Chicago P.D.'s LaRoyce Hawkins Talks Atwater's 'Escape' Option In Difficult New Case, Plus Chief O'Neal's Role

Chicago P.D. has changed the Intelligence Unit in some unprecedented ways in Season 10 already, and the spotlight is about to shift over to Atwater for a new case that will call his reputation into question. The team will have to try and clear his name while also cracking the case, and the pressure will be on. LaRoyce Hawkins spoke with CinemaBlend about the episode, called “Sympathetic Reflex,” including how Chief O’Neal is involved and whether Atwater would be tempted to take an “escape” option.

“Sympathetic Reflex” will see Atwater scrutinized for how he reacts during an arrest, and the promo reveals that he’ll be accused of murder. A quick exchange in the footage with Chief O’Neal (played by P.D. newcomer Michael Gaston) shows Atwater flat out asking if the CPD is going to leave him out to dry. The brass not having his back would be nothing new to Atwater; in fact, he was being harassed by his fellow officers not all that long ago. 

So, when I spoke with LaRoyce Hawkins about the new episode airing on November 2, he weighed in on how O’Neal fits into the mess in comparison to Voight and Platt:

I think Chief O'Neal means well. I think Chief O'Neal does his best, but also I'm not surprised. Chief O'Neal doesn't really show me anything different necessarily from anybody else in the blue, within the blue system. You know what I'm saying? I think the blue system, especially in Atwater's experience, has been so conditioned to finding ways around issues and finding ways to hide issues, if they can. Whatever makes us look better in the end is really the story that we want to go with, and Atwater isn't built the same.

Chief O'Neal’s son may not mean well, based on the recent Upton-centric episode, but LaRoyce Hawkins previewed that even if the chief doesn’t necessarily have Atwater’s back within “the blue system,” he at least does his best, and that can’t be said for every cop who has come up against Atwater over the years. 

Of course, depending on whether or not the incident was caught on camera to reveal the truth of what happened, there may only be so many ways that CPD will want to try and spin the situation. The actor went on to share the solution that the higher-ups find, and why the “escape tactic” isn’t one that Atwater would use, saying: 

This idea of sympathetic reflex [is] the idea that one's body can, within the fight or flight mode, accidentally take over. It can be scientifically proven, and I think that's a part of science that the system has used to its advantage, if push comes to shove, when it has to. That's an escape tactic that they try to convince Atwater to utilize in this situation, and Atwater knows better. Atwater, believe it or not, approached the entire circumstance, moreso in a parasympathetic type of style, which is a lot more empathetic and a lot more from the heart. I think that's more his style than anything, so yeah, Atwater's not surprised.

Atwater is consistently the member of the Intelligence Unit who tries to stick to the straight and narrow, and follow the rules as closely as one can while working under Hank Voight. Approaching a stressful situation with empathy and heart is in line with the Atwater who fans have been watching for the better part of a decade, but depending on what happens with the case, empathy and heart may not be enough to save him. Hawkins continued: 

What we wanted to do this time is not showing [an] Atwater that has all the answers already, not showing [an] Atwater that already knows what he's going to do and why he's going to do it, but an Atwater that honestly struggles with a decision... but you don't know exactly where it was gonna go, which was something that was a goal of mine, as an artist as I approached this episode.

Atwater-centric episodes of Chicago P.D. can be quite heavy, particularly when they deal with how much of an uphill battle he has at CPD in comparison to others in the Intelligence Unit due to race. While his coworkers can and do get away with bending the rules to the point of breaking them, Atwater follows protocols as much as possible… and sometimes still ends up being blamed for situations that aren’t his fault. When asked if it weighs on Atwater when he does everything right but still gets the heat for anything that goes wrong, Hawkins shared: 

I think it does, but I also think that's a part of his strength. I think that's what makes him different. I think that's why he's a part of the unit. There's a reason why Atwater can't really do the wrong thing, and I think those reasons are obvious, right? It's a dual consciousness that W.E.B. Du Bois talked about all the time, about how you have to know who you are and who you're not. Being a Black person in America and especially being a Black officer in Chicago, there are things that you can't get away with, more so than anybody else. So there's an extra layer of discipline and diligence that you have to attach to the job, which is a cross you have to bear.

Atwater has been bearing this particular cross for a very long time, and it should be interesting to see what “Sympathetic Reflex” has in store for him, particularly now that he’s in a mentor role for Torres. Hawkins went on to address his character setting an example and knowing who he is, saying:

I think Atwater does his best to exemplify that example, and time and time again, we're going to watch him prove himself to be the gentleman that he claims to be, and I think that's what helps him earn detective-ship, if that makes sense.

Will Season 10 finally be when fans see Officer Kevin Atwater become Detective Kevin Atwater? After Halstead’s departure, Upton is the only detective among the cops working under Voight, so it seems like there’s room for at least one of the others to be promoted. Even several members of the cast were pitching a promotion for Atwater back in early 2021, and LaRoyce Hawkins shared why he was ready for his character to make detective during Season 9. Now could be his time!

Tune in to NBC on Wednesday, November 2 at 10 p.m. ET to catch the “Sympathetic Reflex” episode of Chicago P.D. Season 10. If you’ve missed any earlier episodes of the tenth season (or want to revisit episodes even farther back in time), you can do so streaming with a Peacock Premium subscription

Laura Hurley
Senior Content Producer

Laura turned a lifelong love of television into a valid reason to write and think about TV on a daily basis. She's not a doctor, lawyer, or detective, but watches a lot of them in primetime. Resident of One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and Northeast Ohio. Will not time travel, but will sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation.