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The Night Shift - Keep the Faith - Review: "Knockin' on Heaven's Door"

In some ways, The Night Shift is as much a military drama as a medical drama. However,  this week's episode upped the military drama both on- and off-camera. Vets helped produce and star in "Keep the Faith", and that really showed. What could have easily been a lackluster filler episode or ratings gimmick ended up being extremely sweet and heartwarming.

The episode began with the funeral of Mac, a friend of The Night Shift's main cast who was killed in "Family Matters". Unsurprisingly, his funeral was not the focus of the episode, but the foundation of its arcs. The funeral was crashed by protestors from an organization called the "Open Covenant", which was described in-show as like the Westboro Baptist Church, but worse. Politician and veteran Xavier Arnold (Josh Kelly) tried to quell the protestors, but an altercation between Drew (Brendan Fehr) and a protestor turned into an all-out brawl, leaving many injured.

The politician Xavier Arnold himself was injured, having been lightly stabbed in the back by a flag during the fight. I once heard my English teacher describe someone as a "quintessential asshole", and that was exactly how I'd describe Xavier. He arrived in the hospital in a gurney, but subsequently showed that he could walk perfectly fine and was just using the gurney for the cameras. A part of the flagpole had lodged itself inside Xavier's back during the fight, and Scott (Scott Wolf) suggested performing surgery in the operating room in order to remove it. However, going under would have made Xavier miss a debate, and he asked for another option.

TC (Eoin Macken), back in San Antonio and for the first time not the most reckless person in the room, suggested using a local anesthetic on Xavier's back in order to numb the pain, and having the removal done right there in the ER. Scott argued against the plan, but Xavier wanted to follow through with it. TC easily removed the object from Xavier's back. However, because the ER removal meant no access to more precise equipment, Xavier began to leak cerebral-spinal fluid as a result of the procedure. Even though he asked for the procedure, and Scott had told him all the risks, Xavier began to insult the hospital and its staff. Luckily, Scott, TC, and Jordan (Jill Flint) were able to fix it and he was good as new.

Sadly, he was too good for Drew's taste. Xavier's presence in the episode provided a really good asshole that I just loved to hate, bu he also helped provide some backstory for Drew. While Drew was still on tour, a failure by Xavier's squad led to Drew's friend getting killed in action. While Jordan sung the praises of this man, Drew fumed silently. That is, until a conversation with Xavier led TC to discover that Xavier had lied about some of his tours. Drew and TC were all set to ruin Xavier's reputation to the press, until they were stopped by Jordan.

The scene in which Drew, TC, and Jordan argued about the best course of action really showcased what skills Jill Flint had. It contained some of the most emotionally charged lines of the episode. Drew and TC argued that they should ruin Xavier, while Jordan argued that ruining Xavier could ruin the hospital, because Xavier enabled the hospital to get VA contracts. During the argument, I enjoyed how Jordan reminded TC of all she went through while he was on tour as she waited for him to come home. I especially liked how neither side was considered wholly morally superior to the other. The Night Shift can easily veer into black/white morality, and I appreciate that they didn't. I also appreciated the scheme that ended Xavier's plot.

The scheme began with a patient not too related to Xavier: Ananya (Yvonne Valadez). Ananya was a photographer had gotten injured in the brawl. While getting treated by Drew, she revealed that she had gotten discharged from the army for taking a more than unflattering picture of a fellow soldier, and how she was going blind from a degenerative condition. Yvonne Valadez really made Ananya compelling and sympathetic as she told Drew how she was working as a freelance photographer, taking pictures of Xavier, to make the last of her eyesight matter. Ananya's speech could have easily been read as cheesy, but somehow, Valadez made it work. At the end of the episode, in exchange for not revealing Xavier's lies, TC and Drew coerced Xavier into hiring Ananya as his permanent photographer. I might have preferred to see Xavier suffer, and it might be a bit Machiavellian to say that the ends (Ananya being happy) justified the means (blackmailing Xavier but ultimately letting him continue without true punishment), but it was smart. It was a nice twist, a nice end for Ananya, and a nice reminder that TC got smarter in Syria.

The final patient from the funeral brawl was Clark (Wes Chatham), who was one of the protestors. He was refused pain meds by Kenny for being a protestor and acting like a homophobe, but the tune changed when Clark's injuries revealed themselves to be worse than they seemed, and Clark himself was revealed to be an FBI agent in bigot's clothing. For such an interesting plot twist, the plot went almost nowhere. It was like an afterthought. Kenny's injuries got one or two scenes, and then they were dealt with off screen. We never got to see Kenny (or anyone really) truly react to the news. When we heard that Clark's work allowed the FBI to gather enough evidence to arrest the Open Covenant's leader, I didn't really care, because we never really spent a lot of time learning about Clark or the Open Covenant. In an episode that was otherwise emotional, the storyline felt shoehorned in.

