Chicago P.D.'s Ruzek Proves How The Show Needs To Change In 2021

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(Image credit: NBC)

Spoilers ahead for Episode 7 of Chicago P.D. Season 8, called "Instinct."

It was Ruzek's turn in the spotlight this week on Chicago P.D., and "Instinct" was an intense hour of television for the longtime Intelligence officer. The episode that started with Ruzek going undercover like he has dozens of times before and reuniting with friend/informant Tommy ended with Ruzek as an emotional wreck questioning the future of his career at CPD. It was a rough episode for Ruzek, but also an important episode for Chicago P.D. as it proved how the show needs to change in 2021.

Chicago P.D. has its roots as a show about a dirty cop thanks to how Voight debuted on Chicago Fire back in the day, and Intelligence hasn't exactly been squeaky clean over the years, with the show actually getting called out in a study early in 2020 for treating unethical officers as heroes. The events of summer 2020 with protests against police brutality and heightened scrutiny on law enforcement meant that Chicago P.D. was probably going to have to make some changes.

The show added Empire alum Nicole Ari Parker as new CPD Deputy Superintendent Samantha Miller, who joined the fold with an eye for police reform and the goal of changing Voight so that the rest of the police force would follow him. For his part, Voight actually has put in effort to keep Intelligence closer to the straight and narrow path than usual to avoid trouble, and Upton seems to have gotten her breaking bad from Season 7 out of her system on FBI.

But it wouldn't necessarily be enough for the show to just start doing things differently when shades of gray and crossing lines were such key parts of the series for the better part of a decade, and Ruzek's storyline in "Instinct" proves that P.D. seems to be doing its due diligence in showing how its cop characters who were accustomed to crossing lines have to struggle in a new reality of scrutiny. And Ruzek is really the perfect character to demonstrate the struggle.

As the one member of Intelligence to spend his entire CPD career within the unit under Voight, Ruzek is understandably the cop whose instincts tend to be more aggressive, unethical, and even sometimes violent than the others, despite generally good intentions. While he got away with it under Voight for so many years before Season 8, that's not the case anymore. Ironically, in "Instinct," Ruzek was facing trouble for actions that were justified in the eyes of the CPD.

He was caught on camera using force to disarm a drug dealer who had pulled a gun on him, but the footage resulted in accusations of police brutality. Later, Ruzek hesitated to shoot an offender who had a gun pulled on Tommy when he saw bystanders recording the encounter on their phones. He did ultimately kill the man with the man's own souped-up weapon, but only after the man shot Tommy. Voight went on to reassure Ruzek that it was a good shoot, but Ruzek was shaken up by his hesitation and his uncertainty.

That's not to say that Ruzek wasn't toeing the line of questionable actions in "Instinct," with even Burgess calling him out and resulting in a pretty ugly exchange that left me wondering if Burgess is going to keep Ruzek out of her little family dynamic with Makayla for the time being. Ruzek is going to have to change how he does things, and his good intentions prove that it's definitely possible for him to do better. But spending his whole career under Voight has left a mark, and his struggles weren't neatly wrapped up at the end of the hour.

He doesn't have the same kind of self-assuredness as Voight in changing the way that he does things, or the higher rank. While it's obviously not easy on poor Ruzek, this is a story that Chicago P.D. needs to tell. It would have been unconvincing and even lazy for the show to suddenly have all of the Intelligence cops following the letter of the law with ease after years developing the instinct to bend and break the rules, and Ruzek makes the most sense of those within Intelligence.

I will admit that I wondered if Halstead was going to be caught on camera when he tackled a suspect earlier in the season and came up bloody himself, and he went a little bit rogue just last week. Apparently I just had to wait for the Ruzek-centric "Instinct" to see P.D. really delve into what it means for a seasoned Intelligence cop to suddenly find himself trying to follow new rules.

Ruzek also doesn't have the support system by this point in Season 8 that he would have earlier, with Burgess now devoting her personal time to Makayla and the rest of the team dealing with their own subplots and relationships. (And maybe crossovers with Chicago Med after Med's latest twist for Will, if I have my way!)

Chicago P.D. didn't air a preview for the next episode, so fans can only speculate as to how the show follows up on this emotional hour for Ruzek. An idealistic new cop is on the way to Intelligence to change things up. As for whether Atwater will ever get a love interest, only time will tell! LaRoyce Hawkins and more stars weighed in on the idea, and I think he deserves a little love after what he went through at the end of Season 7 and beginning of Season 8.

When Chicago P.D. does return, it will resume its 10 p.m. ET time slot on NBC Wednesdays. If you want to relive some Chicago P.D. (or Fire or Med) days gone by during the break, you can find past seasons streaming on Peacock.

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 and can cite multiple TV shows to explain why. She does, however, want to believe that she can sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation (and author bios).