Spoilers ahead for Episode 15 of Chicago P.D. Season 8 on NBC, called "The Right Thing."
Chicago P.D. went in some intriguing and pretty dark directions with "The Right Thing" to set up next week's Season 8 finale, and the result was an episode with a death toll that hit close to home for one cop and left the fate of one Intelligence member very uncertain. Samantha Miller's son Darrell was murdered, and the mission to catch the people behind his death has resulted in Burgess being attacked with nobody on hand to back her up. It was an intense hour of television, and actor LaRoyce Hawkins chatted with CinemaBlend ahead of the finale about the tough choices that Atwater has had to make, and the remorse that he'll feel because of it.
The case of the week came all the way to Intelligence courtesy of Miller, whose son got himself mixed up in the drug business and turned to Voight for help. Voight obviously told Miller, who made it clear that she wanted her son dealt with without any special treatment, including putting his name on paper and not rushing into situations without warrants just because there might be trouble within. Most of Intelligence was skeptical about going by the book and not giving Darrell any advantages due to his mom, but Atwater wanted nothing to do with any preferential treatment.
Unfortunately for both Atwater and Miller, Darrell ultimately died because doing things by the book took too long, and Miller clearly had some regrets by the end of the episode. But did Atwater? LaRoyce Hawkins, whose character has been at the forefront of some important storytelling about systemic racism in law enforcement over the past two seasons, spoke with CinemaBlend about "The Right Thing," and he weighed in on Atwater sticking with his stance of not giving Darrell any special treatment:
I think it's something that's just gradually grown. When you want to see change, when you want to make a difference, oftentimes you have to make the tough decisions to commit to the truth. And when we think about Miller's son, played by this young brother named Brandon, who we all really fell in love with. His energy was amazing. I think the way that he portrays that character is exactly what that character needed for us to ride the fine line between forgiveness and fate. The decisions that we make that we can't take back, that even though at our core, we are better than the mistakes we've made, that sometimes the mistakes we've made are detrimental to our futures, and the futures of the people around us.
Tragically, Darrell was more of a young man who got in over his head without realizing it than a hardened criminal, and he paid for his mistakes with his life as the people trying to protect him did so following the letter of the law. For Atwater, who has been all about embracing reform within the CPD this season, there was no question of showing preferential treatment to allow Darrell to skip paying the price for his mistakes just because of who his mother was; the price simply wasn't supposed to be his life. LaRoyce Hawkins continued on Atwater's approach to the ill-fated Darrell:
And so, what I love about Chicago P.D. is how we identify those stories, because that's real life, that sometimes the collateral damage isn't as powerful as we show on Wednesday nights. But I think the qualities share the same sentiment, right? Like the decisions that we make affect us all, affect our reputations, affect the way that we can move. And so as much as Atwater might empathize with this brother, and understand that this brother is connected to our side of things in a way that I might want to show preference, I can't because the truth is, it's decisions like these, or the lack of tough love and these moments that create more issues, that create more convolution, that make the blue wall impossible to defeat. And that's something that we know Atwater for a fact fights the blue wall, because even before he's blue, he's Black.
The blue wall within the CPD caused a lot of problems for Atwater thanks to the actions of a racist cop at the end of Season 7 and early Season 8, and it got to the point where it seemed like there was no way for Atwater to win over the people targeting him from positions of power. Luckily, Atwater found a way even when Voight couldn't, but that wasn't the case for Darrell in "The Right Thing."
Darrell's death was unavoidable for Intelligence after Miller insisted that they follow procedure in the investigation of the case, which caused a delay that allowed for not only the murder of Darrell, but a number of young women as well. Miller understandably was wracked with guilt about what she could have stopped if only she hadn't insisted on playing by the rules.
As for Atwater, LaRoyce Hawkins weighed in on whether Atwater feels the same about not showing Darrell preferential treatment in the wake of his death, or changed his mind:
I think Atwater feels the same way. I think more anything, the last thing Atwater wants to see is a Black life taken. That lands on him differently every time. As a cop, yes, life that you cannot save is hard to deal with. You see those faces before you go to sleep every night, I'm sure as a police officer, the life that you had in your hands, or under your responsibility that you couldn't save hurts. I can only imagine what that actually feels like, to go to sleep with that, to look at yourself in the mirror with that. And so as a Black man, and Black life is involved with the same weight that a cop would have to carry, there's an extra added element of remorse that I do my best to try to carry, to try to storytell with, because I think that's important to be seen. I think it's important to see that and to not normalize Black death at the sacrifice of solving a case.
Atwater feels remorse for the Black lives lost in cases like Darrell's, according to LaRoyce Hawkins, but doesn't regret doing things by the book as much as possible. CPD did ultimately pull out all the stops for Darrell, but only after his death in pursuit of the people who killed him. If they do catch the criminals (and save Burgess before the worst happens), then Intelligence can find justice, but they can't save any of the people who died. Hawkins elaborated on finding the balance on Chicago P.D.:
I think as a cast and a crew, we ask ourselves that question often, like, what is the show about? Is it about saving lives? Or is it about solving cases? You know, those are two different things. Sometimes you don't solve a case, but you save a life, and what's more important? What is the priority? These are the kinds of questions that Atwater asks himself all the time. What's the most important, to save this life or to solve this case? And depending on what the answer is, that helps us understand how to move. And I'm pretty sure first responders ask themselves that question all the time. Whether you're a firefighter, a doctor, or a police officer, are we solving the case or are we saving the life?
On a good day, Atwater and the cops in his unit are able to solve the case and save lives, but good days can be few and far between when it comes to Chicago P.D. cases that make it all the way up to Intelligence. Now, with Burgess attacked and seemingly kidnapped, fans will have to hold out hope that the Season 8 finale will be an example of when Intelligence is able to find justice and save a life.
The promo for the Season 8 finale reveals that Intelligence is going to go all-out to try and find Burgess, who has really been having some rotten luck over the past couple of seasons. Hopefully her bad luck streak breaks and she can return home to Makayla before Chicago P.D. heads into hiatus yet again. P.D. has already been renewed for another two seasons, so whatever happens in the finale, the show will still go on. Hopefully with Atwater making detective!
See what happens in the Season 8 finale of Chicago P.D. on Wednesday, May 26 at 10 p.m. ET on NBC, following the finales for Chicago Fire (which is seemingly saying goodbye to a firefighter) and Chicago Med (which is definitely saying goodbye to two regulars) at 9 p.m. and 8 p.m., respectively. As for what you can look forward to once One Chicago wraps for the 2020-2021 TV season, our summer TV premiere schedule can help you find some options!