Bureaucracy's a bitch, and no one is about to learn that lesson harder than the good people at Fire Station 51 on NBC's Chicago Fire. After a season one that included in-house fighting, theft, harassment claims, and mourning the loss of their own, the second season starts with the team stronger than ever. But this time, the threats of pulling them apart come from external, higher up politics, not within.
On the second season premiere, "A Problem House", Chief Boden (Eamonn Walker) gets word that budget cuts have his house absorbing the remnants of another, recently closed house. But that doesn't mean 51 is out of the woods, either. Notorious for issues within its walls, it's on a short list for closure, too, and Boden decides to take preemptive measures to prove itself as an invaluable asset to the community. But that's easier said than done when more than half of the fires and accidents his trucks respond to in the season opener are actually because of one of his own. Kelly Severide (Taylor Kinney) is being targeted by an arsonist, led around the city putting out fires that seem to have no other meaning than to taunt. This isn't a "case of the week" situation in which the guy is caught at the end of the premiere, either, but rather it promises to be an on-going problem, just another in a string for Severide, causing Kinney to do a 180 from the joy-filled, joking dad-to-be in the opening scene to the more internalizing, humbled guy keeping his head down to avoid getting burnt by the end of the episode. Severide is not the type to be scared, but he is certainly made a bit more wary about recent events in his life and the slightly suspicious behavior around him.
Chicago Fire manages to deliver a couple of absolutely gut-wrenching experiences for characters we've come to know and love in the 44 minutes back for season two. From Dawson (Monica Raymund) and Shay (Lauren German) tending to a gunshot victim who was thrown out of a moving car while that car tries to evade police barricades in the parking lot, to a fire jumping from one building to an adjacent one, trapping an unconscious woman inside and requiring a double rescue, the stunts raise the bar once again for this "not just a procedural" adrenaline-filled drama. But it is the character turns and developments that matter the most because long after the fires are snuffed out, it is what lingers for the people that drive the story to the next week.
Severide's predicament is certainly the most pressing, as it is affecting everyone who has to fight those fires that seem to be set with a specific message for him. But there are still ramifications from other relationships ringing loudly in this episode, too. From Mouch (Christian Stolte) stepping up for more responsibility, to Herrmann (David Eigenberg), Dawson, and Otis' (Yuri Sardarov)'s bar being buried by competition, to complicated romantic relationships still being in play, there are enough "outside the firehouse" stories to satiate those who get claustrophobic, too.
After some time away to clear his head, Matt Casey (Jesse Spencer) is trying really hard to pretend like everything is fine and regular, "just another day on the job," and that he can still lead effectively. But he is clearly carrying too much weight, and by the end of the episode even more is thrown on his shoulders, and for the first time we see a spot of fear in his eyes that makes us question his capabilities.
Despite the second season of Chicago Fire marking the first anniversary of the loss that sparked the rivalry between Severide and Casey, they appear to be on better terms than ever. In fact, but for one bout of aside bickering, the entire house is united in a way that perfectly illustrates the brothers and sisters they need to be to succeed at their jobs. Obviously, that can only last so long or there would be no drama. But it certainly is a nice camaraderie to revel in while we can.
Peter Mills (Charlie Barnett) is more lost than ever, still being called Candidate and clearly not comfortable answering to Chief Boden after learning of his personal relationship with his family. Instead of this premiere being a moment for him to refocus on the work, he seems more distant than ever, and the groundwork is laid for him to defect out of the house. It's such a brief moment in the premiere, but it holds so much promise of conflict in the future given that everyone else is struggling and fighting to keep their jobs, and he is effectively going to turn his back on the same thing.
Of course, there are a few new faces entering 51 and therefore Chicago Fire in the grand "expand the world" tradition of any second season show. In this case, the most notable one is a cocky young squad member Jeff Clark (Jeff Hephner) who seems to have too much information about things and be a bit too eager to share that information. In a scene that sets up Mills' sharp police skills, he seems to notice there's something not quite right with this guy, but just how far he'll go and why remains to be seen. He may be given an offer most can't refuse by the end of the episode, but that doesn't mean he won't take that offer, exploit it, and continue down his already seemingly cunning path. Maybe it's just because we've been through so much with the rest of the house that we're not super welcoming to outsiders, but when he smiles, it looks like a sneer, and he certainly seems, from first glance, to be an opportunist. That is not someone who will be good for the house or the tension already coursing through it.
With a longer-term mystery case, a couple of wildcard characters, and new colors to those we already love to watch, Chicago Fire season two certainly has heated up!
Chicago Fire returns to NBC on September 24 2013 at 10 p.m.
Want more Chicago Fire news and reviews? Follow LA TV Insider Examiner on Twitter!