‘Code Black’ Season 2, Episode 14 Recap and Review: ‘Vertigo’


CBS’s ‘Code Black’ climbs to new heights with ‘Vertigo’ and continues to state its case for deserving a Season 3, but will it be enough?

It’s hard to believe that Season 2 of CBS‘s Code Black is almost at an end, but at least it’s using its final few episodes to go big or go home. This week’s “Vertigo” puts yet another unique challenge in front of the staff and populates itself with some welcome familiar faces for anyone who loves the world of medical TV.

“Vertigo” kicks off as Campbell (Boris Kodjoe) sends Willis (Rob Lowe) to the site of a construction accident, and Savetti (Benjamin Hollingsworth) decides to tag along to help save two brothers who are pinned under equipment forty stories in the air at opposite ends. It’s a tough ask especially for Mario, who’s just completed back-to-back shifts at Angels Memorial, but if anybody can make the impossible happen, it’s these guys.

That leaves Leanne (Marcia Gay Harden) and company short-handed at the hospital again as they treat the week’s assortment of patients. They include a colleague’s wife Judith Blackwell, who is played by actress Roxanne Hart. Medical drama fans will remember her for portraying the wife of Dr. Aaron Shutt (Adam Arkin) on CBS’s Chicago Hope. Her daughter Lily is played by Susie Abromeit, who just had a multi-episode role as Dr. Will Halstead’s (Nick Gehlfuss) love interest in Season 1 of NBC’s Chicago Med. It’s like the most awesome crossover ever without actually being a crossover.

Meanwhile Angus (Harry Ford) and Elliot (Noah Gray-Cabey) help a high school teacher (John Billingsley from Star Trek: Enterprise) and two of his students who were exposed to pepper spray. The accusations start flying fast and furious as to who’s responsible, and then the teacher’s condition worsens.

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Up in the air, one of the brothers loses consciousness and needing to get him off the crane right then, Willis makes the drastic decision to amputate the man’s arm. This doesn’t go over well with Savetti, who starts to freak out at the worst possible time and then falls off the crane himself. It only lasts just a few minutes but that’s enough to give us all a legitimate scare to go with the real cringing that comes with seeing an arm being sawn off.

Leanne looks at Judith’s X-rays and sees a spiral fracture that never quite healed; she suspects domestic abuse. Naturally Judith continues to insist that nothing’s wrong, even as Noa (Emily Tyra) confronts her with her history of being to a half-dozen different emergency rooms. And obviously, Judith’s husband does not take kindly to Leanne wanting to dig deeper into her situation. But Leanne Rorish doesn’t care whether he likes it or not.

Lily is less defensive, telling the doctors that her father is “so controlling, you have no idea.” But before she can actually get into details Dad is there to tell her to stop talking and she leaves, with Leanne and Noa wondering what she was going to say. The former takes their suspicions to Campbell, who doesn’t want to pull the trigger too soon, especially since he let the orthopedist operate on his own daughter. But the latter interrupts their meeting to tell them that Dr. Blackwell has had a stroke. Maybe it was karma? Or maybe someone hit him instead?

If you’ve noticed we haven’t mentioned Jesse (Luis Guzman), he’s here to once again stand in as a father figure, this time for the one student who’s having remorse over being responsible for the pepper spray prank. “You’re a nurse, not a shrink,” she snarks at him but Jesse has taken enough sass from residents, doctors and other patients. He tells Emily to decide who she wants to be.

Willis and Savetti get back to the hospital, where Savetti is still out of it so Willis orders him to step away from their patients. Mario walks off to brood as Lily returns and wonders what happened to either of her parents. In reality they’re upstairs because Campbell has footage from the hospital’s security cameras of Lily being the abuser. “You don’t understand,” Judith insists. “She doesn’t mean to hurt us.” But she’s being hauled off screaming by officers in the hallway. Well, that didn’t happen on Chicago Med.

Morning comes and the two brothers begin their recovery, physically and emotionally, with a little nudge from Willis. It doesn’t matter that one of them is now missing a limb. “We can work this out together,” the other one says, which makes up on the cosmic scoreboard for the downer that is the elder abuse storyline.

It’s time to circle back to the high school storyline, where the teacher and the student have a chat of their own. Emily denies that she knows who broke out the pepper spray but that’s an obvious bluff, and her teacher surprises her by demonstrating that he understands more about her than she believes. That olive branch is enough to get her to confess her guilt. “You made a mistake. We all do,” he replies, and quotes her book report on Great Expectations. Medicine and Charles Dickens references; this is a full-service show.

While Angus realizes to his horror that he’s not going out for coffee with Dr. Pruitt from “Exodus” but on a hike and he is not a hiker, Willis gives career advice to Savetti. “You’re so close to being great,” he says. “Just try to be less stupid.” That’s a T-shirt saying if there ever was one.

And Rollie (William Allen Young) pops in for the last few minutes to remind the audience that he’s doing just fine, before Ariel (Emily Alyn Lind) shows up to kick off the storyline that’s going to be in the next episode. We can all chew on why she came back from New Mexico until next Wednesday.

We’ve talked about this before, but “Vertigo” is another example of Code Black finding ways to tell stories that are different from the genre norm or that don’t even seem like they’d work during a medical drama. Willis has now been under the sea (in “What Lies Beneath”) and up in the air (in “Vertigo”). Code Black‘s hospital is a little bit like CTU on 24; it seems to be a magnet for the most challenging, stressful happenings over and over again, but that’s perfectly okay because the show makes them work.

Here’s an episode that tackles another subject you might not necessarily see on another hospital drama, in giving us a storyline about elder abuse. It would have been perfectly easy and totally accepted to follow the straight line and have Judith’s husband being the one hurting her, but that is not how Code Black does business. It turns right, or left, or just says it’s going to come up with a case that you won’t think sounds familiar to the hundreds of episodes of other shows you’ve seen before.

The show knows it’s operating in a space that’s well-traveled, and so it’s constantly going out on its own limb, and we need series like that. We need programs that are going to break the genre molds and do new things, because that’s why we have new shows in the first place. Having Code Black on the air doesn’t just keep the audience captivated; it’s moving the entire medical genre forward. Let’s just hope that it gets to keep pushing that line forward as it sits in what might be the single most competitive time slot on TV right now, and with just two more episodes left.

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Season 2 of Code Black has just two episodes left, airing the next two Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on CBS. What have you thought about this season compared to Season 1? What would you want to see in Season 3? Tell us in the comments.

Code Black airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on CBS.