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Warning: spoilers ahead for the third episode of Chicago P.D. Season 8, called “Tender Age.”
Chicago P.D. returned to television in 2021 to deliver a huge jump forward when it comes to Upton and Halstead, whose romantic burn up until “Tender Age” was slow even by procedural standards. While the A plot of the episode focused on Burgess, the Upstead-centric B plot started off with Halstead finding out about the FBI job offer that would take Upton to New York if she accepted and ended with a big kiss that was more than three slow but steady seasons in the making.
I’ve been on board with Upton and Halstead's relationship moving forward, but I find myself wondering: did the big kiss happen too quickly from a story perspective? I’m of two minds about it, so let’s break it down, starting with why it might have been too fast before getting into why the timing might have been just right.
Why It Might Have Been Too Soon
Neither Upton nor Halstead are exactly known for having emotional heart-to-hearts about their feelings on a weekly basis, and we haven’t often seen them hinting at romantic feelings directly to each other. Upton admitted she loved Halstead, but not to Halstead, and she didn't explicitly say it was romantic. As for Halstead, he freely admitted to missing Upton… to Trudy. They toed the line in the Season 7 finale over the phone, and there was even wiggle room in "Tender Age" up until the kiss.
Upton’s comment about not seeing Halstead as a partner for a long time could have even been interpreted as friendly, and she almost walked back her earlier comment about not wanting to leave Chicago because of him by adding “Voight” and “21” as reasons to stay. Seriously, when Halstead swooped in at the end of the episode, I 100% thought he was going in for a hug. And even that would have been a big step forward on the Upstead front! The partners really went from not giving each other any straight answers to all but making out in a bar in “Tender Age."
In going straight for the Upton/Halstead kiss, Chicago P.D. skipped over some of the smaller steps toward admitting their feelings that could have been a lot of fun to see. I can’t help but compare this Upstead advancement to Brettsey over on Chicago Fire, for all that I haven't been the biggest fan of that relationship. Brettsey’s burn has been slow, but moved forward step by step. Should Upstead have done the same? And did Rojas sense what happened wherever she currently is and celebrate?
On the flip side of Upton and Halstead taking this big step at the speed of light in just one episode, there are other ways that the timing really makes sense from a story perspective.
Why The Timing Might Have Been Just Right
As much as the Upstead moment in the bar was a huge leap forward that skipped smaller steps, the rushed nature of it in "Tender Age" actually made a lot of sense. If left to their own devices, Upton and Halstead might have kept circling each other for another two seasons or so unless he went and got himself shot again, but the job offer meant that something had to give, especially once Halstead came clean and admitted that Upton giving him the details would be ripping “off the band-aid."
Halstead never got around to specifically saying that he didn’t want her to go even as Upton gave him every opening, and she’s the one who took them past the point of no return with the admission that she saw him as more than a partner, but something had to happen. It was, as Chicago P.D. boss Rick Eid said in previewing Upstead’s story in 2021, “a catalyst.”
Honestly, kudos to Upton for making some bold statements when Halstead seemed pretty determined to try and support her without admitting that he didn’t want her to leave. Fans have known that Halstead was concerned about her taking a job in New York ever since he confessed to missing her last season, but he wasn't saying it to her this week!
Also, for as much as Chicago P.D. hasn’t done much with COVID other than the Intelligence cops sometimes wearing masks, “Tender Age” airing just a couple hours after Chicago Med featured COVID as a major plot keeps the pandemic relevant in the One Chicago universe. And COVID keeping the doctors and nurses separated from their loved ones on Med leads me to think that the cops aren’t seeing many other people as well, and relying on each other professionally and socially more than ever could result in intensified feelings.
I was admittedly thrown in this episode early on by Burgess and Ruzek talking about all the time they’re spending in a bar, but the COVID on Med keeps it on my mind for P.D. (and Fire) enough that it seems like a potential factor in what happens on the other shows. Besides, Chicago P.D. showrunner Rick Eid revealed already that Upton and Halstead would have to figure out how to date despite the challenges of their job, so it’s not like an Upstead hookup on the way was a secret. It just came earlier than expected.
So, what’s the verdict on whether or not this Upton/Halstead twist happened too quickly? Here's where I fall on it.
The Verdict On Upstead
At the end of the day, I do find myself wishing that the official jump from partners to something more was drawn out for at least another couple episodes, but this Upstead development does make sense from a story standpoint. Also, I have to admit that a lot of my gut reactions to TV relationships are directly related to watching The X-Files during my formative years, so major relationship advances that happen in less than seven or so years and not involving bees can feel rushed. The Upstead hookup happened quickly, but not necessarily too quickly.
Upton and Halstead kissing and presumably moving into an actual relationship does make me wonder if Burgess and Ruzek’s relationship is going to remain platonic for the time being, unless Chicago P.D. plans on having four out of the five cops in Voight’s unit dating each other, at least until the new character joins and bumps the Intelligence count up to six. Showrunner Rick Eid did share with CinemaBlend that motherhood is on Burgess’ mind, but only time will tell if Ruzek is involved in that scenario for her.