Code Black (S02E01): "The Second Year"

It’s back everyone, Code Black has officially premiered and we are undoubtedly happy. Even with the off-screen changes, and a 12 month time jump, the high-octane, action packed, medical drama we fell in love with last year hasn’t lost any punch. Welcoming back our beloved originals with the addition of a few new faces (notably Rob Lowe), the premiere titled “The Second Year” began with Dr. Mike Leighton (Tommy Dewey) flying over the ocean in a helicopter. Simultaneously cut with news headlines about a shark attack heard ringing through the emergency department, we are gifted with Mama Jesse (Luiz Guzman) giving the new batch of residents that speech made famous last season. Off to the sides, watching eagerly, are our now second-year residents Mario (Ben Hollingsworth), Malaya (Melanie Chandra) and Angus (Harry Ford). The dynamic with these three immediately picks up where it left off; noticing that one of the new residents is a famous movie star – Charlotte Piel – Malaya and Angus hilariously fangirl over her, while Mario is none the wiser. It is this chemistry, the fluid nature of these characters banter that gives Code Black its heart.
Once the introductions are done with, and Jesse moves them on to actual doctor work, Angus hears the news that Mike is on a helicopter with some army guy. Which army guy he asks? Everybody, meet Colonel Willis, played by Rob Lowe. The first shot of Willis is telling; the aviators, the 5am shadow that befalls his jawline and his persona – I already predict this season is going to be fun. The banter between Mike and he is quick-witted and a little sassy, but as soon as they touch down on the beach, it’s all work and no play. With two victims having been involved in a shark attack – 13 year old Kaya, and 17 year old Tucker – the doctor’s break-up. Kaya, however seems to be traveling okay, while Tucker is crashing. After stabilising Kaya, Mike joins Willis to assist with Tucker who is quickly losing a lot of blood. How does he propose to fix that? With a military grade medical instrument that he describes is like “shooting cream into a Twinkie”. Bravo, writers for that line of comedy genius among such a high pressure situation.
Back at Angels, Campbell (Boris Kodjoe) informs Leanne (Marcia Gay Harden) that she no longer runs the Trauma department. Excuse me? What? It seems the board decided to join both the OR and Trauma departments together, meaning that Campbell now runs them both. The shade and sheer fury that radiates off Dr. Rorish is enough to make anyone shake in their boots; oh Marcia, how I’ve missed the attitude you give to her. Meanwhile, back at the scene of the accident, Mike and Willis have successfully got the victims on board but it seems the helicopter is having some difficulty taking off. Upon orders from Willis to close the door, as Mike moves towards it to do so a gust of wind blows through and Mike falls from the helicopter, hitting the sand below. Demanding the helicopter land, Willis attempts to resolve the situation. Yet when the helicopter is unable to land, action-man himself jumps from the chopper into the water.
Prepped and ready for the incoming casualties, the rest of the team, lead fearlessly by Dr. Rorish watch as the helicopter lands. Breaking into two teams, they get to work but sadly, when the news of Mike’s fall trickles through to Angus, he’s immediately instructed by Rorish to stay behind and wait for news. After the end of last season, where Mike and Angus were sitting upon a dark secret, to now have his closest confidant in jeopardy has got to hit Angus hard. Straight to centre stage, Leanne Rorish is in full doctor mode; Marcia Gay Harden has crafted this character into a regal, demanding, yet humanly in tune working professional that balances personal history with professional standard, beautifully. Using this opportunity to teach the residents, Rorish asks what her next move should be in treating their patient. After a long, pregnant pause, Charlotte (Nafessa Williams) speaks up with the right answer and so begins the rivalry between the first-years. Elsewhere, Heather (Jillian Murray) has rushed Tyler to surgery where she has discovered the foam seeping out of his abdomen; can we blame her for be confused? Calling Willis immediately to understand what exactly it is she’s looking at, we also get an update on Mike’s condition. It’s not surprising however, when Angus interrupts on the line demanding an explanation about his brother. Harry Ford continues to inhabit the moments of emotional vulnerability for Angus with such power and rawness; his loyalty to family and friends one of his greatest assets. Thankfully, Dr. Guthrie (William Allen Young) is close by and needs Angus’ assistance with an elderly assault victim.
Arriving shortly after is Mike, Willis has intubated him and unfortunately Mike has been unresponsive since the fall. Malaya is working with Willis but is quickly tagged out so Leanne can work in tandem. Willis proposes a highly technical surgical resolution to the bleed on Mike’s brain but Angus is reluctant to let him do anything. Harry Ford, the passion and fear and pain written across Angus’ face in this scene is a testament to you my friend, bravo. Angus’ reluctance is heard, but somewhat disregarded as this treatment is the only way they are going to save Mike’s life. Exiting the chaos that is Centre Stage, Malaya finds a fearful Angus sitting alone. The chemistry between Chandra and Ford dominated season 1, as their characters navigated some of the most traumatic experiences and now faced with another one, Malaya remains his supportive, kind, voice of reason. Heather interrupts with news that Mike pulled through the surgery okay but will remain on the ventilator for a couple more days. Angus, still not accepting the methods in which he was saved, storms off.
