Chicago Fire season 9, episode 5 creates a fantastic piece of theatre

CHICAGO FIRE -- "My Lucky Day" Episode 905 -- Pictured: (l-r) Christian Stolte as Randall “Mouch” McHolland, Taylor Kinney as Kelly Severide, Eamonn Walker as Wallace Boden -- (Photo by: Adrian S. Burrows Sr./NBC)
CHICAGO FIRE -- "My Lucky Day" Episode 905 -- Pictured: (l-r) Christian Stolte as Randall “Mouch” McHolland, Taylor Kinney as Kelly Severide, Eamonn Walker as Wallace Boden -- (Photo by: Adrian S. Burrows Sr./NBC) /

This week’s Chicago Fire episode will go down as one of the best in the history of the long-running show—for being completely different from most episodes.

SPOILER ALERT: This article contains major spoilers for last night’s Chicago Fire episode “My Lucky Day.” If you haven’t seen the episode, you will be spoiled.

With “My Lucky Day,” the series did what’s known as a “bottle show,” putting characters in one confined location and staying with them for the majority of the hour. The (un)lucky folks were Joe Cruz (Joe Minoso) and Christopher Herrmann (David Eigenberg), who were trapped in a freight elevator along with two civilians while the rest of Firehouse 51 battled a blaze four stories above their heads.

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The script created tension in two ways: worrying about whether or not Herrmann and Cruz would make it out okay—but also generating fear about the fates of other characters, specifically Mouch (Christian Stolte), since only bits and pieces of radio communication could be heard throughout the episode.

It was great writing to not lose sight of the fire in the midst of the elevator story, and for Mouch to be the imperiled one, since the audience already knew he’d nearly been downed on the job a few seasons ago, when he had a heart attack and technically died for a brief period.

But what made “My Lucky Day” so memorable, and the best episode of season 9 so far by a wide margin, was what makes most bottle shows successful—the performances of the actors, taking a piece of TV and turning it into impeccable theatre.

Chicago Fire threatens its characters on a regular basis. Nearly every episode involves a huge set piece that might kill someone, and of the three One Chicago series, this one is the least precious about its main cast. Stars come and go every few seasons. It’s not enough on this show to just say Cruz and Herrmann might die; the audience is used to that. It’s more chilling to sit in the situation and watch it slowly develop, to sink into their bones and the viewer’s consciousness.

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That means having actors who can hold the audience’s attention that long, especially when there’s a limited number of things they can do. Eigenberg and Minoso are the perfect choices for the task. Both of them have backgrounds in theatre, and they both have an understated way of performing that’s perfect for the slow burn of this episode.

Their characters are free of ongoing drama, too, so the audience isn’t distracted by thinking about their relationships—aside from Cruz revealing his wife’s pregnancy—or another outside storyline. We’re focused on what’s happening inside the box, and the emotional pendulum between not knowing if they’re going to survive, and being just as concerned about their friends. Thanks to some excellent direction from Reza Tabrizi, we get lots of close-up shots that not only add to the anxiety, but allow us to see the expressiveness in Minoso and Eigenberg’s faces.

Plus, bringing in Cruz allows for the plot to also bring in Otis. You can’t have an episode about an elevator without having Otis, even though Yuri Sardarov‘s character isn’t alive anymore. Through Minoso’s performance in particular, it truly does feel as if Otis is the third firefighter in that story.

By the time “My Lucky Day” ends it feels like this wasn’t just another hero-in-peril episode but something that’s going to stick with all the characters. The two civilians stuck with Herrmann and Cruz are inspired to make a personal connection. Cruz gets to express his concerns about being a parent to the one person who’d know better than any other. Hermann seems to get his own kind of validation from helping Cruz.  The audience explores that relationship, which isn’t dug into that often, just a little bit more.

This is an episode that’s not only memorable and emotional to watch, but admirable for how it’s put together from a production and performance standpoint. It could be staged as a play right now and the viewers wouldn’t lose anything from the experience. And with as hectic as Chicago Fire can be, it’s nice to see the show take a pause (even a tension-filled one) and remind us how much heart lies underneath all the action.

Next. David Eigenberg discusses his new movie. dark

For the latest Chicago Fire season 9 spoilers and news, plus more on the entire series, follow the Chicago Fire category at One Chicago Center.