What happens to Chicago PD after losing Vanessa Rojas?
Chicago PD underwent another cast change over the weekend, with Lisseth Chavez not coming back for the upcoming season 8. According to multiple media reports, it was producers’ decision to let her go after just one season.
Chavez was introduced in the second episode of Chicago PD season 7 as Vanessa Rojas, a cop working undercover who joined Intelligence after her path crossed with her future partner Kevin Atwater (LaRoyce Hawkins). But now she’s gone, and her exit leaves a hole in the show that has to be addressed.
Here are the questions that are now created by Chavez’s departure, and some potential answers to those questions:
1) The show will add a new character—but who?
Admittedly, Rojas being dropped isn’t much of a surprise. The character didn’t generate much excitement, despite several episodes in season 7 being focused on her and her backstory.
The writers tried to ingratiate her within Intelligence by making her Hailey Upton’s (Tracy Spiridakos) roommate and teased a possible romance with Atwater, but the latter never happened and in general Rojas just seemed too young and too inexperienced in the gritty world of Intelligence.
The same media reports confirming Chavez’s departure said that the show will have “some new cast additions” to fill Rojas’ void, plural, so there is a replacement coming and possibly more than one. It stands to reason that the character(s) will likely be non-white, since Chicago PD has only one Black cast member and no Latin or Hispanic stars after the exits of Chavez and the actor that she replaced, Jon Seda.
But the show has to be careful here—don’t just rush in a character because there’s a vacant spot. Chicago PD has now cut three main cast members between seasons 5-7 (Elias Koteas, Seda and Chavez); whoever jumps on needs to stay for awhile.
It’s clear that the show can’t cast just anybody. This is time to bring in someone who’s a strong and experienced actor; their character will be new but the performer doesn’t have to be. There are lots of great actors and actresses who could come in and punch up the show a bit.
Danny Pino is a Dick Wolf universe veteran, for example, and has been doing killer work on Gone. Milauna Jemai Jackson was amazing in her guest role and while she probably couldn’t play that same character (since Leila was facing criminal charges), she wouldn’t be the first person to guest on a Dick Wolf series and then come back as a different regular. And those are just two options.
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2) Atwater needs a strong partnership
Chicago PD also needs to address what happens to Atwater, because Rojas was his partner—and she’s leaving at the exact moment where he really needs someone to have his back. It’s going to be a hard pill for fans to swallow that Rojas won’t be there when Atwater is dealing with blowback from calling out police racism. What reason for her absence would be believable and not make her seem like she’s abandoning him?
But honestly, Atwater hasn’t had a strong partnership in awhile, and no partner was ever better for him than his BFF Kim Burgess (Marina Squerciati). Presumably, the new character will end up being Atwater’s partner just by virtue of simple math, so the show needs to create someone who is seriously going to support him and build a genuine rapport with him. Atwater is underused enough on his own; he shouldn’t be on an island anymore.
What about a partnership where Atwater could take the lead and mentor someone? That would give LaRoyce Hawkins more screen time and show another side of his character; he tried to help Rojas in her first few episodes but that faded out as season 7 went on. Atwater has potential as a leader and a voice in the Intelligence squadroom but we rarely get to hear it unless it’s on an issue of race.
Or, alternatively, put Kim and Kevin back together—she could use his support too with all that the show just put her through—and let the new character partner up with someone else.
3) This is an opportunity to tell different stories
The biggest core issue for Chicago PD right now is its lack of diversity. Not only in terms of the cast but in its points of view. The show got rid of the characters who would push back against the way that Intelligence normally does things; now everyone’s on the same page and everyone goes along with Hank Voight (Jason Beghe) for the most part.
That’s not particularly interesting storytelling; the show was more dynamic when Antonio or Al would fight for something. And especially with all the discussion about the police right now, and how much that applies to this show, Chicago PD season 8 would greately benefit from somebody who can be a disruptor.
The writers are clearly looking for something new, or they wouldn’t be cutting so many characters over the last few seasons. They should seize this opportunity to come up with a great new idea and push the show in a bold new direction. What about introducing an experienced detective from another unit who doesn’t get on board with the playbook, like what the series originally tried to do with Upton before she became a psuedo-Voight?
The new character could go in just about any direction and be far more exciting than the standard “new cop on the team” story. It’s just up to Rick Eid and company to find the right idea that’s both timely and different from anything they’ve done before.
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