In contrast, the storyline that should have felt shoehorned in became the emotional center of the episode. While the Xavier plot made me rage and the Ananya plot was heartwarming, Paul (Robert Bailey Jr.) and Shannon's (Tanaya Beatty) patient, Doug (Dan Lauria) almost made me cry (almost). Doug came in looking like a Z-plot. He had nothing to do with the funeral or the brawl; he had just come in after an incident. After examining him, Paul and Shannon realized that he had multiple wounds in his head. Doug explained that he had gotten them trying to remove a piece of shrapnel that had gotten stuck in his head while he was a POW for five years in Vietnam. He told them that he had spent all of his money and most of his years since the war trying to get the shrapnel removed, but his doctors had turned him away. Paul and Shannon told Doug that they would help him, and help him they did.

They got Doug a CT scan. When Doug freaked out in the CT scan room, Paul and Shannon were forced to lock him in. On the other side of the door, Shannon taught Paul tap code (used by POWs, taught to her by her grandfather) and used it to calm and communicate with Doug inside. The scene where Shannon and Doug were tapping back and forth while Paul was translating Doug's taps for Shannon was one of the best of the episode. The music playing made it all the more heartwarming.

I especially enjoyed that Paul and Shannon never lost their empathy toward Doug. The storyline was good for Paul and Shannon as a couple. Most of the pair's stories together this season have revolved around roommate issue, and they haven't dealt with a patient alone since they started dating either. The story reminded us why Paul and Shannon are a couple, because they work so well together. Despite being the negative one of the two, Shannon mirrored Paul's optimism about Doug in a sweet way. Paul marveled at Shannon's knowledge of tap code and called her a cool girl. Later in the episode, when the CT scans came back and showed that Doug's shrapnel injury was imagined, Paul returned the favor by telling Shannon about Doug's psychological disorder. The two worked together well to convince Scott to help them help Doug.

In the episode, it was implied that Doug's shrapnel injury was him trying to cope with the fact that he had given up information while being tortured in Vietnam. Scott, Paul, and Shannon tried to absolve Doug of his guilt and get him to see the truth by letting him speak with fellow former POWs, who told Doug that stories about Doug had helped them survive their imprisonments, like Doug had never stopped fighting to begin with. The joy in Doug's eyes after hearing those stories was delightful, and the fact that he still believed in the shrapnel afterward was heartbreaking. Dan Lauria pulled off Doug so well, it made me feel for Doug even when he disappeared.

In order to help Doug, Paul and Shannon convinced Scott to put Doug under and tell him that they had removed the shrapnel when he woke up. Despite initial ethical concerns, Scott agreed. When the three went to visit Doug's room in order to tell him that they'd be "operating" on him, he was gone. In his place was a place setting that mirrored the table setup usually used to honor missing soldiers and a napkin with "Keep the Faith" scrawled on it. It mirrored things that Doug had told Paul and Shannon before in the episode.

Though it was never explicitly stated, I like to think that Paul, Shannon, and Scott really did help Doug. Their empathy and understanding may have helped him realize off-screen that he'd been lying to himself, and he left the hospital so as to not cause any trouble. But he left a piece of him to show that even though he was gone, he was still there, and that they should remember him and "Keep the faith".

It was a hopeful message. It contrasted the show's more cynical Xavier A-Plot and grim reminders of reality. I liked it.

At the end of the episode, Drew and Jordan sat alone in the breakroom, bathed in darkness and some pink light (which made for some beautiful framing), watching Groundhog Day as "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" played in the background. I haven't talked about The Night Shift's musical choices much in my recaps (mostly as I'm almost completely musically illiterate), but the choice of song was beautiful when compared with the episode's focus on veterans and warfare.

It was also fitting, considering the episode contained the first real mentions of Annie since her suicide. Jordan mentioned Annie while arguing with TC, and TC mentioned that Annie hadn't been returning his calls. Though the song was not playing during the Annie mentions, the lyrics kind of fit with her situation, and the mental association was more than enough foreshadowing.

If the use of "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" is a sign of The Night Shift's foray into subtlety and deeper creativity, then sign me up. Though I am still more than a little apprehensive about how Annie's suicide will be used in the future, this episode renewed my trust in The Night Shift.

What did you think of this episode's The Night Shift? How did the veteran-bend make you feel? Do you hope TC is back for good, or do you want him to go back to Syria where he belongs? Share your answers in the comments below!