Checking back in with the shark attack victims, we learn quickly that a love triangle is occurring. Sisters, Jayden and Kaya, both have feelings for Tucker. Talk about complicated and a hand full; seems as though Leanne and Willis will have their hands full. With Mike injured, Leanne is overseeing the first year residents and giving them the tour. Noa (Emily Tyra) seems nervous, Charlotte seems ready, while Elliot (Noah Gray Cabey) just wants to find the lounge so he can nap. Jesse, in all his hilarious glory, takes “Sugar-Bear” to find the lounge. With that taken care of, Leanne returns to check up on her patient to find Willis is already doing so. Here come’s confrontation number one, but don’t worry, it’s not all bad. Leanne just stamps her authority, smoothly, ensuring Willis knows where he stands. Speaking of authority, now that Mario finds himself a second year resident, he’s responsible for overseeing the first-years and this week Noa and Charlotte are instructed to do a work up on a woman who reports pain everywhere, to which Mario responds that the diagnosis most probably will be pain nowhere.
Much to Mario’s shock however, Charlotte believes that the patient’s complaint is actually a lot more severe than first thought – and somewhat odd. She believes that the patient (having just had a hysterectomy) who recently had sex, may have gone a little too hard causing air to be pushed into her neck. Mario doesn’t agree, and orders the resident to call Psych. Back with Dr. Guthrie, his elderly assault patient is visited by his son (and soon to be wife) who isn’t too happy with the situation. What ensues is a heartbreaking confrontation between a father and son whose relationship is made up of lies, and mistakes. But don’t fear Code Black family, Mama is there to offer some advice (unsolicited at times) that seems to resonate with the young man. Keeping with the theme of confrontation, after Angus’ dad arrives, inadvertently taking the driving seat, Willis approaches Angus to try and apologise. It doesn’t really help though, with Angus informing Willis that he does hold him responsible. In the meantime, Charlotte has taken it upon herself (even after strict orders not to do so) to get a CT for their patient. Noa catches her just in time, but while the two doctors argue about ethics and moral etc. the patient begins to crash, unable to breathe. Thinking on their feet, swiftly and collectively might I add, the two determine that a hyperbaric chamber is needed. Charlotte gets the patient inside, while Noa alerts Mario; they arrive to the chamber to find no change has been made. What we then watch is Mario and Angus work on their feet to find a solution; betadine and a scalpel are passed into the chamber, while the second year residents, walk Charlotte through her first procedure. With initial nerves taking control, Mario and Angus calm them, and the patient starts to improve. Cue the first bump.
What Code Black does so effortlessly is maintain the high-stakes drama throughout the entire episode and even as each case reaches its resolution, the writers and actors somehow find space to pull at our heartstrings one last time. With the news of Tucker’s death being heard via the news, Jayden is inconsolable with Leanne taking control of the situation offering some much needed comfort. The audience loves Marcia Gay Harden as bad-ass, quick-witted, take no prisoners Leanne Rorish, but equally adore her as the affectionate, supportive mother. And in this scene, where Jayden searches for answers, we watch as Leanne helps this young girl navigate the grief of losing a loved one, but also saving another from the pain of that loss. It is complex, it is human. But when Jayden attempts to remain strong, even in the face of her sisters’ constant smack-talk, the loss becomes too overwhelming. That, and sisters always know. Elsewhere, we witness forgiveness in its truest form as the groom forgives his father for his past mistakes. The artistry in this scene is what brings it home, and the delivery of the line “I still need you” ripples through our hearts.
Noticing that Kaya is still blocking Jayden with every ounce of attitude she can muster, Willis has one last attempt at breaking through to the heartbroken teenager; informing her that Jayden is the only one that knows how she is feeling, that they’re both heartbroken. What follows is the scene that pushed me over that edge; as Willis wheels Kaya towards a broken Jayden, we watch as the sisters simply give in to the pain. Both realising that if they are to get through this, they’re going to have to lean on one another and as Kaya gets up from her wheelchair to lie upon the back of her big sister, Code Black continues with the theme of forgiveness and family. Meanwhile, Charlotte gives credit to Noa for diagnosing their patient much to Noa’s surprise. Why did she do that you ask, it seems as though they could both use a friend. Checking back in with Mike (there’s still no change), Angus remains solidly at his bedside. It seems though, the young doctor has had time to think, and extends an apology to Willis (or should I say Ethan Willis). All is well that ends well, right? Don’t be too quick to think that, especially when the reason for Willis’ being placed at Angels is both a reward and punishment. Anyone have any guesses to what’s in the closet of Colonel Ethan Willis?
It is safe to say that Code Black has exploded back onto our screens, with the energy and theme of the show as strong as ever. Fostering the growth and evolution of the doctors, challenging them as humans and professionals and exploring how working relationships come and go, Code Black has opened their second season strong. Marcia Gay Harden remains a fearless leader, Rob Lowe measuring up to her fire, with Harry Ford, Ben Hollingsworth and Melanie Chandra the beating hearts. William Allen Young the quiet, stoic soul as Dr. Guthrie, Luiz Guzman, humanly and hilarious, while the new batch of residents just that, new, but with so much potential as the season gets going.
Other key notes:

  • Noah found the lounge – and if by lounge you mean being assigned to wash duty.