Chicago Med hasn’t recovered from Colin Donnell’s departure

CHICAGO MED -- "With A Brave Heart" Episode 422 -- Pictured: Colin Donnell as Dr. Connor Rhodes -- (Photo by: Elizabeth Sisson/NBC)
CHICAGO MED -- "With A Brave Heart" Episode 422 -- Pictured: Colin Donnell as Dr. Connor Rhodes -- (Photo by: Elizabeth Sisson/NBC) /

Chicago Med’s decision to jettison Colin Donnell as Connor Rhodes was controversial, and Chicago Med season 5 hasn’t overcome his absence.

One Chicago fans said that Chicago Med made a mistake in writing out Colin Donnell, and it’s time for the show to admit that, too.

It’s been a year since Donnell and Norma Kuhling were officially dropped from the cast of the medical drama, and the choice to cut them loose for “creative reasons” is no less frustrating than it was then.

In fact, looking at what Chicago Med season 5 became without Dr. Connor Rhodes, it’s even more obvious that it was the wrong call—because it had a major effect on the entire series.

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To be fair, the path to Donnell’s exit had been paved long before Connor officially quit the hospital in the season 5 premiere.

Hints of a downward trajectory popped up as early as the season 2 finale, when his story arc with Robin Charles (Mekia Cox) had barely resolved and the writers were already having Ava Bekker (Kuhling) make a pass at him. It’s jarring to introduce a new love interest when the current one is still recovering in a hospital bed.

But the introduction of Ava wasn’t the stumbling block. Norma Kuhling did incredibly well with what she was given, and a rival for Connor was a good idea, since there weren’t any other series regulars working in cardiothoracic surgery at the time.  His main foil was Dr. Isidore Latham, a recurring character, and Ato Essandoh is an incredibly busy actor; he wasn’t going to be able to be around every week.

The breakdown was in immediately declaring that Ava had to be a love interest, and then having that forced romance turn into something out of a soap opera or Lifetime TV-movie.

Trying to make Ava and Connor happen came at the expense of everyone: Robin (whose story might have been wound down organically since Mekia Cox was cast in another series), Ava (who got very little backstory in two seasons and eventually became a sociopath so she couldn’t stay either), and Connor (whose life became the drama of the week, culminating in murder-suicide).

If there wasn’t any place left for Connor to go, it’s because the writers painted him into a corner with increasingly sensational plot twists that turned him from Chicago Med‘s top doctor into the boyfriend of a crazy person. His exit was not a Colin Donnell problem.

Now there’s a bigger problem: what Chicago Med looks like without Connor Rhodes. The show is noticeably different and it has suffered in his absence. While there’s still a wonderful ensemble, Colin Donnell was one of the show’s best actors, and so the talent level has dropped significantly just because he’s not there. He has a screen presence, charisma and overall integrity that can’t be replaced or replicated.

The loss of Connor has also changed the series creatively by phasing out one of the things that made it different from other medical shows: its wider scope. His exit eliminated the cardiothoracic surgery department from the series, except for the rare Latham cameo. The series is now focused entirely in the Emergency Department, with Dr. Daniel Charles (Oliver Platt) the last remaining main character who doesn’t spend most of his time there.

Connor was a voice of reason and discipline that Chicago Med is now sorely lacking, too. He would take risks, but they were always risks that were justified and audiences would understand why he was going that far—now characters are making drastic decisions on a weekly basis, and it feels like that’s just another day in the hospital.

He gave the ensemble a certain credibility. While Dr. Rhodes had his personal problems, he almost always kept them from interfering in his work and maintained a level head. That’s miles away from Dr. Ethan Choi (Brian Tee) punching another doctor in the ED and Dr. Will Halstead (Nick Gehlfuss) having his judgment questioned because of his relationship.

Connor felt like a doctor the audience could trust, and in Chicago Med season 5, every character has done something that feels like it’s either ill-advised or unprofessional. He was the anchor, the character we could admire, and that’s what this fragmented, often frustrated team desperately needed this season.

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But don’t hold your breath for him to make another guest appearance. There’s not much for either him or Colin Donnell to come back to Chicago Med for. Colin has done exceptionally well after the show, and it wouldn’t be worthwhile for him or the audience if he was brought back for anything less than a full storyline that actually needed and furthered his character. As much as it would be wonderful to see him, that’s how frustrating it would be if he came back for something else that just made Connor’s life worse.

As for Connor, regardless of what happened with Ava, he wouldn’t fit in at this hospital anymore. The controversies and the interpersonal conflicts aren’t him. His worst problem was getting into a brief tussle with Will in a hospital elevator, and that was trying to keep Will from destroying his career. He left Chicago Med for a fresh start, and it stands to reason that he’s probably doing great at the Mayo Clinic. Why would he undermine that by going back to a place that wasn’t healthy for him anymore?

Connor Rhodes is better off without Chicago Med, but unfortunately the show can’t say the same about him.

Next. What Colin Donnell has done after Chicago Med. dark

For the latest Chicago Med season 5 spoilers and news, plus more on the entire series, follow the Chicago Med category at One Chicago Center.