dr. Heather Pinkney (Jillian Murray) is likely still the messy intrigue between Mario, Angus and Campbell.

In a best case scenario either Charlotte or Noa will end up with Malaya.  There’s a lot that Malaya went through last season that I hope will be addressed and worked with in season two. In general, I’m hoping that the women’s stories in the main cast say as strong as the guys.  Last season managed a good balance that way, but it didn’t feel that way in the premiere.  It’s just the premiere though, and the introduction of Lowe’s character and the exiting of Dewy’s may have just tilted the focus some.  Time will tell.

 

  • The Code Black Season 2 Premiere, "Second Year" Review
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Summary

CBS took a roll of the dice and renewed Code Black for a second season, but with some caveats. Fans who tuned into for the Code Black season 2 premiere weren’t sure what to expect. After viewing the Code Black season 2 premiere I’m pleased with some aspects of it and concerned about others. Nevertheless, the core is intact, so I’m hopeful for things progressing upwards.

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